The current battle about antisemitism in the UK has centred on the EUMC working definition of antisemitism.
In my Diigo I have a tag titled “monumental thread” where I bookmark and snippet from important online discussions. The most recent is this one on Engage, further to Jonathan Hoffman’s review of antisemitism on Comment Is Free. In the comments, you will find Chris Bertram (from Crooked Timber) implying that everybody who proposes a single-state solution experiences aggravated charges of antisemitism and that the EUMC definition facilitates this. He doesn’t like it that the people who experience racism get to define what is racist. This is the basic underpinning of anti-racist law – not to mention the guidance provided by trade unions throughout the world – and to contest it is basically saying that Jews exploit antisemitism for their own ends. Nice, Chris. Richard asked him for examples of aggravated charges of antisemitism points out that it is rarely the case that people can provide examples when they complain of aggravated charges of antisemitism. Richard also outlines the most important questions for a binationalist / single state proponent to answer. Chris, more interested in demanding rights for single state advocates to speak than in antisemitism on CiF, does not himself answer these. Put up or shut up – is he shutting up? I don’t think he has examples answers.
You will also come across something quite normal these days – an ever-so-polite-and-reasonable purveyor of antisemitic ways of thinking, Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf, coming out (like the BNP) in favour of repealing anti-racist law. Ibn Yusuf believes “the creation of Israel as a Jewish state to be a major, but reversible, historical mistake” and his pursuit of this reversal obliges him to deny not only antisemitism but the legitimacy of anti-racist law. Anti-racist law is a trade unionists best friend – isn’t it? Except UCU activists, that is, who are quite probably looking for ways to jettison their own – these days self-incriminating – guidance on discrimination because it scrapes against their cherished boycott campaign in such an irksome way.
Richard, Zkharya and Hoffman respond to Ibn Yusuf. Inna has a good mutatis mutandis. You’ll also find three brilliant pieces of advice from David Galant and some good analysis from Saul (nice to see somebody around who doesn’t feel obliged to dignify polite racism for polite response. I think Saul is a luminary.)
Ibn Yusuf isn’t very good, as you can see. It’s easy to take his self-righteous arguments apart because they have nothing to do with sticking up for Palestinians and everything to do with hating Israel. Trouble is, people with his views are growing in influence round here. (Update: Observer in the comments below points out that he might be an agent provocateur who aims to encourage readers to associate these everyday double standards with Arabs.)
Another very important thread on the subject of antisemitism is the one which brought practically everyone who is publicly involved in these debates flocking to Andy Newman’s post on Socialist Unity. Hoary old antisemites, obsessive anti-Zionists who can’t help crossing the line, people who don’t know any better – and the anti-racists who try to bring them sense and limit their influence. Mercifully I think the Independent Jewish Voices worthies Brian Klug and Antony Lerman stayed away so the argument was a few degrees less contorted than it could have been, deeply unpleasant though it was.
Because I was mightily impressed by all the messages I took-home from the email seminar the other day, here are three simple take-home messages about antisemtism for the doubters and deniers of antisemitism:
- People don’t fabricate antisemitism – if you find an example it will be an exception that proves the rule. If you, from a position of influence, want to criticise Israel about its conflict with the Palestinians and at the same time you don’t really give a hoot about finding a solution that gives Israel’s Jews appropriate assurances, this will show in your selective knowledge, double standards, and hectoring. It would be highly irresponsible for you to do that, and people would rightly find you ideologically, rather than philanthropically, motivated. They will perceive bias against Jews, and indeed you would be arguing from an antisemitic premise which, purely and simple, is a premise that undermines the best interests of Jews. Basically, the more contentious the topic, the more open-minded and committed to finding out the truth you have to be. The debate around climate change is like this, ditto genes.
- It is probably the case that when you do something racially discriminatory you are being racist but are not a racist. I.e. it’s not running in your veins nor part of your constitution – it’s just something you did. But that’s neither here nor there because the identity of the person spreading the racism doesn’t make much difference to the people on the receiving end. It might be relevant but it’s impossible to ascertain. What is important to them is that the acts stop. So repeat after me: “It’s the impact, not the intention, that matters. It’s the impact, not the intention, that matters. It’s the impact, not the intention, that matters”.
- So you’ve failed as an anti-racist? Get a grip, racism is an easy trap to fall into, it’s not the end of the world. Do some damage limitation and make it a brief lapse. All you have to do is know yourself, apologise, work on it, most importantly, stop, and nobody will hold it against you. Just don’t be one of those cliche racists who are so unable to handle their own guilt that they have to go full throttle with the demonisation to turn it into a just cause and square it with their conscience. As Hoffer observes, there’s an “intimate connection between hatred and a guilty conscience”. So go easy on yourself – for all our sakes.
OK, they weren’t simple. There’s a reason for that. But I hope they were pretty much clear. Thanks for listening, you’ve been a great group. Please hand in your name badges on the way out.