Protesters call for boycott of Israel [file].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In May, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) accepted a working definition of antisemitism. It required the votes of all of its 31 member countries. These included the United States, Canada and 24 member states of the European Union. The adopted non-legally binding text, besides defining antisemitism, also lists a number of its examples. From its applications in the past few months one can already see the definition’s potential in the battle against antisemitism as well as several of its shortcomings.
The recent announcement by British Prime Minister Theresa May that the United Kingdom will adopt the IHRA definition has been a great boost for the definition. It is to be used by the police, councils, universities and public bodies, to help those bodies decide if an incident is antisemitic or not. UK police forces already use it for this purpose.
The British decision to use the definition domestically has hopefully created a precedent to be followed by other countries.
There are three important areas where we can already see that the definition can be of help in identifying antisemitic acts and slurs. For instance in the definition text it says that it is antisemitic to apply “double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” One can thus authoritatively claim that promoting BDS, which focuses exclusively on Israel and/or the disputed areas, is antisemitic.
A second area where the usefulness of the definition has been demonstrated is investigating antisemitic statements of individuals. I was asked by the German AfD party to write an opinion on a number of statements by Wolfgang Gedeon, one of its parliamentarians in the federal state of Baden-Wurttemberg.
I used the IHRA definition to prove that his statements were indeed antisemitic.
A German expert came to the same conclusion. Gedeon was thereafter convinced by the AfD’s leader to leave the faction.
Similarly, an analysis of statements concerning Israel by a member of the House of Lords, Baroness Jenny Tonge, shows that many are antisemitic smears covered by the definition. An analysis of the statements of former left wing MP George Galloway produced the same results.
One often hears claims that Jews and Israelis cannot be antisemites.
To prove the contrary, one only has to analyze many statements of Israeli Gilad Atzmon, who lives in the UK.
An example of a Christian cleric making many antisemitic slurs is Jeremiah Wright, both when he was the Protestant preacher of a big church in Chicago, and now after his retirement.
A third important use of the definition can be the investigation of antisemitism in political parties, universities, trade unions, NGOs and so on. One can also analyze reports on investigations of antisemitism in such places to see whether their conclusions fit the IHRA definition.
One such much-publicized inquiry was carried out by Shami Chakrabarti, who has since become a baroness, at the request of the leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. He asked her to investigate whether there was antisemitism, Islamophobia or racism in the party. Chakrabarti initially asked for written suggestions from the public.
The Board of Deputies – the British Jewish umbrella organization – advised her to use the IHRA definition. I made the same suggestion to her in an open letter.
Yet, Chakrabarti saw fit not to use any definition of antisemitism. Afterwards it was easy to prove the highly unprofessional character of her report.
Another investigation of antisemitism was carried out at the City University of New York (CUNY). The investigators did not use any definition and produced a very flawed report.
A definition which had to be approved by 31 countries by necessity has to be concise. The practice of applying the definition has shown that it is far too short on many issues, in particular those concerning Israel. For instance one often finds antisemites who use terms like “Zionist” – not mentioned explicitly in the IHRA definition – rather than “Jewish” conspiracies. Another major antisemitic fallacy not addressed in the IHRA definition, is the use of false moral equivalencies against Israel.
Furthermore some antisemitic acts are carried out in indirect ways. Perhaps the most extreme antisemitic incident of 2016 was when UNESCO adopted a resolution which refers to the Temple Mount exclusively as the Al-Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque. In so doing, it dissociated Jews and Christians from the importance of Jerusalem to their religions.
Yet another example: UN-associated bodies appoint commissions with biased mandates to investigate Israeli acts in military campaigns. This is covered by the ‘double standard’ example of the IHRA definition. These commissions afterwards write highly defamatory reports of Israel. That was the case for instance with the Goldstone commission.
Even the head of the commission, Judge Richard Goldstone, later criticized its report. These and many other examples show that an additional specific definition of anti-Israeli antisemitism is required.