David Hirsh on the EUMC definition and UCU

Defining Antisemitism Down

What kinds of hostility to Israel may be understood as, or may lead to, or may be caused by, antisemitism? One of the ways this relationship is debated, or otherwise contested, is through disputes over how to define antisemitism. In this article I shed some light on the struggles over definition by tracing a brief genealogy of the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism. I go on to look at a case study of the definition’s disavowal during the 2011 debate within the University and College Union (UCU) in Britain and also the mobilisation of the Equality Act (2010) as an alternative definition of antisemitism by a member of the UCU who is alleging in court that the union has an unaddressed problem of institutional antisemitism.

Read the whole piece on Fathom, a new journal about issues concerning Israel.  There’s some other interesting stuff in the first edition too.

Edited by Alan Johnson, who was behind Democratiya.

8 Responses to “David Hirsh on the EUMC definition and UCU”

  1. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    This reply is cross-posted from the Fathom website by the writer

    David Hirsh focuses on the UCU, unsurprisingly, given that he is still an active member of that trade union. However, this leaves aside another organisation which one might, prima facie, consider as “left” and/or “progressive” which has, similarly, rejected the EUMC working definition: the Green Party. A year or two back, some Green Party activists persuaded a Green Party Conference to pass the EUMC working definition as part of the Party’s policy.

    Other activists, including self-proclaimed Jewish members, vowed to have this overturned, claiming, inter alia, that they knew about antisemitism better than the framers of the working definition. Regrettably, they succeeded.

    It is to be noted that the definition, just like other UK anti-racist legislation, notes that the victim of the alleged antisemitism is the best person to judge whether such an act or acts have occurred. They are, not, however, the final judges of this matter, merely the instigators: it is for the courts or tribunals established by legislation to decide these matters in the last analysis.

    However, it is clear that it is the Executive officers of both UCU and the Green Party who are to decide whether antisemitism has occurred within the union or the party, not the alleged victim. To understand the implications of this approach, one must imagine (in the context, an extremely difficult mind experiment) that allegations of sexist actions against women are to be judged only by men, or alleged racist activities words or actions only by white men: in each case, people who have already declared that both sexism and racism are not necessarily the cause of excluding women from desired positions in society nor of excluding members of ethnic minorities from jobs or housing. Rather, one must always assume, as a starting position the exact opposite: it is the actions of the minority in question who create the situations complained of.

    In social science this is labelled “blaming the victim” for what others do to him/her. The defence of the misogynist and the racist through the ages.

  2. Mr Grumpy Says:

    David, could you check the link, it wants a login which I don’t have! Thanks.

  3. David Hirsh Says:

    They’ve promised it’ll be fixed by tomorrow – something to do with teething trouble for the new journal.

  4. Dan Says:

    This site should make a Facebook page, so we can share it and spread the word. I was thinking of starting up an American branch of this movement, but I don’t think I’m cut out for such a job.

  5. Dan Says:


    I can’t access the site, but a new divestment initiative was passed at Irvine college in California. This doesn’t sound good at all.

  6. Dan Says:

    Looks like Alanis Morrissette is playing a show in Israel on the 3rd. And with that, comes bullying and verbal abuse from the BDS crowd on her Facebook and Twitter pages.

  7. Philip Says:

    A genuine question. Anti-racism policy these days tends to give the perecived victim a great deal of primacy in determining whether something is indeed racist. So, for example, if a black man reports a violent crime against him, and asserts that he believes there was a racist motivation to this crime, the police are required to treat it as such. This is obvioulsy good for a number of reasons. First, it means that all such allegations are taken seriously (even if ultimately they are not all pursued, after careful consideration). Second, it means that the definition of what constitutes a racially motivated crime is initially left to the victim, who in many ways is best placed to judge. There is no ‘set’ definition, rather it is left somewhat to discretion. As an aside,this can also be problematic, and subjective metrics must be complemented with objective ones if a a correct judgment is to be made.

    So it seems that in the case of racism against Jews, the people best placed to decide whether something is or is not antisemitic would, in the first instance, be Jews themselves. Yes, others should be able to contribute to analysiing any particular case, but if a Jewish person tells us that they feel something has been antisemitic, then that has to be taken seriously. But this is a flexible approach. The EUMC issue makes the approach less flexible. There are clearly some Jews who feel that some or all of the components of the EUMC definition don’t constitute cases of antisemitism. And there are clearly other Jewish people who do. Yet both are surely equally well-placed to make such a judgment call. Which leaves us in a quandry.

    (As an aside, this goes to show the importance of openess and transparency in terms of the process by which definitions come into being, which reinforces the case and / or so that people can see the reasoning and reasonably disagree, should they choose to do so.)

    So all that is a long prelude to my question, which is: why, instead of allowing a flexible approach akin to, ‘let the victim decide in the first instance,’ subsumed under general antiracism legislation, do you (or people generally, insofar as they hold this view) believe there needs to be a separate more rigid legislation for this particular kind of racism?

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