Queuing up to tell Jews what they should find offensive

They’re queueing up to tell Jews what they should and should not find offensive! What other minority is told what constitutes racism against it, and what does not? The latest person who thinks he knows better than the clutch of Jewish NGOs and national representatives who drafted the EUMC Definition is Sir Stephen Sedley.  Sir Stephen is quite a character. Here is what the Mail said about him in September 2007:

Lord Justice Sedley, a former member of the Communist Party, is widely regarded as one of the most Left-wing of current judges…….His Who’s Who entries, under recreations, have included “changing the world”………… In the 1970s he was a tutor at the Communist University of London, a nine-day summer school organised by the Communist Party.  

In 2002 he was due to give a lecture in Israel but cancelled it in protest at the ‘massacre’ at Jenin .. which turned out not to be a massacre at all.

What definition does Sedley propose? “Anti-semitism is hostility towards Jews as Jews”.

But that ‘definition’ is all but useless because it only covers the most basic of offences. If a visible Jew went to a hotel but his booking was refused, but five minutes later someone else’s was accepted – that is the kind of anti-semitism that Sedley’s definition covers. It wouldn’t even cover common anti-semitic stereotypes such as ‘Jews are greedy’, because the anti-semite would simply claim that s/he was indeed talking about ‘Jews as Jews’.

In a brilliant article in The Times last month, Deborah Lipstadt and Anthony Julius pointed out that ‘There any many species in the anti-semitic bestiary…..Imagine these various kinds of anti-semites as denizens of an ugly zoo. And imagine that they flourish there, attended by zoo keepers — let them stand as a sympathetic or neutral “state”. At different times, some beasts will flourish more than others. Some will draw the attention of visitors more than others. But they co-exist — the social anti-semites, the progressives, the Christian and Muslim and secular anti-semites, the reactionaries.”

Sedley goes on (of course) to attack the parts of the EUMC Definition that refer to Israel: ‘Endeavours to conflate the two by characterising everything other than anodyne criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic are not new.’ Suggesting that the EUMC glass is 95% empty is simply a mischaracterisation. The truth is, no discourse about Israel can be deemed anti-semitic, apart from:

  • Suggesting that it is a racist state
  • Setting a higher standard for Israel than for any other democratic country
  • Using the blood libel or similar tropes to characterise Israel or Israelis
  • Comparing Israelis with Nazis
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

So for example the following statements are NOT anti-Semitic: “Gaza is the biggest open-air prison in the world thanks to Israel”

“Israel has stolen land”

“Israel treats its non-Jewish minorities as second class citizens”

But neither (pace Sedley) are they ‘anodyne criticism’! (They are all false though!)

Absurdly Sedley goes on to criticise the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Definition (practically the same as the EUMC Definition) as ‘indefinite’!

Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews.’

But he completely misses the plot. The IHRA Definition – like the EUMC one – is much more than just this. It includes many contemporary examples, eg:

Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-semitic.

-Applying double standards by requiring of [the state of Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

– 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.

—Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-semitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise 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.

But then – in an intellectual U-turn – Sedley DOES consider these examples. The assertion in the Definition that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that of any other country’ is not anti-semitic, is inverted by Sedley: ‘The first and second of these examples assume that Israel, apart from being a Jewish state, is a country like any other and so open only to criticism resembling such criticism as can be made of other states, placing the historical, political, military and humanitarian uniqueness of Israel’s occupation and colonisation of Palestine beyond permissible criticism.’ Look how he turns the ‘similar to any other country’ provision from maximalist to minimalist. His argument boils down to the Livingstone formulation: the allegation that supporters of Israel use the charge of anti-semitism to suppress all criticism of Israel.

The fact is that none of these statements is anti-semitic (though again they are all false):

“Israel is a settler colonial state”

“Israel mistreats children in the West Bank”

“In 1948 Israel evicted 800,000 Palestinians at gunpoint”

Similarly his criticism of the third example (‘Denying the Jewish people…’) is easily rebutted.  He claims that it ‘bristles with contentious assumptions about the racial identity of Jews’.  But nowhere does it state that Judaism is a race (it is a ‘people’). Rather, it says that it is antisemitic to CALL Israel a racist state.

Neither – as Sedley suggests – is the IHRA Definition a problem as regards the duty of universities to promote free speech (section 43 of the 1986 Education Act). Or indeed as regards the right of free expression under the 1998 Human Rights Act. Sir Stephen knows full well that the rights of free speech have to be balanced against other legal provisions, for example the Prevent duty and the Equality duty – particularly relevant for Universities – and the provisions of the legislation, such as the Public Order Act.

Sedley criticises the Swiss Court and the European Court of Human Rights for requiring the Swiss organisation CICAD (“The Intercommunity Coordination Against Anti-Semitism and Defamation) to withdraw its labelling as ‘anti-semitic’ an academic (William Ossipow) who wrote (in the preface of a book called Israël et l’autre) “When Israel is exposed on the international scene, it is Judaism that is exposed at the same time.” A common practice of antisemites is to try to separate Judaism from Zionism. How appalling that CICAD should have been party to this – and that Sedley should adduce ‘free speech’ in order to label an academic as an antisemite, when he was clearly anything but.

Incredibly Sedley calls those of us who campaigned against the Richard Falk talk at LSE ‘pro-Israel militants.’  This must include the Board President, Jonathan Arkush, who “strongly advised” Jewish students not to study at LSE after the talk. To remind you, Sir Stephen: Falk has been condemned by the UK government three times for antisemitism – or are you trying to maintain that under your ‘definition’ the cartoon which Falk published on his blog is NOT antisemitic?

In the name of ‘free speech’, Sir Stephen Sedley wants to remove much of the protection given to Jews – especially Jewish students – by a definition of antisemitism which recognises that Zionism and Judaism are two sides of the same coin.

Again – It is the fundamental right of a minority to decide what offends it. Sir Stephen and for that matter Hugh Tomlinson QC (who was asked by four anti-Israel organisations including the PSC and (surprise surprise) produced a critical assessment of the IHRA Definition) do NOT have the right to tell Jews what they should find offensive.

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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