Some thoughts on antisemitism in academia, May 2021 – David Hirsh

I want to articulate my concern over what I believe amounts to antisemitic loyalty tests that are circulating far and wide amongst academic colleagues. I believe they construct antisemitic, hostile environments for both staff and students. 

They all say fundamentally the same thing:

This is foundational to our scholarship and to our morality:
1. Israel is apartheid
2. BDS
3. Smash Israel
If you don’t agree, you’re not a scholar and you’re not moral. 

This is the simplest form: Tweets with “pass it on”:

This one is endorsed not by individuals but by departments and centres. 
http://genderstudiespalestinesolidarity.weebly.com/?fbclid=IwAR2IqflJ9UvWDlVdyueNcWWIIYlY5lKGfHkktugWK96SXiDg3RYJlkikPyE

It constructs the following views as being foundational to gender studies and also to personal morality. If you don’t affirm them, you’re not a proper gender scholar, and you’re not a proper person:
1. We do not subscribe to a “both sides” rhetoric
2. Israel is apartheid
3. [This understanding of] feminist anti-racist, and anti-colonial activism … informs the foundation of our interdiscipline
4. Palestinians are indigenous, Israelis are settler-colonialists
5. “Palestine is a Feminist Issue”
6. Palestinian right to return
7. “we will not tolerate any censorship of nor retribution against Palestinian scholars” – this is code for institutions taking antisemitism seriously
8. “the Palestinian people … remain united in their demands to end their oppression”This creates a hostile environment for Jews who work and who study in these departments and centres. The official policy of these centres is that people (most Jews and their allies in the fight against antisemitism) who do not subscribe to these principles are not genuine feminists, scholars or moral human beings.

Here are more, but they’re all over the place:
1. https://palestineandpraxis.weebly.com/?fbclid=IwAR3aoOn_GADFt-PTnALePjIaoSqtCz4TerRPwNrHfH9uKc0KKyeOc4MrZlI

2. https://docs.google.com/document/u/1/d/e/2PACX-1vTcyuClTK3cSIyHIKcZHUxoPCPtutSHq2cEvY1hOzulRvxHDKO6QULubeeoknjv7CquJw_1lPh8cdUO/pub?fbclid=IwAR0lvLBJs-24k81K6lbhr-ycxWlVVqVR6UbIV_yERBROWlrgkED4p6PQHlI

3. https://goldsmithsucu.org/2021/05/18/gucu-goldsmiths-students-union-stand-in-full-solidarity-with-the-people-of-palestine/?fbclid=IwAR1CComibsgUOA9AZhAIjutp96hob5I4MyARoxAii-dVm2VcEQYmiKcQu4A

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScAnALCBd0ARQVQfdTIigZIDLOs8sSSWG5GiQyygdHsbp0cdw/viewform?fbclid=IwAR08Tyy0ZJSRZ0h861Ld3UhrCYZHhFEnni7FKMH1VTO537TCbODKrx1klL4

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScxG4x4MOkooD0dfraFiCNX6Xsg6Oxo9l-lhhRpYD_A6OwTbg/viewform

This next one is pathetic – in the genuine sense of the word. Jewish Studies scholars put out the “Jerusalem Declaration” to try to discredit IHRA and offer an alternative. JD offers a deal to the antisemites: ‘If you allow us Jews to stay in the community of the good, then in return, we’ll kosherize you as not antisemitic.’

These loyalty testers respond: “no.” Kosherizing elements of our antisemitic discourse as not antisemitic isn’t enough. You have to affirm our antisemitic positions. That’s the test. This is a real test for the predominantly Jewish profs behind the Jerusalem Declaration. Some of them won’t be able to pass the loyalty test, some will. But whether they then understand what has happened, whether then understand the hostile environment they have been key to legitimising, is another question.
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1tMegGnq5w1-zUilwYKHsczv1vTCyvnmM-V7HQEPQ8Os/edit?fbclid=IwAR0lvLBJs-24k81K6lbhr-ycxWlVVqVR6UbIV_yERBROWlrgkED4p6PQHlI

CST always says that when there’s conflict in the Middle East, antisemitic incidents spike. This has been happening now. It seems to me that a key response to this is to insist that people who build the antisemitic common sense, and schoarly discourse, cannot be allowed just to condemn the attacks. They have to be held responsible for the demonizing discourses by which people feel licensed to treat Jews as demonic.


UCL put out a statement against antisemitism, in particular antisemitism against its own students, on campus.
UCL staff put out a statement protesting against that statement.
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScAnALCBd0ARQVQfdTIigZIDLOs8sSSWG5GiQyygdHsbp0cdw/viewform?fbclid=IwAR29mE08IxtBEJ8Yaw4AGTZF_wdx4KHM2cGYIbLDHKj6ztQuVu-KVC48S4Y

We published this article many years ago, by Steve Cohen, who wrote “That’s Funny You Don’t Look Antisemitic”. He was responding to a decision to boycott Israeli scholars ‘“a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from” Israeli governmental policies’. it makes the point that loyalty tests, making Jews grovel, are specifically hostile in relation to Jews. 
https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2006/05/29/i-would-hate-myself-in-the-morning-steve-cohen-may-29-2006/


One more thing. I am seeing, more and more, Muslim antisemites, or antisemites who are assumed to be Muslim, being racialized by right wing anti-foreigner and racist discourse. There is a lot of this in London, focused on the Mayor, also focused against Priti Patel the Home Secretary, who is of African Asian Hindu descent. But many on the the far right are saying about antisemitism: “Look at these uncivilized backward Muslims, they have no place in our society”. One implication is that “we” should deal with “our” Muslims like the tough Israelis deal with theirs. Which, itself of course, shares the left wing demonizing discourse of Israel, but puts a positive spin onto it.  I think racists tagging on to opposition to antisemitism is a significant phenomenon. Of course some racists, like David Irving, hate the Jews more than they hate the Muslims.

To clarify the point about the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan: I’m not at all saying he is antisemitic. Indeed he has made a great effort to say the right things on antisemitism and to make connections and take advice from the Jewish community. So as much as any Labour member who remained in the party through the Corbyn leadership, he’s got a good record. Having said that, there are issues from his past, and his work as a lawyer before going into politics, which relate to some antisemitic politics. But most people would judge, I am one, that his record as mayor is good. 

My point was that in spite of his actual good record, there is a tendency for him to be racialized as being symbolic of, and supportive of, the worst of the Palestine solidarity movement. By which I mean, the antisemitic aspect of it. Or to use his formal responsibility for law and order in London as a hook to pull him into responsibility for the antisemitic hate crimes. He’s presented as being symbolic of the Muslim take over of Britain. 

So:

1. loyalty tests are coming – they create toxic, antisemitic, hostile environments for Jews – colleagues and students – but this will also arise in other professions and in other institutions and communities.

2. two states and talk of peace and coexistence are now prohibited within most Palestine Solidarity discourse

3. The position of Jewish Studies, Israel Studies, and Centres for the study of antisemitism – the spaces from which the “Jerusalem Declaration” emerged – is very difficult now.

4. opposing antisemitism is constructed as a Trumpist/Zionist plot to destroy academic freedom and to silence criticism of Israel. The Livingstone Formulation. https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2016/04/29/the-livingstone-formulation-david-hirsh-2/

5. The far right constructing antisemitism as a foreign, Muslim, immigration, problem of the ‘backwardness’ of Muslim and other ethnic minorities – this will be true of anti-black racism too, I suspect particularly in America, but I haven’t seen much of that.

How the slogan ‘Free Palestine’ can function as an antisemitic dog whistle – David Hirsh

I want a “Free Palestine”. I want it very much, I want it genuinely, I want it because it’s right and because many Palestinians who suffer absolutely deserve it; but also because it would be good for Israel, because it would be good for the whole Middle East, because it would be good for democratic politics and culture everywhere. 🇵🇸

I also believe that the slogan “Free Palestine” can function as an antisemitic dog whistle.Both. What is a dog whistle? It makes a sound that only dogs can hear.

In politics, a dog whistle is an element of rhetoric that a particular constituency will hear and understand in a particular way, while other people watching might hear or see nothing significant or wrong. For example, Donald Trump:

“We have to have strong borders. We have to keep the drugs out of our country. Right now we’re getting the drugs, they’re getting the cash. We need strong borders. We cannot give amnesty. I want to build the wall. We need the wall. The Border Patrol. ICE. They wall want the wall. We stop the drugs. We shore up the border. My first act will be to get all of the Drug Lords, we have some bad ones. Bad Bad people in this country that have to go out. We’re going to get them out, we’re going to secure the border and once the border is secured at a later date we’ll make a determination as to the rest. But we have some bad hombres here and we’re going to get ’em out.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AneeacsvNwU

There are ways of reading that text in which it is entirely both true and innocent. In the abstract. In and of itself.I’m writing now for the people who can judge that in the context of the 2016 Presidential election, this speech was racist. I’m one of those people. Other people can scroll on. There are other posts for you.

This text is a dog whistle text. It means one thing to people who don’t know. And it means another thing to people who do know.

To racists, it’s exciting.

To antiracists, and to many Mexicans, it’s urgently and clearly threatening.

And to lots of people watching, it means that Trump wants to stop drugs coming into America.So the slogan “Free Palestine” may be, in and of itself, not only legitimate but exactly right.

Just as you might think that keeping Mexican Drug Lords out of America, who you might think are bad hombres, is also not only legitimate but exactly the right thing to do.

Personally, I’m very strongly in favour of Free Palestine. I want a free, democratic, Palestine, at peace with its neighbours.

Yet “Free Palestine” in particular contexts, can be an expression of support for the elimination of Israel.

I’m not even against that in principle, in the abstract, in and of itself. If there was a long lasting genuine peace, like there is for example between France and Germany, Israelis and Palestinians might decide to bring the border down. They might, they might not. If they do, they won’t have to deal with me denouncing them.

But this slogan is not genuinely about the elimination of Israel by consent. It is, in the world that exists, about eliminating what they say is the evil apartheid state of Israel, by any means necessary. And eliminating Israel without the consent of the Israelis could not result in a Free Palestine, it probably couldn’t be achieved at all, and if it was, it would not result in freedom but in genocide.

This is the academic work of obfuscation in which the Jerusalem Declarationists specialize.

They imagine in their minds, ‘Free Palestine’ in the whole territory, without an Israel. And they say that in the abstract, the slogan, “in and of itself”, is not “on the face of it”, antisemitic. And in the utopian fantasy which exists only in their minds, it is indeed, not antisemitic.

But, as we’ve seen this weekend, the slogan does not appear “in and of itself”, it appears in the world.

It often appears in such a way as we might judge that, guided by the IHRA principle of context, it could, according to context, be antisemitic.

When “Free Palestine” is the slogan of a gang of men who are cruising through Jewish neighbourhoods threatening sexual violence, it becomes an antisemitic slogan.

And when “Free Palestine” is set up as a loyalty test for Jewish academics, it becomes an antisemitic slogan.

When it is spray painted on the door of a synagogue, or on the remnant of a wall of the Warsaw Ghetto, it becomes an antisemitic slogan.

When it is shouted, relentlessly, all day long, at a Jewish teacher, by pupils, it becomes an antisemitic slogan.

And then, the people who made such a point of defending a movement which aims to exclude Jews from the community, by setting up an assumption that they’re Zionists, meaning racists, are themselves partly responsible for the hostile environment they’ve helped to construct.

Academics and left wing politicos understand the concepts of ‘hostile environment’, ‘institutional racism’ and ‘dog whistle’. They invented those concepts and they live by those concepts. But when it comes to antisemitism, they play dumb, like the dumbest, most deplorable, Trump fanatic. They cling to literalist, abstract readings of texts and they refuse to contextualise those texts in the complex, material, social, world of history and of power.

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.

Why Israel stops when the siren sounds – David Hirsh

Today is Yom HaZikaron. It is the day when Israelis remember those who were killed while on active duty for Israel’s armed services and Israelis who were killed in terrorist attacks.

The mis-match in how people think about Israel’s armed services is huge. Most good people in Europe and America think of Israel’s armed forces as racist machines designed to sustain an unjust system of imperialist domination. People have strange ideas about Jews. They have had for thousands of years. The practice of defining their own goodness in relation to the evil of Jews is an old one.

Israel was built by refugees from European antisemitism; by the undead Jews of the Shoah; by the Jews terrorised out of their homes by states which defined themselves as ‘Arab’ or as ‘Muslim’; by Jews who the USSR constructed as rootless cosmopolitan enemies of the working class. Of course it was also built by Jews whose families had lived in Jerusalem for hundreds and thousands of years.

There are about 15 million Jews in the world. They are not powerful but vulnerable yet they are constructed as having huge, evil, dishonest and threatening power.

Established armies invaded Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973 to try and destroy it and to try and kill the Jewish minority in the Middle East. As recently as 2014 we saw what can happen to minorities which do not have the means to defend themselves, but most people paid little attention to the genocide of the Yazidi people.

I think people who live in democratic states tend to under-value the ordinary practices and principles of democracy, rights, freedom and law. People imagine the democratic state is supposed to make everybody happy. But most people in the world would fight hard for a situation in which they could struggle for happiness and justice without much risk of being murdered.

People in Europe and America find it difficult even to imagine the danger of genocide. They can’t imagine what it would be like to have their state smashed. And if they imagine it, they imagine themselves as the killers, not themselves as the victims; and that frightens them more. Maybe not themselves precisely but ‘us’. ‘The Jews’ sit nicely between ‘me’ and ‘us’. They’re ‘us’ but not quite ‘us’.

And so they can’t imagine a situation in which our mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, have to learn war and put themselves at risk of killing or dying, to preserve the ordinary, imperfect state which enables our ordinary, imperfect lives.

It’s lovely that we’re able to be so complacent and decadent. It’s a genuine achievement. But it is disorienting and it puts us at risk. Our safety is made by the human beings who went before us. It’s not magic, it’s not the system, it’s not some kind of ‘-ism’. It is ironic that there is such a prohibition in our age against imagining ‘others’ to be inferior yet it is so normal for us to imagine our ancestors as inferior in every way. The past is another country and it is a country for which it is normal to have complete contempt.

But the democratic state was built by our ancestors, it didn’t appear by magic. Yes, fascism in Europe was defeated by people like Prince Philip, Winston Churchill, George Orwell and your gran. Get over it. In Israel people have a clearer understanding of what it’s like to be at risk. They’re descended, and in living memory, from victims of racism so effective that its victims were killed or expelled.

Every family in Israel has people who were in the wars of survival. Everybody knows somebody who’s died. Everybody has been close to attempts to kill them. Everybody knows that the world is not divided nicely into oppressors and oppressed, good and bad.

Israelis don’t want to rule over other people, they just want to be left alone. They don’t want utopia, they don’t need to love or to be loved by their neighbours; they just need ordinary lawful relationships. In fact everything good can follow from that.

So take one day off from thinking of Israel as an imperialist outpost, as the vanguard of militaristic surveillance; as the symbol of everything you hate and in contrast to which you perform your own goodness.Remember those Israelis who died so that their families could live. Just for one day. Just for one day, don’t be an asshole about it. Don’t say: “Yeah, but what about the Palestinians!” Just for one day. Just for one day think about this, not that.

My mum had 3 cousins who survived the Shoah. That was a lot for one family. 3 out of maybe a hundred.Those three, who were also supposed to die in the gas, died in warm beds in Israeli hospitals surrounded by children and grand children who loved them; children and grandchildren who spent part of their lives carrying guns and preparing to fight for their lives. One of them had a lovely wife, Irina, who told me the story of her brother. I’m sad that I don’t even remember his name.

He left Lodz, in Poland, where they lived, because he could see danger coming. He went east, because he was a leftie, and he joined Stalin’s Red Army. I wonder what the odds of surviving the whole of WWII in the Red Army were. But he did. He fought and defeated fascism.

And then he found a boat to Palestine. And on the boat they asked him what he could do. He said he couldn’t do anything, he said he had only ever been a soldier. They told him they needed soldiers. And he joined the Haganah, the Israeli army before there was an Israel. He died in 1948, strafed by a British imperial Spitfire, fighting to keep the Jews from putting themselves in a position where they could defend themselves.

An email to a friend and colleage about the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’ – David Hirsh

Dear Xxxx,

It’s good to hear from you, but I wish it were in better circumstances. I agree with you that the Jerusalem Declaration moment is symbolic of something bad.

Perhaps in America the political polarisation of the Jewish community has been more marked, and for obvious reasons. In Britain we were squeezed out of the broad left, completely, but in America the broad left went for Biden, who is not at all antisemitic politically, and Jews were able to remain part of efforts to fight, and defeat Trump. In Britain we couldn’t defeat the populist right, and the populist right defeated the populist left. For the moment.

I fear that we might be in between the first and second spikes of populism. What feels like an ebbing of the populist moment might turn out to be like last summer was with respect to Covid. We need to be ready for a resurgence of populism and we need to understand that right and left populism are similar, and have a similar attractions to antisemitic ways of picturing the ‘enemy of the people’.

I noticed with some despair that Xxxx Xxxx signed the JD. I also noticed that other people who should know better signed it. People with big reputations, people with big Chairs, people with weight amongst Jews. 

The idea that they would sign a declaration that lists the key elements of contemporary antisemitism and then declares them to be not “in and of themselves” antisemitic, is bizarre. Imagine a “definition” of racism or of sexism that did the same. Imagine listing the key elements of racist and sexist culture and then saying that “in and of themselves” they are not racist.  It is a very basic mistake.

And there is literally nothing wrong with IHRA. IHRA is very tame. It says: “these are examples of the kinds of things that we know are antisemitic; if you see a case like that then you should make a judgment”. Adopting IHRA says: “we understand that this kind of antisemitism is significant and we undertake to look out for it”. Sure, some people might try to “use” IHRA to do other things, but IHRA is not usable to do other things; not unless you have a notion of overwhelming and frightening Jewish Power. 

I’m a bit reluctant to centre this battle on ‘Jewish culture’. I think one of the errors that is made again and again is the assumption that antisemitism is really, deep down, related to some kind of ‘Jewish Question’. Rich Jews give money to Jewish Studies because they think that’ll be good for the Jews. But it isn’t, because studying Jews doesn’t help us to understand antisemitism. I can’t believe that these generations of streetwise Jewish businessmen have got this so badly wrong. 

Is it too simple, then, to reply to you that Netanyahu is not responsible for antisemitism? Antisemitism is a mystification of what particular Jews do, it is not a rational or unmediated response to what Jews do. Antisemitism is a fetishized form of oppositional consciousness, as Moishe Postone said; it is mis-directed. It may be too simple but it is a crucially important first point to make.

Why does Netanyahu keep winning elections? I don’t know, I’m not an expert in Israeli politics. But one reason is because the Israeli left has shown itself incapable of coming near to offering an alternative.

We, the broad left, lost; the peace process lost. The Israeli right is partly to blame, but it’s also true that there are probably more significant reasons why we lost. The Palestinian left was much weaker, and it lost much more completely. The Palestinian nationalists failed to build a Palestinian national movement capable of making a deal. Nobody ever believed that those who spoke for Palestine actually spoke for Palestine​. Israelis were reluctant to make concessions because they couldn’t trust that the people to whom they made concessions would be able to deliver what they had conceded in return. The wider Sunni-Shia conflict, the Saudi-Iran conflict, is a much more important determinant of what happens in the Middle East than Israel is. And minorities all over the Middle East, of which one is Jewish, are at risk. 

So yes, Netanyahu has been bad. But maybe there are reasons why the left have been unable to defeat him. And maybe the collapse of the process which was meant to end the occupation is not primarily down to the Israeli right. Again, what goes wrong in the world for Jews is not only a result of what Jews do. 

It’s so tempting always to imagine that antisemitism isn’t a mad irrational threatening thing which we can’t control; some of us are tempted to imagine that if Jews behave better then there will be less antisemitism. This is not a healthy response.

Yes, Netanyahu is awful. But our response, the response of the Jewish left, is our choice, our judgment.

Fundamentally Jews in America and Jews in Europe cannot do much to end the occupation. I’m not actually convinced that Jews in Israel can either. Sure, they should have done more, but they still might not have succeeded.  And now the broad Jewish left says that IHRA – an inoffensive and tame statement about contemporary antisemitism – is Trumpist in its essence! How much more wrong could it get than that? 

But what we can do is understand antisemitism. The Jerusalem Declaration doesn’t understand antisemitism. Rather, it offers antisemitism a deal, a co-existence with it in the hope that in alliance with left antisemitism, we’ll be able to defeat right wing populism, together, as one happy family.

Best wishes
David Hirsh

Useful links about the “Jerusalem Declaration”

‘Calling a truce with left-wing antisemitism’: The Case Against the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism
by John Hyman and Anthony Julius

“The Jerusalem Declaration defines the ‘community of the good’, not antisemitism” – By focusing on hypotheticals it ignores what antisemitism is really like Jewish Chronicle, April 1 2021 – David Hirsh

“We don’t need another definition of Jew hate”
Those behind the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’ risk setting back the fight against antisemitism
Jewish Chronicle, April 1 2021- Dave Rich

“Why You Should Be Highly Alarmed by — and Yet Totally Ignore — the Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism” Algemeiner, 31 March 2021 – Lars Fischer

“Yet Another Attempt to Sanitize Anti-Zionism” – Algemeiner, 30 March 2021 – Ben Cohen

“Some discussion about IHRA and the ‘Jerusalem Declaration” – Engage, 31 March 2021 – David Hirsh

“The Existance of the JDA only serves to bolster the argument for IHRA” – Jewish Journal, 6 April 2021, Amanda Berman

“IHRA to JDA: definitions of antisemitism in 2021” – Times of Israel, 9 April 2021, Jeffrey Herf

“Who gets to define Antisemitism?” – 10 April 2021 – Artur Wilczynski

“A New Definition of Antisemitism Is Out, and the Antisemites Love It” – Ha’aretz – 7 April 2021 – David Schraub

“Accommodating the New Antisemitism: a Critique of ‘The Jerusalem Declaration’” – fathom – 13 April – Cary Nelson

Some discussion about IHRA and the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’ – David Hirsh

Dear xxxx,

let me take up two points that you’ve made. First in relation to what the text does, and does not do. And in relation to the claim that its real threat lies not in what it says but in what it “could be used to do”.

You’re absolutely right that the text is “innocent”. I think it’s more than innocent, I think it’s quite good.

Nobody is suggesting that IHRA be used for prosecution. Well, how could it be? Antisemitism is not a crime. Not in the USA, not in Britain. I don’t think anywhere.

IHRA could be used in a court or in a disciplinary process, for sure, but it could never do the whole job of proving anything.

What IHRA does, as you’ve said, is provide examples of the kinds of things which we know are often antisemitic. That’s it. It says that if you see a case like this, look again, look carefully, and then make a judgment. IHRA does not, and cannot possibly, substitute for judgment.

So as part of a process, IHRA gives a framework. You could say to the decision maker: IHRA says that cases like this are often antisemitic and this case is antisemitic because x, y and z reasons.

In Britain you could also use the Equality Act, the Macpherson Principle, the EHRC report in similar ways. But none of these are automatic. They are part of a case.

And related to this, the point about Ken Stern and the true authentic meaning and purpose of IHRA: So, Ken is angry, he doesn’t like the way that Ken Marcus and others have interpreted the text. Fine.

First, have a look at this letter written by the people who were more concerned in the drafting process than he was. https://engageonline.wordpress.com/…/ken-stern-isnt…/

But more important, there is of course no authentic and unchanging meaning of a text. It’s true that IHRA was drafted by Jewish NGOs, at the request of the EU, to help with monitoring – in particular in newly democratic states, emerging from authoritarian rule (and antisemitic rule) in Eastern Europe. In fact, the indeterminacy of IHRA also applies in this context. It also required monitors to use judgment, as it requires institutions today to use judgment. There is no automatic machine which can tell a person what is antisemitic. It requires judgment.

But here’s the point: of course the use of this text has, over 20 years, developed, been used in new ways, has taken on a different significance.

Yes, Jews on campus, Jewish institutions, Governments, Football clubs, city councils – yes they have adopted it as an affirmation that they recognise and take seriously the kind of antisemitism which comes in hostility to Israel.

IHRA has developed into what it is today. That’s OK. For more on the genealogy of IHRA, see this:
http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/21598/

The other point I want to make is about your claim that IHRA talks too much about Israel, and that gives rise to the appearance that its real function is to silence criticism of Israel under the guise of opposing antisemitism.

You have got this upside down.

Start with the phenomenon, not the definition.

It is antisemitism which more and more appears as hostility to Israel.

It is not the definition of antisemitism which links antisemitism to Israel, it’s the thing itself.

The definition keeps up with the phenomenon.

So adopting IHRA is an affirmation that an institution takes this kind of antisemitism seriously.

Often people on the right deny antisemitism on the right and they point at the left and the Islamists and they scream that the real problem is over there.

And often people on the left deny left antisemitism and they point at the right and they scream that the real problem is over there.

Both disavowals are equally dangerous.

IHRA is not a right wing attack on the left. IHRA is an attack on antisemitism and it specifies a kind of antisemitism that is often seen on the left. Why? Because it’s often not recognised by people who think they oppose antisemitism.

Here’s a text I’ve written about this. It’s not IHRA that puts Israel into the definition of antisemitism, it’s antisemites who put Israel into antisemitism itself. https://fathomjournal.org/it-was-the-new-phenomenon-of…/

One more thing xxx.

I’m really concerned about how many serious people have joined in denouncing IHRA and in defending efforts like the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’ to prevent the adoption of IHRA.

Some of us have been working on this for years, doing scholarly work, doing political work, trying to defend ourselves and our students from antisemitism.

It’s not cool that so many big names, in Jewish Studies in particular, are intervening in this, on the wrong side, and, I assume, because they haven’t really thought things through and they haven’t really read the literature.

The attempt to disqualify us as scholars, and to disqualify our work, by branding us as Trumpists seems to be working. But serious people should know how to deal with that.

David Hirsh

“Israel is Autistic” – Neve Gordon and Mark Levine displaying their ignorance about both autism and antisemitism – David Hirsh

Is it demonizing to say that autistic people are like Israel, or is it demonizing to say that Israel is autistic? Or, do the two lies cancel each other out, since to characterise either as being like the other is in reality not insulting?

Neve Gordon and Mark LeVine write a stupid, dishonest, but standard hatchet job on the IHRA definition of antisemitism. It’s dishonest because it claims that IHRA says and does things which it absolutely does, and can not do.

Shamefully it is published on a mainstream website, Inside Higher Ed.

Gordon and LeVine say that IHRA “could very well” label Einstein and Arendt as antisemites. It’s a lie. IHRA doesn’t label anything as antisemitic, it draws attention to things that might be, and which merit further examination and political judgment.

But then they say that IHRA could label Tony Judt antisemitic. Well, some of Judt’s writing was certainly antisemitic, and I spent quite a lot of space in my book showing how. I also spent quite a lot of space in my book telling the story of how Neve Gordon developed from a sharp and scholarly thinker into a supporter of BDS and a pusher of the apartheid smear. Here’s something on Neve Gordon. Here’s a bit more on Neve Gordon.

The evidence Gordon and LeVine offer to show just how not-antisemitic Tony Judt really is, is the following:

‘Tony Judt described Israel as “autistic” after it had put Gaza “under a punishment regime comparable to nothing else in the world.”’

And they proudly link to an interview where Judt explained his understanding of of what it means to characterise Israel as “autistic”.

“Israel,” says Judt, in an interview proudly linked to by Gordon and LeVine, “behaved in a way that suggests it is no longer fully able to estimate, assess or understand the way other people think about it. Even if you supported the blockade (I don’t) this would be an almost exemplary case of shooting oneself in a painful part of the anatomy.”

This is both an ignorant and demonizing description of what it means to be autistic, and an antisemitic, pathologizing way to describe Israel.

Judt, Gordon and LeVine understand as little about autism as they do about antisemitism. Commentary about antisemitism is completely dominated by people who are out of their field. I guess once you get used to talking about things you know nothing about, a few prejudices about neurodiversity are nothing special.

May be an image of text

The Meaning of David Miller – David Hirsh

This piece is published in Fathom Journal here.

This is a long read about the David Miller crisis and its significance in the context of antisemitism on the left and on campus. It has a UK focus but is relevant to phenomena across the world.

According to Bristol University Professor David Miller, ‘Britain is in the grip of an assault on its public sphere by the state of Israel and its advocates’. He believes ‘Bristol’s JSoc [Jewish Society. Ed], like all JSocs, operates under the auspices of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), an Israel lobby group’ and is part of ‘a campaign of censorship and manufactured hysteria’ that is ‘directed by the State of Israel. The campaign involves false claims of antisemitism designed ‘to give cover to Zionist activists’. His outburst has led to outraged calls for his removal but also fulsome messages of support from the academic left, open letters that do not simply argue he has free speech rights but which endorse his world view. David Hirsh, author of Contemporary Left Antisemitism, explores the wider meanings and deeper roots of the controversy.…”

This piece is published in Fathom Journal here.

The IHRA definition is a material social fact – David Hirsh

I don’t think the importance of IHRA is that it is perfect, or beyond criticism, it’s neither.

But it exists in the material world. It has a specific and rather interesting genealogy, related to Durban and related to antisemitism itself which showed itself so baldly there, which has had a tendency to drive Jews off into the realms of ‘whiteness’. That tendency has been organisationally manifested in the Jewish NGOs turning to the OSCE and the EU after Durban.

Its material existence is also interesting beyond that actual conception and roots; it has been adopted and campaigned for by Jewish institutions with some success; and it has been adopted by many states, NGOs, local governments and universities. That also defines what it is, what it is now.

The struggle about IHRA is not about scholarly criticism of what exists. We can’t change the reality of IHRA by proposing amendments to improve it.

IHRA is an instrument which signals that anyone who adopts it is going to look at that kind of antisemitism which comes in the form of “Israelcriticism”. It is going to check the context; it is not going to confuse it with “criticism of Israel”. But it is signalling its willingness to check for this kind of antisemitism.

The examples set off alarm bells about certain kinds of discourse which we know are often antisemitic. If you hear the alarm bells, make a judgment. That’s why there are the caveats and the warning, and the injunction to check for context.

Opposing IHRA means opposing the willingness to take this kind of antisemitism seriously.

Opposing IHRA implies that antisemites are victims of the Jews.

IHRA has become the front line. We can’t just invent reality out of our noses, we can’t just invent a new IHRA definition. It is a material, social, fact. And we don’t support those who want to change the material reality that states and institutions have signalled their willingness to take this kind of antisemitism seriously.

David Hirsh

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