Editors’ note on cancel culture and misuse of the term “antisemitism”

We recently tweeted our response to a tweet that suggested not only that the BBC was institutionally biased against Israel, but that most if not all BCC staffers were antisemitic.

“Accusations of anti-Jewish bigotry against journalists or media outlets should strictly be avoided, unless of course there is real evidence of such racism. The term antisemitism should be used only when a trope or allegation falls within the IHRA Working definition.”

In fact, since this blog was founded nearly 11 years ago, we’ve always used the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism– previously the the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) working definition – when charging journalists with using antisemitic rhetoric.  The IHRA Working Definition is the most widely accepted definition of anti-Jewish racism, and has been adopted by 34 democracies across the world.

Though some criticism of Israel (per IHRA) crosses the line to antisemitism, we’re extremely careful about making such accusations for a couple of reasons:

First, because we take this form of bigotry so seriously, and we don’t want the term to be misused – as to do so invariably waters down its moral and rhetorical significance.

Also, whilst there is a proven correlation between between extreme anti-Israel views and antisemitism, which is extremely important in contextualising the animosity towards Israel we write about, correlation is not causation.  So, as we can never peer into someone’s soul and determine what animates their views on Israel and the Palestinians, we won’t hurl that term in the absence of real evidence: a paper trail demonstrating the use of antisemitic tropes or, at least, a consistent defence of, or alliance with, those who do.

And, even then, we usually avoid saying someone “is” antisemitic – only that they’ve used antisemitic tropes.

Judiciousness when using the word takes on ever greater significance in the context of the increasing prominence of cancel culture – the social trend of attempting to end an individual’s career or prominence for violating moral norms regarding racism. Cancel Culture, in the words of the free speech organisation FIRE, “attempts to reduce individuals to a singular offensive statement or action, remove them from mainstream society, and inflict grave social costs on anyone who might defend them”.

This trend of online bullying in response to offensive speech has a deleterious impact on free speech and the survival of deliberative democracy by narrowing what’s known as the overton window – the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time.  The best response to bad speech is more speech, not enforced silence, which, as John Stuart Mill wrote, deprives us of the “clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error.”

At CAMERA UK, we believe in holding the media accountable for the content they publish, and, specifically, to their own editorial standards, not smearing people, getting them fired or socially ostracized.

At CAMERA UK, we believe in fighting antisemitism, a malevolent force that threatens not only Jews and Israel, but the Western world as well.  But, we also insist on using the term seriously, and only after applying a rigorous examination of the content in question.

Our goal is not to delegitimise individuals, whose motivations and core beliefs are usually beyond our capacity to grasp, but to delegitimise antisemitism.

Adam Levick and Hadar Sela, Co-Editors.

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