Of the many depressing features around the University and College Union’s (UCU) trashing of the European Union Monitoring Centre’s Working Definition of Antisemitism, perhaps the worst one is the basic denial of the decency and humanity of those expressing concerns about antisemitism.
In this, the UCU reflects a far wider and very ugly trend, whereby the anti-Israel movement rejects claims of antisemitism by alleging that those who complain are merely doing so to cover Israel’s crimes. This ostensibly anti-Israel response, is in effect an antisemitic response. It not merely obstructs the fight against antisemitism, it helps propel it: firstly, by denying what is antisemitic and encouraging more; and secondly, by depicting people who complain about antisemitism as being moral reprobates.
CST distinguishes between antisemitic incidents (ie hate crimes against Jews) and antisemitic discourse (ie discussion and rhetoric). When, in the early 2000’s, CST and others drew attention to the wave of antisemitic incidents that hit British Jews (and other Jewish communities throughout the world), we were accused of exaggerating the problem in order to distract attention from alleged Israeli crimes. The physical evidence proved so overwhelming that most of our critics have now dropped that particular slander.
When it comes to antisemitic discourse, however, the battlefield remains hotly disputed. On one level, this is entirely understandable, as hate crime is often far easier to identify than hate speech. If, for example, a random British synagogue is defaced with anti-Israel slogans, then most people (including CST, Police and the EUMC definition) would accept this as being a hate crime against a Jewish communal building.
If, however, a public speaker condemned the mainstream Jewish community for demonstrating in support of Israel, then any arising accusations of antisemitism would depend upon a multiplicity of factors, facts and contexts: all of which would be heatedly argued dependent upon one’s personal ideology, fears and awareness (and interpretation) of the history of antisemitism.
It does not take much knowledge of antisemitism to appreciate that Jews, having been brutally persecuted for the best of 2,000 years, then suffered industrialised genocide across Europe within living memory. It does not take much knowledge of the Arab-Israel conflict to appreciate that Israel was founded in the aftermath of that genocide and has faced down the threat of violent destruction for its entire existence.
I do not expect or ask that UCU and its defenders (on the anti-Zionist left, including the Jewish anti-Zionist left) reach some magical agreement with their critics on what is, and what is not antisemitic: but surely the history and context of antisemitism demand that they afford their critics far more humanity and basic decency than is currently the case.
They could, for example, say that they understand why Jews might fear an anti-Israel boycott as having a historical antisemitic resonance; a likely isolating impact upon mainstream Jewish communities; and a potentially antisemitic knock-on effect. (Because people might assume that Israel’s real and supposed supporters were deserving of derision, and the occasional good kicking.) They could go out of their way to speak out against such impacts, could attempt to assuage Jewish fears; and could even refuse to work with groups that refuse to acknowledge Israel’s right to its very existence as a Jewish state.
Instead, the opposite occurs. Jews who express concern about antisemitism are not treated with respect, but are summarily dismissed as liars and frauds. Their case is prejudged according to its perceived political setting. (I say perceived, because the case of Engage shows that well-known critics of Israeli policy towards Palestinians are subject to the same abuse as those who do not make such criticisms.) This, of course, becomes a vicious cycle. The person complaining about antisemitism, or fearing antisemitism, has their sense of persecution vindicated and intensified by the response that they receive. The cycle intensifies further.
Where Jewish groups that were consulted by EUMC in the drafting of the Working Definition are concerned, the demonisation is even worse. They are treated as if they colluded to mainpulate the European Union into constructing a shield for Israel’s crimes. The reality is far simpler and far more humane. They were trying to help European police forces to identify when an anti-Israel act might be antisemitic (such as slogans on a synagogue), or might not.
Only two conferences ago (in 2009), an attempt was made to explicitly address the problem, with this resolution being proposed:
Congress notes with concern the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK and resignations of UCU members apparently in connection with perceptions of institutional anti-Semitism.’
Add new final bullet point: ‘ To investigate the number of recent UCU resignations and the reasons for them, and to report its findings to next Congress.’
Sad to say, the resolution was resoundingly rejected by the conference; and today’s UCU Executive is driving the problem, having premised their rejection of the EUMC Working Definition upon this:
[EUMC] is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus.
So, how long will it be before they cut to the chase and use the following terms:
- hysterical hue and cry by Israel’s lackeys in Britain
- Israel lobbyists have shown themselves to be even more extreme than their paymasters in Tel Aviv
- Evidently bankrupt of any intellectual, moral or political tools to stem the growing tide of international support for the just nature of the Palestinian cause, Israel’s British hirelings mounted a scurrilous smear campaign
- A number of fantasies were concocted to prevent a legitimate debate on the conflict
Ridiculous you say? Not really. All of that is taken from a “commentary” issued today by MEMO (Middle East Monitor) in which they deny that their forthcoming guest speaker, Islamic Movement in Israel head, Sheikh Raed Salah, has uttered antisemitic remarks widely attributed to him and dating from 2007.
MEMO are not the only ones involved in Salah’s visit. His 1st event is scheduled for 27 June and is jointly organised by MEMO, Islamic Forum Europe and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. His 2nd event is at the House of Commons on 29 June. It is organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
One of UCU’s main partners for pro-Palestinian activity – yup, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Will anyone from UCU, or its defenders, criticise Salah? (And, if so, will they explain why the EUMC definition should not be applied in his case?)
Will anyone from UCU, or its defenders, or PSC, condemn MEMO’s abusive language against those who are opposing Salah’s visit?
Don’t bet on it. Instead, watch the vicious cycle take another turn.