Refuting Tony Greenstein’s Guardian claim that antisemitism definition silences Israel’s critics

Among those objecting to the government's decision to adopt the Working Definition of Antisemitism were a group of anti-Zionists in the UK (such as Tony Greenstein) whose letter - accusing British Jews of falsely crying antisemitism to silence debate about Israel - appeared in the Guardian on Dec. 17th.

As reported on these pages, the UK government adopted the IHRA (International Holocaust Rememberance Alliance) Working Definition on Antisemitism last week, a decision enthusiastically welcomed by British Jews and anti-racist campaigners.

Quite naturally, anti-Zionists weren’t too pleased, as the WD defines as antisemitic the view that Zionism = Racism, and the corresponding belief that Israel has no right to exist. Among those objecting to the government’s decision were a group of anti-Zionists in the UK (including Tony Greenstein) whose letter – which, in effect, accuses British Jews of falsely crying antisemitism to silence debate about Israel appeared in the Guardian on Dec. 17th.

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Here it is:

You report that the government is going to adopt a “new definition” of antisemitism in order to prevent an “over-sweeping condemnation of Israel” (Britain to pioneer new antisemitism definition, 12 December). The new definition has nothing to do with opposing antisemitism, it is merely designed to silence public debate on Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Antisemitic incidents comprise about 2% of all hate crime. Why then the concentration on antisemitism and not on Islamophobia, which is far more widespread? The suspicion must be that the real concern is not with antisemitism but with Britain’s support for Israel.

Israel claims to be “the only democracy in the Middle East.” Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation are governed by a wholly different set of laws than Jewish settlers. This makes Israel the world’s only apartheid state and thus deserving of strong condemnation and the target of boycott, divestment and sanctions. We agree that it is antisemitic to associate Jews with the actions of the Israeli state. Unfortunately this is precisely what the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition will achieve through perpetuating the stereotype that all Jews support the Israeli state. The IHRA will strengthen not weaken antisemitism. There is a very simple definition of antisemitism from Oxford University’s Brian Klug. Antisemitism is “a form of hostility towards Jews as ‘Jews’.” The IHRA definition smuggles in anti-Zionism, in the guise of antisemitism, as a means of protecting the Israeli state and thus western foreign policy.

The Guardian then published a superb reply by Stephen Franklin on Dec. 19th.

I was shocked by the letter (17 December) from Tony Greenstein and others about the government adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. The letter said: “The new definition has nothing to do with opposing antisemitism, it is merely designed to silence public debate on Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Antisemitic incidents comprise about 2% of all hate crime. Why then the concentration on antisemitism and not on Islamophobia, which is far more widespread?”

Those assertions are all either misleading or false and seem to say that antisemitism in Britain doesn’t matter. It is true that religiously based hate crime represents a very small percentage of all hate crime. In 2015 out of about 66,000 hate crimes in the UK, about 5,000 were on grounds of religion and, of those, about 1,000 attacks each were antisemitic and Islamophobic. Both types of attack are as abhorrent as each other. The British Jewish population is less than 10% of the size of the British Muslim population, so the Jewish community is facing far more frequent racist attacks pro rata than the Muslim community. In fact, the attacks on the Jewish community are concentrated on those who are easily identified as being Jewish, including those going to or from Jewish community centres, events or synagogues. Secular Jews are frequently unaware of such attacks.

The new definition of antisemitism that the government has adopted specifically states that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”. It does, however, define “applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” as antisemitic. Is that what they want to do?

There is nothing in the new definition that would stifle legitimate criticism of Israel. When unjustified criticism of Israel is published in the media, such as the false report of a massacre in Jenin, antisemitic attacks in the UK increase, so this new definition is needed. Islamophobia does not increase in response to reports of the Israel-Palestine dispute. It does increase in response to reports of jihadi attacks in the west. That is also unfair on Muslims in Britain who are strongly opposed to terrorism. But it is no reason to make light of antisemitism in Britain.

You can read the entire British government report on antisemitism in question here, but we’ll show you the relevant section:

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As you can see, the report goes out of it’s way to explain that mere criticism of the Israeli government is NOT considered antisemitic – vindicating Stephen Franklin and undermining the dishonest smears of Tony Greenstein.

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