Anti-Zionism and antisemitism

While the IHRA definition of antisemitism is certainly a worthy effort, on some issues it introduces more confusion than clarity.

AN ANTI-ISRAEL protest in London.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
AN ANTI-ISRAEL protest in London.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The reports, both in Israel and abroad, about the resolution passed by the French National Assembly on December 3 on combating antisemitism in Europe in general and France in particular were an example of sloppy reporting.
Some reports declared that what was passed by the National Assembly, by a vote of 154 deputies in favor and 72 against, was a law rather than a resolution. Some reported that the resolution equated anti-Zionism with antisemitism. Some declared that President Emmanuel Macron, who supported the initiation of the resolution, had in fact declared himself an antisemite since he also supported the European Union decision in its demand that all products manufactured in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights be marked as such, and not as products of Israel.
Let us put some order into this story. First of all, the resolution, which “endorses the operational definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA – an intergovernmental organization founded in 1998 to “strengthen, advance and promote Holocaust education research and remembrance”) as a useful educational and training tool for the support of the judicial and law enforcement authorities in their efforts to detect and prosecute antisemitic attacks more efficiently and effectively,” called upon the French government, to disseminate this definition in educational work, within the law enforcement and judicial services.
The term “anti-Zionism” was not mentioned in the resolution itself, but only in the explanatory introduction to the resolution (that is not part of the resolution itself), which stated: “Anti-Zionism acts can sometimes obscure antisemitic realities. Criticizing the very existence of Israel as a collective composed of Jewish citizens is tantamount to hatred toward the Jewish community as a whole, just as collectively holding Jews accountable for the policies of the Israeli authorities is an expression of antisemitism.”
Among those who contributed to the disinformation on this issue was the Prime Minister’s Office. On February 20 Macron stated at the 34th annual dinner of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions that he was planning to get France to adopt a definition of antisemitism, to combat the rising tide of antisemitism, which would mention hatred of Israel. On the same day he informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the declaration would use the definition of antisemitism issued by IHRA, and Netanyahu’s office reacted by saying that this definition “determines that anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism.”
Well, it does not. The “non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism” issued by IHRA on May 26, 2016 (and adopted by Israel’s 34th government on January 22, 2017), does not mention the term “anti-Zionism.” The definition states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
There follows a list of examples to illustrate what is meant by this definition. Among 11 examples mentioned, the following five relate to Israel:
• “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.
• “Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
• “Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
• “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
• “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.”
Only the first of these relates to anti-Zionism, using the most basic definition of Zionism as the realization of the right of the Jewish people to a state. It doesn’t say anything about the Jewish state holding sovereignty in only part of the Land of Israel, and that there is another people living in the same territory, and also claiming rights in it. Consequently, it also does not relate to the question whether criticism of Israel for the way it handles 20% of its citizens, who are Arabs, and millions of Palestinians living in parts of the Land of Israel that are not part of the sovereign territory of the State of Israel, but which it controls to various degrees, may be considered antisemitic or anti-Zionist. Israel’s Jewish right-wing and religious parties would certainly answer this question in the affirmative. Israel’s Jewish center-left parties would answer it in the negative. This divergence results from different perceptions of what Zionism is all about, besides the realization of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination.
One may also wonder whether criticism of the fact that Israel does not always act in accordance with the principles mentioned in its Proclamation of Independence, relating to democracy and minority rights, or its ambivalence regarding inconvenient rules of international law, can or cannot be considered manifestations of antisemitism or anti-Zionism. Again, how one answers this question depends on one’s political and even religious positions.
IN SHORT, while the IHRA definition of antisemitism is certainly a worthy effort, on some issues it introduces more confusion than clarity.
As to the French National Assembly adopting the definition, following its adoption by several European organizations, the US, Germany and a handful of other states, it should be noted that of the 577 deputies in the Assembly, under 40% participated in the vote, and many of those who stayed away (including many members of Macron’s party, La République En Marche!) did so because they had reservations about its adoption.
Will the resolution make a significant contribution to the French effort to combat growing manifestations of antisemitism in France? Probably not, especially since the definition does not profess to be legally binding in any way, and the problem is not really one of semantics but, rather, of tangible manifestations of hatred.
Will the resolution improve relations between Israel and France? Not really, because the problems in French-Israeli relations are not about how well France deals with manifestations of antisemitism in its territory, but disagreements over the policies of the governments of the two countries toward the Middle East in general and Iran and the Palestinians in particular. Perhaps a change of government in Israel will do the trick.