Genuine critics of Israel have no reason to fear the UK’s new anti-Semitism definition

Theresa May announced on Monday that the United Kingdom is to officially adopt a definition of anti-Semitism. The definition, adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) earlier this year, is intended to assist police forces, councils and other public bodies in identifying and combating anti-Semitism.

Considering recent cases of anti-Semitism in British politics, it comes as no surprise that the Prime Minister has decided to act on the issue. May is a long-term supporter of Britain’s Jewish community and this looks set to continue.

A number of possible ‘contemporary’ manifestations of anti-Semitism are listed in the adopted definition, including Holocaust denial, rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, blood libel claims and holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel.

The complexity of modern anti-Semitism means that the adoption of such a definition is necessary. The text, which has already been implemented on various British campuses for some time, aims to expose those who seek to hide their anti-Semitism through the language of anti-Zionism.

Genuine critics of Israel and defenders of Palestinian human rights have nothing to fear as a result of this new definition. Those who flirt with anti-Semitism when criticising the State of Israel should be feeling nervous.

One well-known critic of Israel and regular campus speaker, Ben White, has been rather upset by Theresa May’s announcement. Writing in The Independent this week, White describes an incident at the University of Birmingham in 2011 where, during a debate on Middle East peace prospects, the Debating Society banned the word ‘apartheid’ on the basis of the now-adopted definition of anti-Semitism. The University’s Jewish Society was subsequently attacked for attempting to limit free speech.

Those who flirt with anti-Semitism when criticising the State of Israel should be feeling nervous.

As an organiser of that event, and unfortunately for White, it’s a shame that the truth does get in the way of a good story. The University’s Debating Society, without any interference by the Jewish Society, decided that the term was simply inflammatory, as well as entirely inaccurate, and therefore would not permit it. Not wonderful for proponents of free speech but wholly irrelevant to the debate over this definition.

Could it be that White, who once stated that “I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are”, and other dubiously motivated anti-Israel peers are nervous?

If you cannot manage to criticise Israel without comparing contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, thereby deliberately using the most harrowing experience of the Jewish people to criticise the world’s only Jewish state, then you may feel uneasy. Why? Your thinly veiled anti-Semitism in the form of criticism of Israel, causing British Jewry to feel so deeply troubled, will no longer be tolerated.

Genuinely disagree with Israel’s policies? You will be just fine. Believe in the right of British Jews to be free from anti-Semitism? You might even be pleased.

About the Author
Eytan Halon, a former combat medic in the IDF, is a Law with French graduate from the University of Birmingham (UK) and a former Campaigns Director of Birmingham Jewish Society. @eytanhalon
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