The “Israel is a racist endeavour” clause in the IHRA definition – David Hirsh

Does IHRA say it is antisemitic to say that Israel is a racist endeavour? Does it follow, therefore, that IHRA says it is antisemitic to say Israel is colonialist or apartheid?

No. IHRA doesn’t do that.

The IHRA definition of antisemitism is a very tame and careful document. For sure, denouncing Israel as a racist endeavour, as colonialist, as apartheid, may be antisemitic, but IHRA stops a long way short of defining these things as being necessarily antisemitic.

To understand what IHRA does say about “Israel as a racist endeavour” it is necessary to start by zooming out a bit from the specific clause.

IHRA says:

“Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:”

[then it offers a number of examples, one of which is:]

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

So first, there are not one but two levels of caveat here.

IHRA does not define anything in thee examples, definitively, as antisemitic. They are examples of things that “could, taking into account the overall context”, but antisemitic.

And turning to the “racist endeavor” example, IHRA requires a second layer of judgment.

The “racist endeavor” clause is itself an example of the specific thing that is itself given as an example of possible antisemitism, which is “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination”.

IHRA says that one thing that may, according to context, be an example of antizionist antisemitism, is denying self determination to Jews.

It then gives an example of one kind of way that denying self-determination to Jews might be antisemitic: by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.  

The wording is important. It is not claiming “the state of Israel to be a racist endeavour” that is offered as an example of how denying self-determination to Jews might be antisemitic.

It is claiming “the existence of a State of Israel to be a racist endeavour” that is offered as an example of how denying self-determination to Jews might be antisemitic.

I think the only interpretation of the text that makes sense is to read the “a” as meaning *any* *possible* state of Israel would be *necessarily* or *inherently* a racist endeavour.

This looks like a bit of a leap, but it isn’t one. If the drafters had wanted to say that denouncing Israel – the Israel that exists – as a racist endeavour – should be regarded as an example of antisemitism – it would have used *the* not *a*.

The wording used is odd, it’s not the wording that would ordinarily have been used to mean that. It’s evidently intended to mean something else.

Why *a* and not *the*?

Denying self-determination to Jews is not, in itself or necessarily, antisemitic – but it may be.

Denying self-determination to Jews, for example by claiming that Israel is, necessarily or inherently, a racist endeavor, is not, in itself or necessarily, antisemitic – but it may be.

So therefore, saying Israel is apartheid, colonialist, racist – is not in itself or necessarily antisemitic – although it may be.

But what about somebody who said that any state of Israel – not this one, not the one that exists, but any state of Israel – one that might have existed or one that might exist in the future – *a* state of Israel – is a racist endeavour – what about that?  Well that may, according to context, be antisemitic, says IHRA – because it is a claim that Jewish self-determination – unlike the self-determination of other would-be nations – must necessarily be a racist endeavour. That kind of claim is the kind of claim that IHRA is specifically warning against. And rightly so.

There is no other way to explain why it says “a” and not “the“. 

IHRA is a very tame document. It is not threatening in the way that its opponents claim it to be.

David Hirsh

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