Defining anti-Semitism in order to fight it

"We need to push for the adoption of an internationally accepted definition of anti-Semitism to ensure the boundaries of hate will be defined."

cairo anti-semitic protests 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
cairo anti-semitic protests 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 “anti-Semitism.”
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 1879.
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 people.
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.
Rather, this 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 criticize Israel.
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 accepted.
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 victims.
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.
The examples 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 of Israel.
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.
The lack of a unified and vigorous definition means that anti-Semites will continue to act with immunity and impunity knowing that they cannot be prosecuted.
We 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 rising.
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.