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Theresa May’s antisemitism definition is using Jews as a political football

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The government has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which is as follows:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

Theresa May’s government has said that this definition could include criticisms of Israel. This is where we run into a problem.

It is too open to manipulation, too easily used as a weapon against what many would consider legitimate criticisms of Israel. This has always been a problem when defining antisemitism in a post-Israel world. Chiefly, because there are many occasions when Israel is a fig leaf to cover up antisemitism. There is certainly legitimacy to the notion that many of Israel’s critics are antisemites, which in turn means that criticisms of Israel must be examined considering this element. Now to be clear, most criticisms of Israel are valid and far from antisemitic. I am certainly not of the opinion that any and all criticisms of Israel are antisemitic. I criticise Israel myself and I’m certainly not an antisemite.

For me, I believe the best thing for the Jewish community is to collectively adopt a simple, clear and practicable working definition of antisemitism. And I have found no better a definition than that of antisemitism expert Brian Klug’s, which is as follows:

A form of hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which Jews are perceived as something other than what they are.

This definition removes Israel from the definition, while at the same time allowing antisemitic criticisms of Israel (such as Jewish collective responsibility mentioned by May) to be easily defined as antisemitism.

May has outed herself, though. Her recent remarks about antisemitism and the Labour Party highlight that she is an opportunist using the Jewish community as a political football. As has been the way of the Tory party since Corbyn took over as Leader of the Opposition more than a year ago, antisemitism has been politicised. This does not help the Jewish community and arguably actually puts us more at risk of antisemitism.

On a separate but somewhat related issue, I want to address the ‘alt-right’. You see, the alt-right have feigned concern for Europe’s Jews (particularly in France) because it fits their anti-Muslim narrative. “The Jews are actually very concerned about Islamification” is the line they trot out.

As a community, we have always been anti-racist, pro-refugee, anti-fascist and generally very tolerant of other cultures and religions (although as with all groups we have our bad apples). The attacks in Paris by Islamists, of course, made French Jews fearful and the rhetoric of Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu fed into those fears. This inevitably lead to Islamophobic sentiment among Parisian Jews and, to an extent, French Jews more widely. Of course, the Daesh attacks weren’t the first time French Jews have been targeted, but they were the most horrific.

You see, Islamophobia is a problem for Jews too. Not because Islam is a threat to Jews, but because hatred of one religious minority is a threat to all religious minorities. As a community, we must recognise that we cannot overcome antisemitism in singularity. The only effective way to combat one type of racism is by combating all forms of racism. Islamophobia and antisemitism are two cheeks of the same, racist backside.

Why is this relevant in some way to the Tory adoption of the flawed IHRA antisemitism definition? Because in the same way the alt-right are feigning concern for Europe’s Jews to feed their Islamophobic narrative, May’s government are adopting the IHRA definition to grandstand and attack the Labour Party. Neither the alt-right nor the Tory party genuinely care about Jews, for them we are just pawns in a deplorable chess game.


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