Toward the end of the 19th century, a German publicist remarked: “One cannot
today criticize Jews without being called an anti-Semite.”
What is most
remarkable about these words is the fact that they were uttered by none other
than Wilhelm Marr, the so-called “Patriarch of Anti-Semitism,” the person
responsible for the creation and popularization of the very term
Far from being a mark of shame for Marr, his
anti-Semitism was a source of pride, and he formed the League of Antisemites in
This brief history is important because, as they say, the more
things change, the more they stay the same.
Today, the Jewish state has
become the target of many of the attacks traditionally reserved for the Jewish
Just as Marr later in life tried to defend hatred of Jews as mere
criticism, so do many of the Jewish state’s enemies use the “straw man
argument,” a misrepresentation of an opponent’s position, to defend their
defamation and delegitimization of the State of Israel.
They do this by
attacking those who claim that the singling out and demonization of the one
Jewish state in the world is anti-Semitic, arguing that such claims are used as
a weapon to stifle debate on Israel.
One thing needs to be made
abundantly clear, even if it is redundant: there has never been a single Israeli
politician or pro-Israel supporter who has ever claimed that all, or even most,
criticism of Israel is not completely legitimate or welcomed as part of the
rigorous democratic debate we hold every day in Israel.
shameless defense, and its variations, sometimes invoking the Holocaust, is used
to merely shift the argument from anti-Semites’ own hateful words or actions,
thus further attacking Israel and its supporters as stifling free speech and
making it seem that Israel is beyond criticism.
This deflection has
become so common it has been named. David Hirsh, a lecturer in sociology at
Goldsmiths, University of London, called it the “Livingstone Formulation” after
the former mayor of London Ken Livingstone, who would consistently make
anti-Semitic remarks and defend his hate-speech by claiming it was impossible to
Hirsh, in his article “Accusations of malicious intent
in debates about the Palestine-Israel conflict and about anti-Semitism,” writes
that “the use of the Livingstone Formulation is intended to make sure that the
raising of the issue of anti-Semitism, when related to ‘criticism of Israel,’
remains or becomes a commonsense indicator of ‘Zionist’ bad faith and a faux pas
in polite antiracist company.”
In other words, the user of this
formulation stifles any further debate by claiming that the defender of Israel
is deliberately stifling debate. Nevertheless, as absurd as the formulation is
on every level, it is still not only frequently used, it is increasingly
Unfortunately, it would seem that Jews are somewhat unique in
being one of the few victims of racism in Western society where the boundaries
of what constitutes hate are set by the haters themselves and not the
In 1993, a black teenager Stephen Lawrence was brutally murdered
in a racist attack in London. During the subsequent inquiry into the murder and
its ramifications, the official inquiry defined a racist attack as “any incident
which is perceived to be racist by the victim.”
This means that the
definition of a racist attack is how the victim perceives it, not how the
perpetrator does. According to this formulation, which is now widely accepted in
legal circles in the UK, Jews should be allowed to define whether an attack
against them is a hate crime or not.
For too long, the perpetrators of
anti-Semitism have decided what constitutes anti-Semitism, and we have been told
what is hate and intolerance directed against Jews, Jewish institutions or the
Jewish state and what is not.
Let us as Jews also be allowed to define
attacks against us, as other communities do.
In 2005, the European Union
Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) released and adopted the
“Working definition of anti-Semitism.”
This definition was an extremely
important attempt to define the boundaries of anti-Semitism in its many facets,
the most controversial of which today is how it manifests itself with regard to
the State of Israel.
The five examples contained in this manifestation
should seem perfectly plausible to any fair-minded person.
described as anti-Semitic in this definition are: the denial of the Jewish
people’s right to self-determination; applying double standards by requiring of
Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation; using
the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism to characterize
Israel or Israelis; drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that
of the Nazis; and holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State
This definition, while originally used in whole or in part by
such agencies as the US State Department, has now been disowned by the
organization which succeeded the EUMC. The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency has
recently even taken the definition off its website, giving an unconscionable
victory to those who worked extremely hard against its adoption.
of a unified and vigorous definition means that anti-Semites will continue to
act with immunity and impunity knowing that they cannot be prosecuted.
must not allow anti-Semites to set the agenda and define hate. As in Marr’s
remarks, anti-Semites will constantly and consistently attempt to shift
attention from their crimes. They will continue to create straw-man arguments to
preemptively defend themselves against accusations of hate, thus rendering
themselves impregnable to the truth.
This is an impossible and
intolerable situation which requires remedy in the international arena,
especially in the EU where recent surveys have demonstrated that anti-Semitism
is at its highest pitch since the end of World War II, and still
We need to push for the adoption of an internationally accepted
definition of anti-Semitism to ensure the boundaries of hate will be defined, so
as to openly and publicly unmask racists and expose them to legal measures
against hate crimes.The writer is an MK for Yisrael Beytenu and chairman
of the Knesset Committee for the Struggle Against Anti-Semitism.