A discussion about IHRA and the “Jerusalem Declaration” – David Hirsh

Question: How do you respond to the following point by Harvard Prof. Derek Pensler: “The IHRA definition’s limitations have been made clear to me in work I have done in Canada as an expert witness in prosecutions for ‘willful promotion of hate,’ which is a criminal offense. The antisemitic discourse I have been asked to assess invariably contains references to Israel. I have found it difficult to invoke the IHRA definition because of its strong implication that highly critical but factually accurate statements about Israel are antisemitic. A clear distinction between conspiratorial fantasy and demonstrable reality, between unhinged and fact-based (even if intemperate) language about Israel, would make it easier for me to demonstrate the presence of the former, which is actionable, and to set aside the latter, which is not.” H/t: https://detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com/response…/

David Hirsh: It is not true that IHRA “implies” that accurate statements about Israel are antisemitic. IHRA does not define anything as antisemitic. It gives examples of things that we know are frequently antisemitic and says that these should be judged in the specific context of the case.

Penslar seems to define antisemitism as requiring “animus against Jews”. Which is clearly not right. Antisemitism is an objective and external social phenomenon and does not require malicious intent or hatred of Jews. “There are a great many people in the world who bear no animus against Jews but who are troubled by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and want it to change.”https://fathomjournal.org/why-i-signed-the-jda-a…/

Question: So, a speech consisting of undisputed facts, in a particular context, can objectively be determined to be antisemitic?

David Hirsh: That’s not what I said. And it isn’t what IHRA says. But of course it’s true. Imagine a newspaper runs a campaign against street crime. Imagine that every day it carries on its front page a picture of a different black violent street criminal. Imagine each picture is real, and is of a person who is really a violent criminal. There. You have a racist narrative made up of elements each of which is true.

It’s the method. If you want to study or to define antisemitism, you have to look at antisemitism. If you look at contemporary antisemitism you’ll find that BDS is a key element of it.But this method doesn’t want to study or define antisemitism. It wants to study or define ‘boycotts in the abstract’. So it invents abstract boycotts to study which are not objectionable. And it thereby says that this boycott, against Israel, is therefore not antisemitic… “in and of itself”.Well that wasn’t our question. Is BDS antisemitic “in and of itself”?

Our question was, if these people, here, in the real world, are boycotting Israel, using the particular methods and discourses that they actually use, is that something we should be concerned about if we’re concerned about antisemitism?And the answer is, yes, you should. You should look at it, think about the context, and work out whether this particular manifestation is something to do with antisemitism.

But IHRA is a very tame document. IHRA doesn’t say anything at all about BDS.

But it would be reasonable to add BDS to IHRA’s list of examples of things which are often antisemitic, and to say that a judgment should be made of the case in question, taking into account context. Also taking into account the principle that ‘criticism of Israel is not antisemitic’.

Although IHRA, being a tame document, overstates the case. Because some criticism of Israel is antisemitic, and some criticism of Israel is not antisemitic.

Interestingly you could go even further, although IHRA doesn’t, because it is a tame document.

You could say: “some criticism of Israel which is similar to that leveled against any other democratic country” is antisemitic, even if it is not racist or bigoted when it is leveled against other democratic countries. Because Israel has specific particularities.

You could be an anarchist, and you could say you are for destroying every state. Fine. But saying you want to destroy Israel may be, according to context, specifically genocidal in a way that saying you want to destroy other states may not be.

Question: Regarding the newspaper, does the state now charge its owner with a crime?

David Hirsh: I thought we were talking about IHRA. IHRA does not say anything about what should be done about antisemitism. It is only an instrument to help an institution to judge what is antisemitic.

And indeed, antisemitism, and racism, are not a criminal offences.

Question: So you’d advise that, say, governments that adopt the IHRA not use it for any meaningful sanction? According the Pensler’s article, “In recent years, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism has been enshrined in policy and law by universities, civic organisations, and governments. This is bizarre, as the IHRA definition was developed for the purpose of data collection, not policy making, and its authors acknowledged its protean status.”

David Hirsh: Not at all. It should be used for a very meaningful purpose. It should be used as a framework for helping them to identify antisemitism.

It is important for, say governments, say football associations, say universities, say political parties, to know what is antisemitic and what is not antisemitic.

And it is good specifically for this meaningful purpose: It affirms that an institution understands that there is a form of antisemitism that often appears in the language of hostility to Israel and it affirms that this form of antisemitism is significant.We could have an interesting discussion about what a government or an institution should do when it finds antisemitism, but that is a separate issue from IHRA.

Or perhaps you feel that institutions should purposely avoid judging, or attaining the ability to judge, what is antisemitic and what isn’t, in order to avoid having to then decide what to do about it?

Question: We’ve come full circle.==> “We could have an interesting discussion about what a government or an institution should do when it finds antisemitism, but that is a separate issue from IHRA.”But it isn’t a “separate issue”, as the problematic–according to Penslar–IHRA definition is being used to justify sanction. My original comment pointed to his concern: “The IHRA definition’s limitations have been made clear to me in work I have done in Canada as an expert witness in prosecutions…” I appreciate your replies. I’ll leave the last word to you.

David Hirsh: Penslar says IHRA is being used to justify sanction. But there is nothing in IHRA that justifies sanction. So this is not an argument against IHRA.

The “is being used” argument is quite interesting. Some opponents of IHRA concede that there’s nothing wrong with the text of IHRA, except that the text is a trojan horse for a material reality which it doesn’t allow.

That is how they understand IHRA.

So what do they do? They draw up the JD, in the hope that it will do what they wrongly accuse IHRA of doing.

They hope that they can legitimise things in the abstract and that that legitimisation will then “be used” in the material world to legitimise real things.

BDS, Israel eliminationism, Nazi, colonial settler and apartheid analogies, irrational disproportionate and intemperate speech: they think that they can legitimise them in the abstract in the hope that they can then sneakily be “used to” legitimise them in the material world.

The sneakiness of the Jewish advocates of IHRA is in their own imagination; but they then emulate that sneakiness, that they have imputed onto those Jews, themselves!

So the point of the JD is indeed, the way it is used. It is used to stop institutions from adopting IHRA.

And it will be used to demobilise people who campaign against the real antisemitic movements which come together with BDS, Israel eliminationism, Nazi, colonial settler and apartheid analogies, irrational, disproportionate and intemperate speech, as their key elements.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: