PROGRESS AND BACKLASH IN ANTISEMITISM FIGHT
Opposition to definition shows how far we have left in the battle against anti-Jewish bigotry.
“Opposition to the IHRA definition is primarily the outrage of bullies being called out as bullies, their belligerent tactics itemized, and their only response being to claim that they are the ones being bullied. It is the self-righteous ploy we have seen among recidivists since the dawn of the anti-racist movement.”
By Patrick Johnson
In recent days, the provinces of Alberta and Manitoba, as well as the City of Vancouver, have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism.
These jurisdictions, joining hundreds of others worldwide, represent one tangible movement to addressing the sadly growing phenomenon of hateful words and actions against Jewish people and institutions.
As in any movement for social progress, however, there comes an inevitable backlash from the forces of regression and bigotry. In the “debate” around the adoption of the definition, we have been bombarded with opposition – many employing the very tropes the definition sets out as exemplary of the problem itself.
Overwhelmingly, the arguments used to oppose the definition focus on the fact that, of the 11 examples accompanying the definition itself, seven explicitly mention the state of Israel. As is too often the case with critics of Israel and of Jews, the arguments they make have not been adequately critiqued.
If the examples are a problem, let’s discuss the examples. Of the seven that mention Israel, which ones threaten the right of legitimate criticism of Israel?
The first Israel-related example offered is: "Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust." Is this the problematic example? Are critics of Israel afraid that they will not be able to make their case against Israel without resorting to Holocaust denial?
The second example is "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." The “dual loyalty” canard has been a mainstay of anti-Jewish rhetoric for centuries, positing that “the Jew” is always an alien whose collective, tribal instincts trump their citizenship. Are opponents of the IHRA definition afraid of losing the right to invoke this age-old slander?
The third example is "Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor." Is this the key phrase? Understanding the role that Jewish statelessness played in almost 2,000 years of tragic history is crucial to appreciating the connection of Jewish people to the land and the state of Israel — and it is one motivation of allies to ensure Israel’s continued existence. Is it the wish of IHRA definition opponents to make the Jews of Israel stateless people again?
The fourth example offered is "Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation." Is opposition based on the fact that, after practically ignoring the state-sanctioned mass murderer next door in Syria, the genocide against Uighurs in Western China, the near-countless instances of human-created and natural catastrophes worldwide that are ignored or eclipsed due to condemnation of Israel at the United Nations, in activist groups and churches, in social justice movements and academic committees, opponents will be called out for their compulsive approbation of the one, Jewish state? Essentially, is the problem that they do not want to have a spotlight shone on their gross hypocrisy?
Or is it example number five?: "Using the symbols and images associated with classical antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis." Are critics of Israel afraid that their effectiveness will be enfeebled if they cannot plumb the depths of the ancient and deadly accusation of deicide or killing babies?
Is it number six?: "Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis." Is it the right to deface an Israeli flag by painting a swastika over the Star of David that opponents of the definition fear, to accuse Israeli soldiers of behaving like Gestapo?
The final Israel-related example is "Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel." Is opposition to the definition founded on the fear that critics will not be able to pin blame on their Jewish neighbours for the actions of a government half a world away? Are they afraid that spray-painting “Free Palestine” on North American synagogues or kicking over Jewish headstones will be met with a condemnation these acts do not now evoke?
While critics are correct that seven of the 11 examples included with the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism reference the state of Israel, this does not prove the conspiracy they seem to think it does. There is not one of these examples that should be problematic to any person of goodwill. Not one infringes on any right to engage in free and fair criticism of Israel or of anything else – especially since these are examples of illustration only accompanying a definition that is legally non-binding.
Opposition to the IHRA definition is primarily the outrage of bullies being called out as bullies, their belligerent tactics itemized, and their only response being to claim that they are the ones being bullied. It is the self-righteous ploy we have seen among recidivists since the dawn of the anti-racist movement.
The adoption of the IHRA definition is a victory for the fight against bigotry and antisemitism. The opposition to the adoption shows us just how far we have left to go.
Patrick Johnson is director of Upstanders Canada. (UpstandersCanada.com)