Jewish groups worldwide oppose new anti-Semitism definition

A Jewish Voice for Peace protest in New York City, July 2014.

A Jewish Voice for Peace protest in New York City, July 2014.

Weekly online magazine The Forward, dedicated to social justice and Jewish Americans, ran an important piece this week: "Jewish Groups Around The World Argue Criticism Of Israel Is Not Anti-Semitic." The article addressees a declaration, initiated by Jewish Voice for Peace, and signed by 36 Jewish groups worldwide.

It is worth taking some time to unpack this statement and why it is necessary in the light of troubling political trends.

The message begins as follows:

As social justice organizations from around the world, we write this letter with growing alarm regarding the targeting of organizations that support Palestinian rights in general and the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, in particular. These attacks too often take the form of cynical and false accusations of antisemitism that dangerously conflate anti-Jewish racism with opposition to Israel’s policies and system of occupation and apartheid.

Indeed, it isn't hard to find stories of people and groups taking heat for legitimate criticism of Israel (for example, this and this) and its oppressive policies toward Palestinians.

The BDS movement, whose goal is to put pressure on Israel to change its tactics, has also been hit hard with charges of anti-Semitism. BDS is a proven, legitimate strategy for ending brutality toward marginalized groups - it helped bring down apartheid in South Africa - but Israel looks only at the presence of criticism, and not its content. The self-proclaimed "Jewish State," considers any critique to be a slur against all Jews.

BDS raises a voice for the victims of Israel's oppressive policies and in favor of compliance with international human rights law.

BDS raises a voice for the victims of Israel's oppressive policies and in favor of compliance with international human rights law.

The statement continues:

We live in a frightening era, with growing numbers of authoritarian and xenophobic regimes worldwide, foremost among them the Trump administration, allying themselves with Israel’s far right government while making common cause with deeply antisemitic and racist white supremacist groups and parties.

From our own histories we are all too aware of the dangers of increasingly fascistic and openly racist governments and political parties. The rise in antisemitic discourse and attacks worldwide is part of that broader trend.

7-18-18 both sides.png

True. We can't forget #45's "both sides" press conference after the Charlottesville incident. Clearly this president poses a threat to the Jewish community (as well as other minorities) in the US with his coded language of approval of white supremacist actions.

While Trump licenses aggression toward marginalized groups in the US, he is doing the same in Israel/Palestine as he empowers Netanyahu's administration to continue oppressing and dispossessing Palestinians. 

Anti-Semitism is evil; anti-any-other-marginalized-group is equally evil, not less so.

At times like this, it is more important than ever to distinguish between the hostility to or prejudice against Jews on the one hand and legitimate critiques of Israeli policies and system of injustice on the other.

Plain and simple, pro-Israel Jews and their allies must begin to acknowledge that Israel is not "an imperfect democracy" that sometimes squabbles with its neighbors; rather it treats its neighbors (and the minority within its borders) shabbily at best and inhumanely at worst. Its democracy is so deeply flawed that it is unrecognizable.

7-18-18 bibi.jpg

Most lovers of justice are able to distinguish between a state and the religion of the majority of its people. It isn't that hard to separate them. However, when the Prime Minister blurs the line, it is he who risks bringing spillover reproach on innocent Jews from those who have trouble making the distinction.

Israel's advocates need to realize that the problem is Israel's transgressions against Palestinians, not the condemnation of those transgressions. Until they do, they will continue to "kill the messenger." This could result in further condemnation from the world community, or loss of our freedoms of expression. 

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which is increasingly being adopted or considered by western governments, is worded in such a way as to be easily adopted or considered by western governments to intentionally equate legitimate criticisms of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights with antisemitism, as a means to suppress the former.

This conflation undermines both the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality and the global struggle against antisemitism. It also serves to shield Israel from being held accountable to universal standards of human rights and international law.

The new definition of anti-Semitism allows Jews and their allies to forego the critical introspection that would enable to recognize that Israel is indeed guilty. The IHRA definition does not even address the issue of veracity, that is, even accurate, truthful criticism is disallowed.

Under these circumstances, it is unlikely that Palestinians will ever get relief.

Ironically, self-awareness and advancement of equality, fundamental to spiritual Judaism, are conspicuously absent from the agenda of the new anti-Semitism. The silencing of criticism so that Israel can go on starving and killing - this is its fundamental goal.

We urge our governments, municipalities, universities and other institutions to reject the IHRA definition and instead take effective measures to defeat white supremacist nationalist hate and violence and to end complicity in Israel’s human rights violations. Israel does not represent us and cannot speak for us when committing crimes against Palestinians and denying their UN-stipulated rights.

The Nobel Peace Prize-nominated, Palestinian civil society-led BDS movement for Palestinian rights has demonstrated an ongoing proven commitment to fighting antisemitism and all forms of racism and bigotry, consistent with its dedication to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Some of the undersigned organizations support BDS in full, others in part, and others have no formal position on BDS. We all affirm the current call for BDS as a set of tools and tactics that should not be defined as antisemitic.

7-18-18 blindfold.jpg

More Jewish organizations need to get on board with this statement. More people of all faiths, and of no faith, need to pressure Israel to obey human rights laws and norms - to end the blockade, the occupation, and the dispossession. 

It is a shame and a disappointment that the list of signatories to this statement is so short, and that many of the groups included are so small. Is this really representative of the Jewish population willing to openly criticize Israel for its dangerously racist policies?

I have to believe that this movement - calling Israel out, out loud - is just getting started. The more voices added to this call, the sooner there will be justice for Palestinians and peace for all.

Below is the signatory list as of today, 7/18/18:

Academia4equality (Israel)

Boycott from Within (Israeli citizens for BDS)

Coalition of Women for Peace (Israel)

Collectif Judéo Arabe et Citoyen pour la Palestine (France)

Dayenu: New Zealand Jews Against Occupation (New Zealand)

Een Ander Joods Geluid (A Different Jewish Voice) (The Netherlands)

Een Andere Joodse Stem – Another Jewish Voice (Flanders, Belgium)

European Jews for a Just Peace

Free Speech on Israel (UK)

Gate48 – critical Israelis in the Netherlands

Independent Jewish Voices (Canada)

Independent Jewish Voices (UK)

International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network

Italian Network of Jews Against the Occupation

Jewish Anti-Fascist Action Berlin (Germany)

Jewish Socialists’ Group (UK)

Jewish Voice for Democracy and Justice in Israel/Palestine (Switzerland)

Jewish Voice For Labour (UK)

Jewish Voice for Peace (USA)

Jewish Voice for Peace members in London (UK)

Jews Against Fascism (Australia)

Jews against the Occupation (Australia)

Jews for Justice for Palestinians (UK)

Jews for Palestinian Right of Return (USA)

Jews of Color & Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews in Solidarity w/ Palestine (USA)

Jews Say No! (USA)

JIPF – Judar för Israelisk Palestinsk Fred (Sweden)

Jüdische Stimme für gerechten Frieden im Nahost e.V. (Germany)

Junts, Associació Catalana de Jueus i Palestins (Catalonia, Spain)

Los Otros Judíos (Argentina)

Manchester Jewish Action for Palestine (UK)

Quebrando Muros – Judeus Brasileiros Pela Descolonização da Palestina (Brazil)

Scottish Jews Against Zionism

SEDQ Network- A Global Jewish Network for Justice

South African Jewish Voices for a Just Peace (South Africa)

South African Jews for a Free Palestine (South Africa)

Union des progressistes juifs de Belgique (Saint-Gilles, Belgium)

United Jewish People’s Order (Canada)

Union Juive Française pour la Paix (France)

Workman’s Circle, Boston (USA)