UK antisemitism scholar concerned that antisemitism definition may stifle Israel criticism

Written by Jonathan Hoffman.  The original version of this post was published at Jewish News.

Professor David Feldman is the Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism in London – the only such academic institute in the UK.

You would think that such an augustly and precisely named body would be part of the solution to the rising incidence of anti-semitism in the UK wouldn’t you ….

Well you’d be wrong. It’s part of the problem. The Institute sees nothing wrong with hosting Israel traducers such as Jacqueline Rose who makes anti-semitic comparisons between Jews and Nazis.  In an interview in 2005, Rose said:

“It seems to me that the suffering of a woman on the edge of the pit with her child during the Nazi era, and a Palestinian woman refused access to a hospital through a checkpoint and whose unborn baby dies as a result, is the same”.

And in June 2013 this infelicitously named Institute organised a conference on boycotts, unbelievably featuring two would-be boycotters – John Chalcraft of LSE and Philip Marfleet of University of East London.

Professor Feldman was a Vice Chair of the Chakrabarti Inquiry. He accepted the job despite knowing that Jeremy Corbyn did not accept the most widely respected definition of anti-semitism, the EUMC Definition. It was widely known that Feldman did not accept the Definition either. Presumably this was a part of the person specification for the job….

On 28 December, the Guardian published an op-ed by Professor Feldman disavowing the IHRA Definition which the UK government has recently adopted (and which – by the way – the Labour Party has reportedly accepted).

The IHRA Definition is almost identical to the EUMC Definition. The EUMC Definition is accepted by the (Labour) Mayor of London.  It is also accepted by the National Union of Students, the US State Department and the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.

So let’s look at what Professor Feldman said in the Guardian this week….

‘Nevertheless, Israel’s relations with the Palestinians have also been characterised by discrimination and occupation, annexation and expropriation. Those who make Israel the target of criticism for these actions are now denounced as antisemitic by Israel’s leaders and by their supporters around the world.’

First, it should be stressed the Working Definition adopted by the government clearly states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”.

Moreover, it evokes the Livingstone Formulation, beloved of anti-Semites worldwide.  The Livingstone Formulation: Claiming that criticism of Israeli policy is denounced as ‘anti-semitic’. A claim that attempts to bring into disrepute the victims of antisemitism for making supposedly false allegations. I know of no-one who has unfairly accused critics of Israel of antisemitism. Yet none other than the Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism is giving legs to this smear.

And there’s  more …

‘The text also carries dangers. It trails a list of 11 examples. Seven deal with criticism of Israel.’

One example of antisemitism in IHRA/EUMC is “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” Which is profoundly offensive. Yet Feldman brushes it away as mere ‘criticism of Israel.’

And finally:

‘On behalf of Jews it dares to spurn solidarity with other groups who are the targets of bigotry and hatred’.

Is he serious? Criticising a definition of anti-semitism because it does not mention all other forms of racism? Suggesting that – because it does not mention Islamophobia, homophobia, racism against blacks, racism against Poles since the referendum – that means that Jews do not care about racism, unless it is against Jews?

Words fail, Professor. It’s a definition, not an anti-racist speech.

A ‘David Feldman’ has also signed up to the Declaration of ‘Independent Jewish Voices’ which states:

‘The battle against anti-semitism is vital and is undermined whenever opposition to Israeli government policies is automatically branded as anti-Semitic.’

Professor Feldman was appointed as Director of the Pears Institute nearly seven years ago. I think it is time he moved on – don’t you?

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