The Guardian published an op-ed length letter by dozens of Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals (including PLO official Hanan Ashrawi and Guardian contributors Raja Shehadeh and Rashid Khalidi) taking aim at the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.
The letter (“Palestinian rights and the IHRA definition of antisemitism”, Nov. 29) begins with a variation of the Livingstone Formulation, by suggesting that Jews cynically and dishonesty use charges of antisemitism to silence Palestinian voices:
In recent years, the fight against antisemitism has been increasingly instrumentalised by the Israeli government and its supporters in an effort to delegitimise the Palestinian cause and silence defenders of Palestinian rights.
No examples of how Jews or Israelis “instrumentalise” antisemitism to “silence Palestinian voices” are provided.
The signatories then proceed to define for Jews what antisemitism ‘really’ is:
Antisemitism must be debunked and combated. Regardless of pretence, no expression of hatred for Jews as Jews should be tolerated anywhere in the world. Antisemitism manifests itself in sweeping generalisations and stereotypes about Jews, regarding power and money in particular, along with conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial. We regard as legitimate and necessary the fight against such attitudes.
Now, they pivot to their real concern with IHRA:
The fight against antisemitism must, however, be approached in a principled manner, lest it defeat its purpose. Through “examples” that it provides, the IHRA definition conflates Judaism with Zionism in assuming that all Jews are Zionists, and that the state of Israel in its current reality embodies the self-determination of all Jews. We profoundly disagree with this. The fight against antisemitism should not be turned into a stratagem to delegitimise the fight against the oppression of the Palestinians, the denial of their rights and the continued occupation of their land.
IHRA does define as antisemitic “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”, which is what they appear to be alluding to when they claim IHRA “delegitmises the fight against oppression of the Palestinians”. They’re saying, in effect, that they want the right to campaign for the end of the Jewish state with moral impunity.
However, the overwhelming majority of the world’s Jews are Zionists, in that they believe Jews have the right to statehood in their historic homeland, and the connection between Israel and Judaism, the late Rabbi Sacks explained, is “ancient and fundamental”, a fact that most Jews understand intuitively.
The Palestinian signatories then proceed to provide seven basic principles, which includes, in principle number one, their characterisation of Israel as a “predatory state”.
The fight against antisemitism…. is deeply distorted when geared towards the defence of an oppressive and predatory state.
In their second principle, we see again an example of why they wish to undermine IHRA’s defining as antisemitic the description of Zionism as an intrinsically racist endeavor
There is a huge difference between a condition where Jews are singled out, oppressed and suppressed as a minority by antisemitic regimes or groups, and a condition where the self-determination of a Jewish population in Palestine/Israel has been implemented in the form of an ethnic exclusivist and territorially expansionist state.
One of the basic principles of IHRA is that it recognizes that some forms of criticism of Israel is a new form of antisemitism, whereby the Jewish collective, Israel, is vilified in a manner that’s morally indistinguishable from classic antisemitism. In its relatively short history, Israel has been the target of hate and violence not because of what it’s done, because of what it is: a Jewish state. To deny that Israel has been hated largely because of its Jewish character is deny reality.
The fact is that crude, classic and often eliminationist antisemitism in the Middle East (especially in the Palestinian territories) has been demonsrated in opinion polls and countless examples, year after year, of antisemitic propaganda by both state and non-state actors. This hatred of Jews, it should be noted, took root not only before the 1967 war, but decades before statehood.
Are we really to believe that the widespread anti-Jewish racism throughout the Arab and Muslim world is not in any way related to their hatred of the Jewish state?
One of the best brief explanations on when criticism of Israel crosses the line to antisemitism was offered by dovish Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi, as he responded to a student asking why humanizing Zionists was acceptable, and compared that to asking black Americans to humanize members of the KKK.
Whilst of course reasonable people can disagree on where the line is between legitmiate criticism of Israel and antisemitism, to deny that there is such a line is intellectually unserious, and grants anti-Semites impunity against charges of racism as long as they use euphemisms such as “Zionism” or “Zionist” instead of Jew.
Their third principle pertains to BDS:
The IHRA definition of antisemitism and the related legal measures adopted in several countries have been deployed mostly against leftwing and human rights groups supporting Palestinian rights and… [the] (BDS) campaign, sidelining the very real threat to Jews coming from rightwing white nationalist movements in Europe and the US. The portrayal of the BDS campaign as antisemitic is a gross distortion of what is fundamentally a legitimate non-violent means of struggle for Palestinian rights.
First, their suggestion that the only ‘real’ antisemitism is from the right represents a blind spot that no serious student of antisemitism would take seriously. As the Labour antisemitism scandal demonstrates, anti-Jewish racism often takes cover under the veneer of ‘human rights’, anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism and of course anti-Zionism.
Additionally, though IHRA doesn’t mention BDS, we have demonsrated repeatedly that, despite obfuscations by British media outlets, the BDS movement is, at the very least, strongly compromised by anti-Jewish racism.
This is due in part by the fact that the co-founder of the movement and most supporting pro-BDS groups oppose a Jewish state within any borders – as opposed to merely advocating for “Palestinian rights’ – and support terror.
Also, even leaving the anti-Zionist element of BDS aside, surveys have shown that those who support BDS (and hold other extreme anti-Israel positions) are dramatically more likely than the general population to also hold classically antisemitic views – including the tropes the signatories of the Guardian letter admitted were antisemitic.
So, at the very least, there is a clear correlation between BDS and antisemitism.
Their fourth principle focuses on anti-Zionism:
The IHRA definition’s statement that an example of antisemitism is “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”… potentially discards as antisemitic all non-Zionist visions of the future of the Israeli state, such as the advocacy of a binational state or a secular democratic one that represents all its citizens equally. Genuine support for the principle of a people’s right to self-determination cannot exclude the Palestinian nation, nor any other.
First, the principle that denying Jews the right to self-determination is antisemitic does not, in any way, preclude the creation of a Palestinian state. And, yes, of course IHRA defines as antisemitic ‘visions’ of the future which result in the end of the world’s only Jewish majority state, for a number of reasons. For starters, putting Jews in a country where they’re the (unarmed) minority living under majority Palestinian Muslim rule, possibly led by Hamas, would necessary put millions of Jewish lives – and the future presence of Jewish life in the region – in grave danger.
The one question pseudo-progressive voices like Peter Beinart and his new anti-Zionist allies never address is how they can reconcile their vision of peace with the fact that their bi-national, one-state fantasies never address the question of why antisemitic terror group in the region would even conceivably disarm, or abandon their genocidal antisemitic ideology.
Also, since the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews would fiercely resist any effort to impose a one-state solution, those advocating for such a ‘solution’ are inciting what would likely lead to a regional bloodbath.
Israeli journalist Eylon Levy provides a good explanation of why anti-Zionism, as an idea and political movement, is intrinsically antisemitic:
The fifth principle demands a seemingly unlimited ‘right of return’.
We believe that no right to self-determination should include the right to uproot another people and prevent them from returning to their land…The demand by Palestinians for their right of return to the land from which they themselves, their parents and grandparents were expelled cannot be construed as antisemitic…[and] it is a right recognised by international law as represented in United Nations general assembly resolution 194 of 1948.
First, as CAMERA has demonstrated repeatedly in prompting corrections at media outlets voicing this argument, UN resolution 194 does NOT call for the right of return. Also, the unlimited return of millions upon millions of Palestinians (99% of whom are merely descendants of actual refugees from 1948) is, per the previous principle about one-state solutions, an attempt to create facts on the ground that will end Jewish sovereignty in their land.
Also, it’s worth noting, especially since today is Jewish Refugee Day, that the signatories are naturally silent on the plight and rights of 800,000 Jews who were cleansed from Arab and Muslim lands from the 1940s to the 1960s.
Principle number six addresses the fact that IHRA defines as antisemitic accusations that Zionism is a racist endeavor:
To level the charge of antisemitism against anyone who regards the existing state of Israel as racist, notwithstanding the actual institutional and constitutional discrimination upon which it is based, amounts to granting Israel absolute impunity. Israel can thus deport its Palestinian citizens, or revoke their citizenship or deny them the right to vote, and still be immune from the accusation of racism. The IHRA definition and the way it has been deployed prohibit any discussion of the Israeli state as based on ethno-religious discrimination.
First, we should be clear: IHRA doesn’t define as antisemitic accusations that Israel has racist policies, only smears that it is intrinsically racist. The first sentence in the above principle conflates the two. Because, though all nations in the world can reasonably be accused of discrimination and racism on some level, when you argue that a state is, by definition, racist, you’re saying that it has no political or moral legitimacy: that it arguably has no right to exist.
IHRA doesn’t prohibit “discussion” of Israeli racism. It only defines as antisemitic arguments that the only way to alleviate their racism is by dismantling the state, and eliminating its Jewish character and majority.
Now, the final principle, number seven:
We believe that justice requires the full support of Palestinians’ right to self-determination, including the demand to end the internationally acknowledged occupation of their territories and the statelessness and deprivation of Palestinian refugees. The suppression of Palestinian rights in the IHRA definition betrays an attitude upholding Jewish privilege in Palestine instead of Jewish rights, and Jewish supremacy over Palestinians instead of Jewish safety.
As we’ve shown, nothing in IHRA denies Palestinians any rights, other than, of course, their ‘right’ to deprive Jews of their internationally recognized rights. But, here, in the final paragraph, is where the signatories reveal their hand: the overwhelming majority of Jews in Israel and the diaspora who are Zionists are smeared as “privileged” and upholding the racist belief in “Jewish supremacy“.
The argument by these Palestinian artists, academics and intellectuals, per their seven principles, seems clear: Zionism equal racism and, ipso facto, a core element of Jewish identity is itself racist. The Guardian didn’t merely publish a letter attacking IHRA, Israel and Zionism: They have amplified and legitmised voices attacking Jews as Jews.