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Brent Councillors disgracefully distort the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

This is a guest post by Jonathan Hoffman

On Monday night Brent Council debated whether to adopt the IHRA Definition of antisemitism.  It was a farcical debate which saw three Jewish residents articulate the ‘Livingstone Formulation’, claiming that the Definition would be used to stifle criticism of Israel (the truth is that it says that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic’ – besides which, I have never heard an Israel advocate describe genuine criticism as ‘antisemitic’.)

The Brent Councillors accepted an amendment to the part of the Definition that the hard Left loves to hate. They deleted ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour’, replacing it with ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour, alongside Palestinian right of self-determination.’ (This is taken from the video of the meeting. It can be seen from time stamp 1 hour 1 minute 24 seconds to 1.02.06). (I am assuming that there is a comma after the word ‘endeavour’ – rather than a fullstop – but it was not made clear; the minutes (not yet published) will clarify).

The amended sentence is a nonsense. One’s view on Palestinian statehood is a political matter. It has nothing to do with what is antisemitic. Or is the Council suggesting (pace  CAA) that it’s antisemitic to deny Palestinian statehood, in the mistaken view that ‘Arabs are Semites too’ (a well-worn antisemitic trope implying that Arabs cannot be antisemitic)? Worse: It is spitting in the face of Jews, to introduce an irrelevance into the definition of antisemitism. It’s antisemitic to state that Israel is a racist State. Period. One’s view on the desirability or feasibility  of a Palestinian State is as irrelevant to that as one’s view on the desirability of assisted suicide (for example).

The amendment also changed the first line below (in the Definition) to:

‘The guidelines highlight *possible* manifestations of antisemitism as *sometimes* including: ————-

The guidelines highlight manifestations of antisemitism as including:

- Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

- Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as

such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth

about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or

other societal institutions.

- Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed

by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

- Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and

accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).

- Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

- Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews

worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

- Applying double standards by requiring of it behaviour 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.”

So let’s get this straight.  In Brent, sometimes it’s antisemitic to compare Israeli Jews to Nazis but sometimes it’s OK. Unlike in neighbouring Barnet, Camden and Harrow – where it’s never OK. Message to Gilad Atzmon: Brent Welcomes You!

Maybe Councillor Shafique Choudhary (Labour) – whose amendment it was – could tell us when it’s acceptable to call Israeli Jews ‘Nazis? (I called him, but am none the wiser; he just told me that it was democratically voted).

In yet another own goal, the JLC and the Board of Deputies seemed unaware that Brent had disgracefully distorted the IHRA Definition:

Maybe we shouldn’t have stopped at three Own Goals …………

Unlike the Board of Deputies and the JLC, the Campaign Against Antisemitism was not asleep at the wheel (‘Brent Council’s vote on adopting the International Definition of Antisemitism was turned into a fiasco by people who appeared to be more obsessed with the politics of the Middle East than surging antisemitic crime in Britain’).

Sarah AB adds

I’ve had an interesting discussion with Jonathan about this issue (which he has followed far more closely than me). From a more cheerful, glass half full, perspective it could be seen as positive that Brent has adopted even a revised version of a definition which has elicited so much hostility from some on the further left.  The clause about Palestinian self-determination may perhaps be seen as largely rhetorical, although the implication seems to be that, if you support Jewish self-determination, you should also support Palestinian self-determination.  And similarly I’d like to suggest a softer view of the caveat clause.  It’s not very clear – I’m not even entirely sure whether it’s designed to signal that the list isn’t exhaustive or, as Jonathan suggests, to indicate that sometimes these symptoms aren’t in fact antisemitic. (Particularly difficult in the case of the first example listed below!).  I thought that the caveats were similar to the pervasive uncertainty of the EUMC definition where the words ‘could, taking into account the overall context’ are repeated like a litany. Context and nuance are important when discussing such issues.