UCU, EUMC, antisemitism and anti-Zionism
People who carp and quibble over definitions of racism often have ulterior motives; and even more so, when they seek to outlaw the mere suggestion of a certain definition of racism.
When the British National Party shouts “Rights for Whites” whilst urging racism against non-whites, you know what kind of self-serving hypocrisy you are dealing with. In the context of Jews and antisemitism, however, you have the striking phenomenon of far left organisations and individuals who bitterly oppose racism and are very quick to see and oppose it in all sorts of places: but are deeply and actively hostile to mainstream Jewish perceptions on antisemitism.
Step forward, then, the Executive Committee of the University and College Union (UCU), who have proposed a resolution for UCU’s forthcoming conference to banish all use of the “working definition of antisemitism”, which was drafted for law enforcement and human rights agencies by the anti-racism watchdog of the European Union, the European Union Monitoring Centre (EUMC, now renamed Fundamental Rights Agency) back in 2004/2005. It is not that the UCU approves of antisemitism, far from it: but its disapproval of antisemitism comes strictly within its own terms and its own guideleines, and appears utterly subordinate to its own ideological wordview.
The Monitoring Centre compiled the “working definition” because this was a central recommendation of its own 345 page report “Manifestations of Antisemitism in the EU 2002-2003.” (Large pdf here. In particular, see p.3-4, 23-33, 318-329). This major report was the Centre’s initial response to the wave of antisemitic violence and intimidation that struck European Jewish communities in September 2000, concurrent with the beginning of Israeli-Palestinian violence that became known as the Second Intifada; and then again in 2002-2003 as the conflict intensified.
The report’s conclusion “Proposals For Action” (p.327) calls for its findings regarding antisemitism to “be seen within a general framework of measures against racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia , and related intolerances”. It starts by asking for legislation to be implemented that “will introduce effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties and define antisemitic acts”. Next, there is a section on “Recording Antisemitic Incidents”. It begins
The EUMC urges the Member States to establish specific mechanisms to record incidents of antisemitism.
…consider adopting measures for police cooperation under Article 34 of the EU Treaty, which would work towards the collection and dissemination of data on antisemitic offences, with the close cooperation of EUROPOL and EUROJUST.
As we now know, the antisemitism continued as the Middle East situation dragged on. Indeed, the antisemitic reaction to the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Dec 2008/Jan 2009 suggests that the problem has worsened.
The Centre’s “working definition” is to help European Police to recognise antisemitism when they attend the scene of a crime, and to help human rights agencies to recognise antisemitism when it is raised with them. It is merely “a practical guide” to aid the recognition and understanding of antisemitism; and to help standardise European-wide data on this subject. That is why it begins:
The purpose of this document is to provide a practical guide for identifying incidents, collecting data, and supporting the implementation and enforcement of legislation dealing with antisemitism.
Similarly, that is why it ends with explanations of “Antisemitic acts” that are “criminal”; “Criminal acts” that are “antisemitic”; and “antisemitic discrimination”.
The “working definition” is not so necessary in Britain perhaps, where antisemitism is generally well understood and defined by politicians, courts, Police and Jews: but it is of great importance in those many EU member states where antisemitism is poorly recognised and largely unrecorded by the authorities. It should go without saying that these member states include countries whose Jewish populations need every help they can get, having teetered on the brink of extinction in the post-Holocaust era.
The egoists who comprise the British far left, and the ivory tower navel-gazers who get so uptight over philosophical distinctions about antisemitism, need to accept that this subject is not about them (if they can bear such a thought). Rather, its purpose and primary benefit is about helping Police from Poznan to Ploiesti to recognise when a crime against Jews is (or is not) antisemitic. This is precisely why the “working definition” is not a long or difficult theoretical document. It is one sheet of A4 paper and is deliberately kept simple so as it can be easily translated and understood by anyone who might need to use it. (A full copy of the “working definition” can be seen here.)
As a “working definition” that is to be consulted in event of a hate crime, the document should also have a very obvious potential utility when institutions are drawing up, or implementing, codes of conduct and behaviour. It is entirely correct and natural, therefore, that an institution that cared about its Jewish members should wish to consult and utilise the guide. Even more so, when that institution knows the strength of feeling surrounding Israel, is embroiled in debate on Israel, and knows of the arising concerns of its Jewish members. This, for example, is why the National Union of Students correctly wishes to make use of the guide.
The guide most emphatically does not tell European Police forces, the National Union of Students, or anybody else, what absolutely is and is not antisemitic. Rather, it states that antisemitism “could” look like this, or like that. It lists six bullet point examples of things that may, or may not, be antisemitic. It is a starting point for anybody who wishes to take a serious look at what antisemitism is, and at what those on the receiving end perceive it to be. It is most certainly not intended to be an end point in any such discussion, that is why it clearly and deliberately states
could, taking into account the overall context
Then, it repeats the “could” and the “context”, (my emphasis) listing a further five bullet points as
Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel taking into account the overall context could include
The wording of the UCU resolution ignores all of the above rationale for, and nuance within, the EUMC text. This will reinforce the impression that there is a crushing lack of empathy for (mainstream) Jewish concerns within UCU. Disgracefuly and deceitfuly, it makes no mention of “could” or “overall context” within the EUMC guidelines. It most certainly does not mention EUMC’s desire to identify antisemitic hate crimes and safeguard the human rights of Jews. Instead, the “working definition” is depicted as if it were a draconian edict
the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine antisemitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus.
My colleague Dave Rich has written elsewhere of the EUMC guide, that
A document that was written as a practical guide for law enforcement has been invested with much greater meaning than ever intended or than it actually carries, by people on all sides of these arguments.
Certainly, if the academics union feel the EUMC “working definition” has been wrongly used then they should argue their case: but the claim that it has no place to even be heard, will surely be interpreted by most Jews (and many others) as further proof that this union is a lost cause.
This UCU resolution, therefore, is not merely a transparently self-serving hypocrisy. It will serve to (even) further alienate Jews from the union; and it will make it (even) harder for antisemitism to be raised there as a matter of concern. Under what circumstances can we now envisage this union reversing such opinions?
Furthermore, the formulation of the preamble reinforces the notion that those who complain about antisemitism are essentially doing so in order to shield Israel; and not because they are genuinely concerned about antisemitism. This implies that CST, the Union of Jewish Students and other anti-racist groups such as Engage, are more concerned about Israel than they are about British antisemitism. Ultimately, it carries the implication that people who complain about antisemitism in any Israel-related context are likely to be a bunch of liars, dancing to a pre-ordained tune.
This resolution therefore not only hurts Jews and the fight against antisemitism, it actually reinforces antisemitism; and does so notwithstanding that noisy minority of people of Jewish identity or origin, who consciously parade their Jewishness in order to help legitimise political and rhetorical attacks upon Israel and Zionism and Zionists (and therefore the broad mass of their co-religionists, over 70% of whom self-identify as Zionists).
The resolution comes under the header, “Campaigning for equality”. It would be funny, or at least ironic, were it not so Orwellian.
In all of this, it is important to see the wood for the trees. Usually, when arguments about definitions of racism occur, observers generally agree upon some accepted shades of grey, such as the idea that racism can be inadvertent on the part of the perpetrator; and also that actions falling shy of deliberate racism can, nevertheless, have racist knock-on effects and impacts. (These are usually deemed as being bad things, worth not only acknowledging but actually highlighting, in order to better combat in anti-racist solidarity.)
In Britain, the Lawrence Inquiry (by Sir William MacPherson into the Metropolitan Police’s flawed handling of the murder of black teenager, Stephen Lawrence), thrust the notion of “institutional racism” into our definitions and understanding of this complex mix; acknowledging that the culture of organisations could be racist. Again, this could be deliberate or inadvertent on the part of the perpetrators, but such an organisational culture could be significantly mitigated against by decently engaging with those perceiving themselves to be on the wrong side of the racist stick.
The ideological warriors behind this UCU resolution, however, have no need for such touchy-feely time wasting and universalist anti-racism. They know where they stand on this issue, and if it helps root Zionists out of their midst, why the hell should they worry?
(Note – the Engage website is indispensible for anyone seeking further information on the history of UCU’s repeated clashes with opponents of antisemitism, including UCU’s rebuttals. The full text of the UCU motion and comment from David Hirsh of Engage can be found here.)