Guardian op-ed rejects antisemitism definition because it ‘marginalises’ Palestinians

Despite a brief moral throat-clearing, in his Guardian op-ed, on the need to fight 'real' antisemitism, by impugning the motives of those calling for the full definition's adoption, and using dog whistles about 'Zionist power' in the UK, Ash Sarkar appears to be as committed to fighting anti-Jewish racism within Labour as the party leader his publication so enthusiastically supports. 

The argument used by hardcore Jeremy Corbyn supporters when resisting calls for Labour to adopt the full IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism is normally centered around the claim that the definition is not about combating antisemitism, but about stifling criticism of Israel.

Indeed, the headline of a Guardian op-ed published today by Ash Sarkar – representing the second attack on the working definition in less than a week in their opinion pages – conveys this message:

However, those who make such an argument ignore the fact that IHRA definition addresses this very issue, making clear that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”.

The Israel related components of the IHRA definition – that is, accusations concerning Israel which are defined as antisemitic – include the following:

  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • 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.

The final bullet point – which defines as antisemitic the view that Zionism is inherently racist (not just that it sometimes expresses itself in racist ways, but that it is racist by definition) and, therefore, Israel has no right to exist – is what garners the most opposition from Corbyn supporters.

In her Guardian op-ed, Sarkar, senior editor at the ultra-Corbynista site Novara Media, begins by making the curious argument that the consensus – outside of the Corbyn camp – to adopt the full definition “excludes Palestinian voices on the issue”, an argument often heard within pro-Corbyn circles

Sarkar expands on this point in a subsequent paragraph:

Take the condemnation of IHRA’s working definition by Palestinian civil society organisations. In an open letter, Palestinian trade unions and other networks argued that “this non-legally binding definition attempts to erase Palestinian history, demonise solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality, suppress freedom of expression, and shield Israel’s far-right regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid from effective measures of accountability in accordance to international law”. They have not been formally consulted on IHRA by the Labour party, nor enjoyed anywhere near the amount of mainstream media coverage as advocates of the definition

In addition to the absurdity of suggesting that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza should have a say in the debate over racism against Jews in the UK, it’s simply a lie to maintain that the definition “attempts to erase Palestinian history”, as it doesn’t say a word about what can be said about the history or suffering of the Palestinian people.  Further, the only aspect of the “Palestinian struggle” the definition “demonises” is the ‘struggle’ to wipe Israel off the map by claiming it’s existence, within any borders, is illegitimate. 

Also, contrary to Sarkar’s claim, the definition says nothing about accusations that Israel is an “apartheid” state.

Moreover, shortly after briefly acknowledging “the necessity of tackling antisemitism in the Labour party head-on”, Sarkar employs tropes which call into question the sincerity of even this vague affirmation.

The adoption of IHRA has never been in isolation – careful study of its application shows that it works alongside external pressure from organisations and individuals aligned with the aims of the Israeli state. Perhaps those in charge of the Labour party disciplinary processes will be able to withstand that pressure.

It’s hard not to read “organisations…aligned with the aims of the Israeli state” as referring to the pro-Israel lobby, and “individuals aligned with the aims of the Israeli state” as code for British Zionists – or even British Jews.  Even if you exclude the possibility that Sarkar was alluding to Jews as Jews, most Guardian readers would likely understand that the “pressure” to adopt the full definition that Corbyn and his supporters must “withstand” is coming from the dreaded ‘Zionist lobby’.

Notwithstanding her moral throat-clearing on the need to fight ‘real’ antisemitism, by impugning the motives of those calling for the full definition’s adoption, and using dog whistles about ‘Zionist power’ in the UK, Ash Sarkar appears as committed to fighting anti-Jewish racism within Labour as the party leader his publication so enthusiastically supports. 

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