The University and College Union (UCU) voted to reject and indeed denounce the EUMC working definition of antisemitism back in 2011. Then in 2012 they produced a leaflet which seemed designed to fill the gap left by the spurned working definition. I described its many inadequacies here.
One of the major problems with this leaflet was its failure to engage with the way in which criticism of Israel or Zionism can be a vector for antisemitism. The new leaflet does make some acknowledgement of this phenomenon. For example it includes in its list of ‘discriminatory language or behaviour’:
Targeting Jews or Jewish organisations for anti-Israel protests. For example, a ‘Free Palestine’ slogan is legitimate political debate. Daubed on the wall of a synagogue, it is an antisemitic act.
This is a start. The UCU’s guidance would at least help people to identify a proposed ‘Gaza protest’ outside a synagogue in Cambridge as antisemitic.
But, as Ronnie Fraser points out here, this clause is unsatisfactory:
holding Jews collectively to blame, eg for the actions of the Israeli Government. Many Jews do not support the actions of the Government of Israel.
There was simply no need for that second sentence. Is it legitimate to hold some (non-Israeli ) Jews to blame for the actions of the Government of Israel? Just how critical does one have to be to pass this particular purity test?
Like its earlier incarnation this leaflet wastes a lot of space on generic gumf and bland platitudes. This is a pity, as two clauses in particular seem to need some further unpacking. The first is this:
Deliberate distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation of religious concepts and teaching.
What exactly is being referred to here? Possibly the blood libel – if so, that could usefully have been spelled out. Or perhaps the authors had debates about shechita slaughter or circumcision in mind. It would have been helpful to say a bit more about these issues, and the very different motives which may drive critics of these practices.
This clause is also unhelpfully compressed:
Denial or trivialisation of the Holocaust; use of Holocaust imagery in describing Jews; accusing Jews of exaggerating the Holocaust.
The first and third elements are clear enough, but what is meant exactly by ‘use of Holocaust imagery in describing Jews’.? Does it only target taunts themed around the suffering of victims or does it also identify parallels between Jews/Israel and Nazis, correctly, as antisemitic?
According to Ronnie Fraser, a draft of this new leaflet included a fifth clause:
Judging Jews according to a different standard often manifests as explicit comparisons between what is perceived to be the collective action of Jews (usually the Israeli Government) and the action of Nazis.
I very much agree with him that this should have been left in. For, as it stands, this leaflet seems to avoid confronting key antizionist manifestations of antisemitism. Taunts about ‘Zionazis’ and elisions between Nazis and Israelis do indeed hold Jews to a different standard, and are often targeted (not that they are excusable in any context) even against people who are quite critical of Israel’s policies but who make a stand against disproportionate and distorted attacks on Israel.
Given that those responsible for drawing up the leaflet solicited views of UCU members and others, and seemed to spend several months mulling over responses, the ‘improvements’ which have been made are decidedly underwhelming.