Jonathan Hoffman
Jonathan Hoffman

Anti-semitism: A meaningless lecture

On Monday night I went to Birkbeck (University of London) for a lecture by Professor David Feldman entitled ‘The Meanings of Antisemitism’. Professor Feldman is the Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism.

There were about 200 there including several haters with form (eg Abe Hayeem, Mike Cushman, Ghada Kharmi). You would have thought that with anti-semitism in the UK at a record level (1,309 incidents nationwide during 2016, a 36 per cent increase from 2015 – CST) there would be some interesting policy content in such a lecture. Particularly with the UK government recently adopting the IHRA definition and even the Labour Party adopting it. And particularly with Feldman having been the Vice Chair of the Chakrabarti Inquiry.

Well – if you would have thought that, you came away profoundly disappointed.

And you would not have been watching the antics of this woefully misnamed Institute and its Director for the last eight years.

But I have.

So I expected nothing.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

He started off by saying that ‘there is confusion over what anti-semitism is’. Translation: “I know that there is a precise definition (the EUMC/IHRA definition) which is accepted by the UK government, the Labour Party, the National Union of Students, the US State Department and the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism – to mention just a few. But I don’t agree with it because it says that it’s anti-semitic to call Israel a racist State. To agree with that could be professional suicide for an academic in the humanities. So I’ll play safe by simply saying that there is confusion over what anti-semitism is.”

To ‘prove’ this fallacy Feldman produced some poll data.  He quoted from the Populus poll (for BICOM) carried out in October 2016.  This found that 52% of respondents failed to agree that ‘hating Israel and questioning its right to exist is antisemitic’. But of course it is the right of Jews to say what is antisemitic – just as it is the right of any minority to define prejudice against itself. And the same poll says that taking only Jews, only 6% of them failed to agree that ‘hating Israel and questioning its right to exist is antisemitic’. Moreover this 6% did not disagree – they were neutral.

Similarly he slanted the results from a January 2015 poll. This poll found that over half the population (55%) believe they can explain what ‘anti-semitism’ means. Feldman reported this as “45% were not confident that they could explain what ‘anti-semitism’ means. But that might not be true at all. There may be (say) 30% who are not sure if they can explain it. Leaving just 15% who thought they could not explain it (the full polling data are not published – I have requested it from Populus). And Feldman attempted to strengthen his point by reporting the result for 18-24 year olds (63% did not agree that they could explain anti-semitism). However he failed to quote the results for 55-64’s and over 65s (67% and 71% respectively agreed that they could explain what ‘anti-semitism’ means).

Having attempted (and failed) to prove with statistics that ‘there is confusion over what anti-semitism is’, he then turned to history. Of course the nature of anti-semitism has changed through history – because since 1948 anti-semites have been able to target the collective Jew (the Jewish State) as well as the individual Jew. But that hardly proves his point – that there is confusion NOW over what anti-semitism is. So we got a grand tour of authorities on anti-semitism in the first half of the 20th Century – eg Lucien Wolf and the Reverend James Parkes. About as relevant to anti-semitism in 2017 as an abacus to a laptop.

After about an hour came some limp-wristed conclusions – like ‘legislation is necessarily ideological in nature’ (?). And the ritual slur about Israel, to pass the academic political test: “Israel is widely seen to encompass expropriation, occupation and discrimination”. There followed about 35 minutes of questions. All easy and anodyne. Feldman took three rounds of questions – around 12 in all. I had my hand up throughout. I was sitting in the second row from the front. He obviously saw me — but looked at me as if I was a side dish he hadn’t ordered and doggedly refused to call me to speak. At least that proves he reads my blogs!

The Israel haters will have gone away pleased. But for those expecting some flesh on the bones of the title of the lecture (‘The Meanings of Antisemitism’) – forget it ….this was only the Director of the UK’s single Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, after all ….

About the Author
Jonathan Hoffman is a blogger who has written for United With Israel, CiFWatch (now UK Media Watch), Harrys Place and Z-Word.
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