The Guardian today published a letter by Dave Rich, head of policy at The CST, responding to an earlier letter by British academics (and others) who, whilst suggesting a new antisemitism definition of their own, “ignore[d] the existence of a perfectly good definition of antisemitism”. Rich is referring to the definition adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016 which has been “adopted or endorsed by the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments, over 120 local authorities, several governments overseas and by the European parliament.”
Here’s the bulk of Rich’s letter:
The IHRA definition of antisemitism allows everything that your correspondents want to say in relation to Israel. It states unambiguously that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”. It allows for specific Israeli policies and practices to be described as racist and makes no mention of boycotts. It insists that all cases of alleged antisemitism must be judged in context. But it also reflects the fact…that much contemporary antisemitism occurs in anti-Israel spaces, where old antisemitic myths and tropes are recycled and updated to ascribe the same conspiratorial power and malevolent intent to “Zionists” that antisemites have long ascribed to Jews. It acknowledges that the vile comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany is a modern antisemitic slur. Any definition of antisemitism that does not capture this evolving language is not fit for purpose.
In a search of any Guardian commentary on the IHRA Working Definition, we came across a column by the paper’s Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick. The column, published on April 8th, “Context always matters when reporting on antisemitism”, examined 15 days of Guardian coverage on revelations that Corbyn had spoken out in 2012 in defense of an antisemitic mural. Whilst Chadwick agreed that the mural was antisemitic, he further explored the broader issue of what constitutes antisemitism.
Context matters always, and warnings can help. The UK parliamentary committee that reported on antisemitism in 2016 acted similarly. Defining antisemitism is challenging. The same committee proposed a long definition that the UK government adopted with amendments, as policy not law. The jurist Stephen Sedley has made powerful criticisms of that definition.
The definition Chadwick refers to, which he notes that the UK government adopted it with minor caveats, is the IHRA Working Definition which Rich references in his letter.
At core, antisemitism is the hatred of Jewish people because they are Jewish. Factors to consider in assessing whether any given words, images or actions fit that definition include: content, form, user, intent, context, extent/intensity, and the persistence of the user in the face of clear indications that his or her words, images or actions are being understood as an expression of hatred of Jewish people because they are Jewish people.
Individual Jewish people are not responsible for the action or inaction of any government of Israel, and should not be presumed to be in agreement with them simply because the individual is Jewish.
Note that Chadwick leaves out what the IHRA definition describes as “manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity”.
In fact, in narrowly defining antisemitism as the expression of hatred towards Jews as Jews, Chadwick implicitly rejects most IHRA examples of antisemitism as it relates to Israel, including these:
- Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews
worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
- Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing
Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
Since Chadwick didn’t specifically address these Israel related tropes regarding by the IHRA as manifestations of antisemitism, we can’t tell with certainty what his views are regarding, for instance, accusations of dual loyalty, the Israel-Nazi analogy, denying Israel’s right to exist and claiming that Zionism is racism.
But, the omission itself is quite telling.
Chadwick – and, by extension, the Guardian – is evidently not prepared to categorically reject the widely accepted understanding of what constitutes the New Antisemitism – manifestations of Jew-hatred disguised as ‘mere’ Israel-hatred that reflects, as Rich put it, the “evolving language” of antisemitism.
As the Labour antisemitism scandal has demonstrated, those who demonise Israel in ways which mirror the historic demonisation of Jews yet insist they are merely “anti-Zionist”, not antisemitic, are usually being dishonest. A comprehensive study, released last year by CST and the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR), revealed “robust empirical documentation” demonstrating a strong correlation between antisemitic and anti-Israel attitudes. The study showed that those who hold strong anti-Israel views (such as calling Israel an apartheid state, accusing it of genocide and denying its right to exist, etc.) are dramatically more likely to hold antisemitic views than the general population.
This of course contradicts the dominant Guardian Left view – articulated recently by Chadwick – that hatred of Jews qua Jews should be seen as distinct and separate from hatred of Israel. The ideological similarity between tropes concluding that “Zionists are our misfortune” and tropes concluding “Jews are our misfortune” is simply impossible to deny.