Ken Stern isn’t the only author the IHRA working definition of antisemitism

This is an open letter written by Rabbi Andrew Baker, Deidre Berger and Michael Whine, who were the people centrally responsible originally for writing the IHRA definition of antisemitism. It explains how it came to be written, why, and by whom. Ken Stern was one of a number of people involved in the early drafting of the document.

This letter has been made necessary because opponents of the definition have mobilized the name of Ken Stern as a key ongoing owner of the text, or the authoritative interpreter of the ‘real meaning’ of the text. Ken Stern’s First Amendment free speech absolutist position is in any case quite incompatible with the use which is being made of his position by antizionists and by people who want to continue doing things which are called into question by the definition.

January 19, 2021
Dr. Kathrin Meyer, Secretary General, IHRA
Ms. Katharina von Schnurbein, EC Coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life

Dear Kathrin and Katharina,

As adoption of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism increases in both Europe and the United
States, opponents of the definition have frequently cited the critical views of one of the early drafters to
claim that it is being misapplied or used in ways that were not originally intended.

Since we were among that small group involved in the original development and drafting of the
definition, we want to set the record straight.

The IHRA Working Definition (adopted in May 2016) is based on an earlier version developed in 2004-
2005 and issued by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) in March 2005.
(The EUMC was replaced by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2009.) The drafting and
development of the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism was a months long collaborative process,
involving a score of individuals. We were among those who were part of this from the very beginning.
This group included our colleague at the time, Kenneth Stern, who has since identified himself—or is
described by others–as the “author” or “primary drafter” of the Working Definition. This is simply not
true. But most troubling is the fact that this mythical elevated status is primarily touted because he is a
vocal critic of using the Working Definition and thus a helpful (witting or unwitting) ally for those who
today seek to discredit the IHRA Working Definition. Virtually all others who were involved in its
development believed then and continue to believe now that the adoption and use of the Working
Definition is an essential component in the fight against antisemitism.

Let us summarize for the record how the Working Definition came to be.

In 2001-2002, we witnessed a resurgence in antisemitic incidents in Europe including violent attacks on
Jewish targets. Most occurred in Western Europe, and many were identified as coming from parts of
local Arab and Muslim communities. This coincided with the breakdown of the Middle East peace
process and was reflected in the anti-Israel and antisemitic activities that were an unfortunate
consequence of the UN World Conference on Racism in Durban in 2001. European governments were
slow to recognize these attacks or to identify them as antisemitic in nature. As they continued, there
were calls for regional security and human rights organizations to address them. This resulted in the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) organizing its first conference on
antisemitism in 2003, and the EUMC commissioning its first study of antisemitism in the EU that same
year.

In 2004, the OSCE organized a second, high level conference in Berlin, which resulted in the Berlin
Declaration on Antisemitism, supported by all 55 OSCE participating States. It declared that antisemitism
had taken on “new forms and manifestations” and stated that events in Israel and the Middle East, “can
never justify antisemitism.” Also, in 2004, the EUMC (having concluded that the report it commissioned
the previous year was inadequate) conducted its own study, relying on data from its own monitors in EU
Member States and in person interviews with Jewish leaders in Europe.

The new EUMC report presented in the spring of 2004 revealed that European Jews had a high level of
concern and anxiety in reaction to their firsthand observations of growing antisemitic incidents. The
information provided by the EUMC’s monitors was limited in some cases because there was scant data
on antisemitic hate crimes and limited polling data on anti-Jewish attitudes. In its own internal review,
the EUMC acknowledged that it was hampered by the lack of a common and comprehensive definition
of antisemitism and challenged by a lack of clarity in understanding those “new forms and
manifestations” of antisemitism as it relates to Israel. EUMC Director Beate Winkler and AJC Director of
International Jewish Affairs Rabbi Andrew Baker agreed that summer to work together to develop such
a definition.

Baker turned to his AJC colleagues, including Deidre Berger in Berlin and Ken Stern in New York, and to
other longtime collaborators, including Michael Whine of the CST in London. Academic experts,
including Dina Porat and Yehuda Bauer in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were brought in, along with leaders
and representatives of several major Jewish organizations. Ken played the vitally important but limited
role of being the communications hub as various drafts and proposed language were circulated, slowly
moving toward a consensus agreement where his role ended.

All agreed the definition should include both a core paragraph defining the basic nature of antisemitism
and clear examples of its traditional and more contemporary forms.

Mike Whine took over the final drafting job and, with this in hand, the focus turned to Vienna. The three
of us were joined by the leadership team of the recently established Tolerance and Non-Discrimination
Unit at OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which had responsibility for
implementing the commitments spelled out in the OSCE Berlin Declaration. Together we worked with
the EUMC Director and her specialists, as further changes and revisions were made. We were wellaware that with the inclusion of examples relating to Israel, there would be challenges, and some would
say that they could be used to label critics of Israel as antisemitic. But we also recognized how egregious
some of these attacks had become and the importance of including this section. This was to be a guide
for better understanding antisemitism, not a speech code etched in stone. To strike the necessary
balance, we added the important, conditional phrase, “depending on the context.” In a further measure
to allay these concerns, the EUMC considered it important to state explicitly that criticism of Israel is not
antisemitic.

In January 2005, we concluded the final drafting of what became known as the EUMC Working
Definition of Antisemitism, and in March 2005 it was formally released. In promoting and circulating the
Working Definition, its use was neither defined nor circumscribed. We understood then—as we do
today—that it is first and foremost an educational tool for those who need to know what antisemitism
is. This includes government, Jewish community, and other civil society monitors responsible for
recording antisemitic incidents. It includes those in authority who are responsible for identifying and
responding to antisemitic hate crimes and other antisemitic events, such as police, prosecutors, and
judges, among others. And it includes the public, whose understanding of the problem is essential to
marshal the full force necessary to combat it.

It was called a working definition for a reason. This was not meant to be a tool for academic researchers,
but for those, briefly identified above, who would put it to use. They would be the ones to determine its
value and its longevity.

In 2007, the US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, a newly appointed Congressionally
mandated position, applied the EUMC Working Definition to his work and posted it on the State
Department website. It was endorsed by Parliamentarians at the 2009 Inter-parliamentary Coalition for
Combating Antisemitism (ICCA) London Conference, and at successive ICCA Conferences in Ottawa
(2011) and in Berlin (2015). It was recommended for use by the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in 2014.
Over fifteen years have passed since the EUMC issued its working definition. It has been slightly
modified and further amplified as the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. It has been endorsed by
leaders of the European Union, the United Nations, the OSCE, and other international bodies. It has
been formally adopted by over thirty countries, including most EU Member States. It has become an
essential, educational tool for law enforcement.

We are heartened by the Working Definition’s increased use and international recognition as the
authoritative definition of antisemitism. While the threat of antisemitism in all its various forms is, sadly,
as great as it was fifteen years ago, this proper and comprehensive definition is now an essential
element in our common fight against it.

Rabbi Andrew Baker
Deidre Berger
Michael Whine, MBE

(Rabbi Andrew Baker is Director of International Jewish Affairs at the American Jewish Committee and
since 2009 the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Anti-Semitism.
Deidre Berger is a consultant and former Director of the AJC Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish
Relations. Michael Whine is the former Government and International Affairs Director of the Community
Security Trust, Senior Consultant World Jewish Congress, and UK Member of ECRI Council of Europe.)

Jews are asking for protection from their universities from antisemitism: David Feldman’s ‘All Lives Matter’ response is not helpful – David Hirsh

This is a response to the article in the guardian “The government should not impose a faulty definition of antisemitism on universities” by David Feldman.

After recently co-writing a decent article on antisemitism, David Feldman, the Director of Birkbeck’s Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, has now reverted back to the politics that drove his meek complicity with the Chakrabarti whitewash of Labour antisemitism in 2016. And he didn’t even get a seat in the House or Lords.

The Union of Jewish Students and other institutions of the Jewish community, as well as the Government’s independent advisor on antisemitism John Mann, have been campaigning for universities to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. They say that the adoption of IHRA would give Jewish students and members of staff some confidence that they could hope for protection if they experienced antisemitism on campus.

And such antisemitism is commonplace in UK universities. Last week I was contacted by a student whose lecturer taught that IHRA was a pretext to silence criticism of Israel and by another whose Masters dissertation was failed because she wrote in the ‘wrong’ framework about Israel and Palestine. This kind of antisemitism is harder to sustain in institutions which have adopted IHRA.

In today’s Guardian article article, Feldman characterises the universities which make a point of not allowing IHRA to be part of their official armoury against antisemitism as “refusenik“.

The refuseniks were overwhelmingly Jews in the Soviet Union who were refused permission to go to Israel, although there were others too who were refused permission to leave. They were denounced as Zionist agents of imperialism, they were purged from their jobs, they were deported to Siberia, they were imprisoned, murdered and tortured. The refuseniks were victims of antisemitism at the hands of a totalitarian state which called itself “Marxist” and which demonized Zionism as the enemy of mankind.

Feldman turns this upside down. Today, for him, the refuseniks are the ideological descendants not of the Soviet Jews but of their oppressors, the apparatchiks and Party men who denounced Jews as particularist, pro-apartheid and privileged.

Jews go to their institutions and ask for protection against antisemitism. Feldman answers that all students and staff should be protected from all racism. He responds to “Jewish Lives Matter” in a rather “All lives matter” way.

Feldman says that the adoption of clear and specific protections against antisemitism would ‘privilege one group over others by giving them additional protections’.

In the 1840s in Germany, Bruno Bauer famously insisted that Jews should expect no special treatment. Progressives should not support equal rights for Jews until they had emancipated themselves from their own reactionary Judaism, and were prepared to fight for freedom alongside everybody else. The portrayal of the struggle against antisemitism as a demand for Jewish privilege is as old as antisemitism itself.

Bauer is famous because this ostensibly universalist attack on the special pleadings of the Jews was opposed with great clarity by Karl Marx himself, who argued against Bauer, and in favour of the democratic state unconditionally granting equal rights to Jews. It is ironic, (but who am I to judge?), that today’s left has more in common with Bauer, who most of them have never heard of, than with Marx, who they think they idolize.

Feldman even seems to include Corbyn’s Labour Party, judged by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to have unlawfully harassed its Jewish members, as “refusenik” with respect to IHRA.

The EHRC report on the Labour Party added a new explicit principle to IHRA, although in reality it was nothing more than a re-statement of the Macpherson principle with respect to antisemitism. Macpherson established that if somebody says they have experienced racism then you should begin by assuming that they’re right.

Ken Livingstone says that if that person can be designated as Zionist, then the assumption should be reversed: you should begin by assuming that they are lying in the hope of de-legitimizing criticism of Israel and smearing the left.

The new EHRC principle is that this very standard response, the Livingstone Formulation, is itself antisemitic. The practice of assuming that Jews are faking antisemitism in order to smear the left and silence free speech is itself antisemitic. It puts Jews outside of the community of rational discourse by refusing to engage with the truth of what they say, and attacking their imputed motivation instead. It is said that Jews ‘weaponize’ antisemitism; but really antisemitism has always been a weapon targeted at Jews.

Opposition to IHRA takes this antisemitic form. It is said that IHRA is an instrument which portrays itself as being about one thing but is really about another. It claims to be about antisemitism but it is really about accomplishing illegitimate Zionist interest by dishonest means.

So look at IHRA. Is it true that it silences freedom of speech? No. First, people are free to articulate antisemitic speech so long as it does not constitute harassment or incitement to violence. But Second, IHRA is a framework for thinking about what is antisemitic, not a machine which can automatically designate certain kinds of speech as antisemtic.

IHRA is explicit that criticism of Israel is not antisemitic. IHRA explicitly exhorts any judge to look at the complexities of context. Yet, say those who are afraid of IHRA, the text of the definition isn’t the real definition. Those who push the definition (Zionists and Tories) are so slippery that the real meaning of their document is the opposite of what is actually written in the document. This is the only reading of the definition by which people who do not articulate antisemitic ideas, could be afraid of the IHRA definition. And of course this itself is an antisemitic reading of the definition.

David Feldman makes much of his worry that people who want to boycott Israel, that is who want to exclude Israelis from the global community of science, scholarship, sport, arts and business, might be accused of antiemitism. Yet we know that wherever the boycott movement has taken root over the last twenty years, antisemitic harassment, discourse and exclusions have followed. David Feldman has still not really recognised the poison that moved from the academic unions into the broader labour movement and which then fuelled Labour antisemitism. He still doesn’t seem to understand how the Corbyn faction, which thought of itself as antiracist, ended up being found guilty of unlawful harassment of Jews by the commission which Labour itself had set up to strengthen the equality culture in Britain. Antisemitism came into the Labour Party via the boycott movement. The campaign to boycott Israel is antisemitic, but it is not designated as such by IHRA.

It is said that Palestinians should be allowed to describe their own oppression in whatever ways they see fit. And they are so allowed. But if some Palestinians choose to describe their own oppression in antisemitc ways then we, and our universities, have the right to say so. Nobody would argue that the Jewish experience of antisemitism gives Jews the right to adopt racism against others. When Jews do this, they are rightly criticised.

David Feldman finishes with a restatement of the description of antisemitism that he put forward in his Jewish Quarterly article with Ben Gidley and Brendan McGeever. There is antisemitism on our campuses, he says, but “this largely reflects a reservoir of images and narratives accumulated over centuries and deeply embedded in our culture”. He does not explain why people who think of themselves as antiracists on our campuses today are picking up and running with the antisemitic tropes they find in that reservoir. Feldman’s description is light on agency and the responsibility.

For Jews in universities it is no consolation that the antisemitism they face is simply a matter of the existence of a cultural reservoir full of things that can hurt them. What they need is assurance from their colleagues and from their institutions that these landmines from past conflicts will not be scattered around campus now, by people they work with, study with and are taught by. They want the people who scatter them around to be held responsible. Antisemitism is the problem, not the specific tropes that antisemites pick up and weaponize against us. And the IHRA definition is a small element of the the work of designating those reservoirs as toxic.

David Hirsh

Some links relating to the IHRA definition of antisemitism – David Hirsh

This is the fullest thing I’ve written specifically on the IHRA definition. It is a version of Chapter 5 of my book Contemporary Left Antisemitism:

Hirsh, David. 2019. Contemporary Struggles over Defining Antisemitism. In: Jonathan G. Campbell and Lesley D. Klaff, eds. Unity and Diversity in Contemporary Antisemitism: The Bristol-Sheffield-Hallam Colloquium on Contemporary Antisemitism. Boston: Academic Studies Press, pp. 17-39. ISBN 9781618119667

An earlier version of the same piece was published in fathom:
Hirsh, David. 2012. Defining antisemitism down: The EUMC working definition and its disavowal by the university & college union. Fathom, 1(1), pp. 30-39.

Here’s me talking about IHRA on a youtube video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89l9R-MWcgk&fbclid=IwAR1V0rPoyv4iY_LSMBHqMGEAeI16dcvjlzjR3yUeys4AeUKiVCHja2UKndA

Here is Dave Rich‘s response to the Letter in the Guardian signed by Stephen Sedley and the other lawyers: https://fathomjournal.org/the-ihra-a-reply-to-the-guardian-letter-from-sir-stephen-sedley-et-al/?fbclid=IwAR0b6IWzRro8z7owBkQXatzp0g1wz9DOkV1Yi1WRvMkyMtd_ETZvKPdzUGA

Here is a new European Commission Pamphlet about IHRA and the uses to which it has been put. Download the pdf here: https://tinyurl.com/y3bkow9y.

Here’s my critique of David Feldman’s attack on IHRA in the Guardian: https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2020/12/02/jews-are-asking-for-protection-from-their-universities-from-antisemitism-david-feldmans-all-lives-matter-response-is-not-helpful-david-hirsh/.

Here’s another critique of Feldman’s attack on IHRA from two scholars who are associated with his own institute for the study of antisemitism, Dave Rich and Philip Spencer. https://www.thejc.com/comment/opinion/david-feldman-should-not-be-encouraging-those-who-denigrate-jews-1.509689.

Here’s a piece on the IHRA definition by the brilliant philosopher Eve Garrard. She just sets it all out so clearly:
https://fathomjournal.org/the-ihra-definition-institutional-antisemitism-and-wittgenstein/?fbclid=IwAR0at4xvZFAvNxaBaseONEwqn8-HR4vGf0C2aMKbkGktpNFHVofrIVnSCAs.

This open letter responds to those who insist that Ken Stern, who has become a public opponent of the definition, was the key author of the definition. Ken Stern isn’t the only author the IHRA working definition of antisemitism

A letter in support of IHRA, signed by 95 Jewish student leaders in the UK, published in the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/jan/22/jewish-students-are-protected-by-the-ihra-definition-of-antisemitism?CMP=fb_cif.

See Gunther Jikeli‘s argument here: https://www.jewthink.org/2021/01/15/why-is-there-some-resistance-to-a-working-definition-of-antisemitism/?fbclid=IwAR178tzJK5wclHfGAhkBLWvtoATjLoyHa0Euo-xCMVtu6fjMRhN2MWc-iCI

See Jovan Byford‘s piece here: https://wonkhe.com/blogs/understanding-the-ihra-definition-of-antisemitism/

These two links focus on the EHRC report, and what that has added to IHRA:
The Livingstone Formulation is Dead – David Hirsh

The EHRC ruling has re-stated The Livingstone Formulation in the language of UK Equality law – David Hirsh.

This is a article by me in Jewish News, 18 July 2018:
‘Understanding Labour’s disavowal of the IHRA definition’.

There is some discussion of the IHRA definition here, from August 2018:
‘Stop accusing the Jewish community of conspiring against the left’.

I wrote this in Decmeber 2016:
‘This new definition of antisemitism is only a threat to antisemites’.

Some blogs by Dave Rich of the CST:
‘The arrogance of Labour’s antisemitism definition’

‘Labour’s antisemitism code exposes a sickness in Jeremy Corbyn’s party’.

And Mark Gardner, of the CST:
What is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism?

IHRA and the Labour Code of Conduct

What is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism?

This is from Alan Johnson, 29 May 2019:
‘Yes, Labour members can criticise Israel without being antisemitic – Clare Short has spread a poisonous myth’

This piece on IHRA is by Legal scholar Lesley Klaff and philosopher Bernard Harrison:
https://fathomjournal.org/in-defence-of-the-ihra-definition/.

This was written by Lesley Klaff about the Fraser case:
Fraser v University and College Union: Anti-Zionism,
antisemitism and racializing discourse

Here’s a piece by Amie on Harry’s Place:
http://hurryupharry.net/2018/08/01/nec-antisemitism-code-ihra-ibergezetst-un-farbesert/?fbclid=IwAR2aojJqCg8VpTNGAt2wn2LPY1ZjOqGuqlaJXrbxQXnGbmHILZLiUCXx6xc.

Also this one: http://hurryupharry.net/2018/09/21/ihra-the-last-word-is-not-stern/?fbclid=IwAR3w_s_9bweFiMuoZmV_FVRcqbWkKOOPD9HK8JEkGLN5VGfGv6mzroUCH2M.



The EHRC ruling has re-stated The Livingstone Formulation in the language of UK Equality law – David Hirsh

The thing is that contemporary antisemitism always lurks, it’s never explicit, it’s never frank. Very often the visible battles are second degree: they’re about how we recognise antisemitism and how we define it.

Jews are relentlessly told not that they’re wrong but that they’re making it up. They’re lying. Why would they lie? Because they’re playing a dirty game. They believe that the ability to designate who or what is antisemitic is powerful.

But if they’re not just wrong but lying, then they must be in it together. The Jewish Press, the CST, the BoD, the JLM, UJS, JLC, Chief Rabbi, the journalists, the activists, the academics… they could be wrong independently but if they’re lying, then that’s a conspiracy.

And there are many ostensibly non-antisemitic ways of accusing Jews of this.

They are accused of ‘weaponizing’ antisemitism.

They are accused of conducting a witch-hunt. (No woman was ever really a witch; no socialist ever really slipped into antisemitism).

They are accused of Smearing Jeremy because he couldn’t be bought or because he threatened capitalism.

It is said that those who make these ‘fake’ allegations of antiemitism are really the Zionist or the pro-Israel lobby – in a clean repeat of the now dirty ‘Jewish lobby’. The word ‘lobby’ de-legitimizes’ agency and activism. It makes it transactional and dishonest.

When Jews insist that the IHRA definition is an important set of guidelines for judging what antisemitism is, they respond that IHRA is a fiendishly constructed Zionist document which is so good at silencing criticism of Israel that it even contains a clear statement that criticizing Israel is not antisemitic.

The EHRC report has now ruled that all these secondary accustions of dishonesty and conspiracy are antisemitic.

It’s a recognition that the these apparently ‘meta’ debates – about false motives and definitions are also the thing itself. They are the antisemitism.

The EHRC ruling has re-told the story of the Livingstone Formulation in the language of UK Equality law.

David Hirsh

The Livingstone Formulation is Dead – David Hirsh

This piece is from the digital Special Edition of the Jewish Chronicle on 29 October 2020, the day the EHRC reported

The Labour Party breached the Equality Act by committing unlawful harassment against Jews by employing antisemitic tropes and by characterizing complaints of antisemitism as fake smears. The cases adjudicated, says the EHRC report, were ‘the tip of the iceberg’. Many more incidents were committed by ordinary members for which the Party was only indirectly responsible.

The Leader’s office unlawfully intervened into the party’s complaints procedures to pervert antisemitism investigations against the leader himself and against other allies, including Ken Livingstone.

The Leader of the party at that time was Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn himself was imbued in antisemitic politics, supported antisemitic movements, defended antisemites against Jews, said antisemitic things. Antisemitism, like other racisms, is about what you do, its not about who you think you are.

Apologists are now saying that Corbyn didn’t do enough to tackle antisemitism. That gets things the wrong way round. Corbyn was the antisemitism.

But Jeremy Corbyn has not been suspended from the party for any of that. He has had the whip taken away from him for what he did this morning, in response to the report, for employing the ‘Livingstone Formulation’. He protested that the scale of the problem of antisemitism was ‘dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents … as well as by much of the media.’

As if the equalities institution set up by Labour in Government is an opponent of Labour. As if Jews are enemies of Labour. It is another stark reversal of the truth to claim that Jews and the EHRC opposed Labour’s antisemitism because they wanted to harm Labour. The truth is that they were only anti-Labour insofar as Labour was antisemitic and they wanted to help Labour by making sure it was no longer antisemitic.

Jews would like to be able to engage in politics again and to argue with each other again; there is no single Jewish interest or opinion. But antisemitism treats Jews as though they’re all one and it forces them to come together communally to defend themselves.

When there is a consensus in the Jewish community that there is a antisemitism problem, it does not mean that Jews are conspiring to defend capitalism; it means that there is an antisemitism problem.

Corbyn’s simpering denials were always accompanied menacing counter-aggressions, accusing Jews of trying to silence criticism of Israel and to smear the left.

The EHRC specified the following as a type of antisemitic conduct that amounted to unlawful harassment:”

The EHRC has crystallised a new legal precedent that the ‘Livingstone Formulation’ is antisemitic. It has added to the IHRA definition of antisemitism a new archetype of antisemitic behaviour.

‘Suggesting that complaints of antisemitism are fake or smears. Labour Party agents denied antisemitism in the Party and made comments dismissing complaints as ‘smears’ and ‘fake’. This conduct may target Jewish members as deliberately making up antisemitism complaints to undermine the Labour Party, and ignores legitimate and genuine complaints of antisemitism in the Party.’

I first named the Livingstone formulation in 2006 after Livingstone’s bizarre spat with a Jewish journalist, who he insistently accused of being like a Nazi. Instead of apologizing in the cold light of day, Livingstone came back with an aggressive counter-accusation against those who said his late night ranting had been antisemitic.  ‘For far too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been.’

The Macpherson principle says: if a black person says they have experienced racism you should begin by assuming that they’re right. The Livingstone principle says: if Jews complain about antisemitism on the left then you should begin by assuming that they’re making it up to silence criticism of Israel or to smear the left.

It’s antisemitic conspiracy fantasy because doesn’t just say that Jews sometimes get it wrong, but that they know full well they’re wrong and they say it anyway, to increase their power.

The Livingstone formulation is the key mode of antisemitic bullying mobilized against Jews on the left. It treats Jews as alien to the left and as treasonous. Pete Willsman accused the 60 rabbis of being Trump fanatics. Such an accusation is a way, rhetorically, of deporting Jews from their political home and making them homeless.

Livingstone himself was thrown overboard by the Corbynites in an effort to save their own skins and he has now been singled out in the EHRC report as a key example of Labour Antisemitism. But Corbyn has now been thrown overboard too, and is reunited with his old comrade Livingstone. There is justice in that, since they have always shared the same antisemitic politics.

Huge responsibility for Labour antisemitism must be borne by those who did not share the crank politics but who nevertheless allowed it to take the leadership of the party. There are the layers of activists, politicians and intellectuals who think that antisemitic politics was radical Communist chic; then there are those who think that it was really all about Palestine; and those who thought we should rally round the leadership; and those who thought the Zionists were just as bad; and those who thought we should all get a long; and those who were afraid to get into the fight; and those who wanted to keep their jobs and their influence; and those who wanted a seat in the House of Lords. And there are those who don’t really think that Corbyn was antisemitic but they now believe that Labour won’t have a chance if it doesn’t keep the Jews happy.

The EHRC report is Keir Starmer’s opportunity to peel away those layers from the committed, ideological, antisemitic core, and to cauterize the wound. I think he’s doing well. Personally I would vote for Starmer to be Prime Minister tomorrow if I could, in an election against Boris Johnson. I’d be happier still voting Labour if Luciana Berger was my Labour candidate in Finchley and Golders Green. Failing that, she would be a great MP for Islington North.

The EHRC report also sets new legal precedent in defining what is antisemitic. There is much work to be done in setting this out explicitly and articulating what the new legal position is; but not only legal, also political. It should be our Macpherson Report.

Yet Twitter is this afternoon alive with furious atomized individuals, venting their pain and their hurt.  They are the people who have learnt something else from the report. They have learnt that Corbyn was stabbed in the back by Jews and Blairites from within his own trench, and they have learnt that between us and socialism sits the Jews. They have learnt that next time they should not be so nice to the Jews. They want fervently to be the cadre of a future antisemitic movement.

David Hirsh

This piece is from the digital Special Edition of the Jewish Chronicle on 29 October 2020, the day the EHRC reported

Briefing for Labour people tomorrow morning – David Hirsh

Here is a list of things not to say:

  1. ‘I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite, he’s not a racist man…’

This distinction doesn’t matter anymore. Corbyn is imbued in antisemitic politics, he supports antisemitic movements, he defends antisemites against Jews, he says antisemitic things. He was so wedded to his antisemitism that it became more important to him to stay true to it than it was to win the election.

Antisemitism, like other racisms, is about what you do, not what you think you do.

  1. ‘Corbyn should have done more to tackle antisemitism.’

That gets it the wrong way round. Corbyn was the antisemitism which needed to be tackled. It was there in his politics, his worldview, and his political tradition.  Those in the party who thought like him were emboldened and those outside it joined. Labour antisemitism was not some random and difficult thing Corbyn was confronted by and had difficulty dealing with.

Corbyn said: ‘We recognise that anti-Semitism has occurred in pockets within the Labour Party’.

Jews replied: ‘You are the pocket!’

  1. ‘We are sorry for the hurt and offence caused to the Jewish community.’

This was not centrally about Jews, it was about the very heart of what the Labour Party is. Antisemitism is always attracted to anti-democratic politics. Antisemitism seemed normal in the Party because the Party had lost its democratic bearings. This scandal was not about a small offended minority community, it was a sickness in British public life.

But Labour antisemitism did hurt Jews. Jewish members of the Party, people with Labour values, were treated as alien, as supporters of racism and as disloyal. Jews in Britain were afraid of the prospect of Labour coming to power.

  1. ‘Jews pretended to experience antisemitism in order to silence criticism of Israel.’

The Macpherson principle is that when people say they have experienced racism, those in authority should begin by treating that experience respectfully.

The Ken Livingstone principle, on the other hand, taught antiracists to recognise those who said they had experienced antisemitism as the enemy and to assume that they were making it up.

  1. ‘Jews lied about experiencing antisemitism in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn because he threatened capitalism.’

Jews would like to be free to argue their politics. They would like to be free to argue with each other.  Jews do not all agree with each other, they do not have a single Jewish interest. Antisemitism, however, treats them as though they’re all the same and it forces them to come together communally to defend themselves.

When there is a huge consensus in the Jewish community that there is a antisemitism problem, it doesn’t mean that Jews are conspiring to defend capitalism; it means that there is an antisemitism problem.

  1. ‘Yes, there was antisemitism, but it was weaponized by the Zionists and the Tories against Labour.’This is a way of saying that there was a little bit of antisemitism but it was hugely exaggerated to hurt Corbyn. (see above)

    Notice also the way that the Corbyn faction spit the word ‘Zionist’ with hatred. When they use the word it means racist, pro-apartheid, imperialist, Nazi, Tory, Trumpy. But they mean me. They mean the overwhelming majority of Jews who think it is good that the Jews of Palestine didn’t get defeated and wiped out.

  1. ‘There may have been some institutional antisemitism in the Party but it was just a failure of systems, not a hatred of Jews.’

The fish stinks from the head. There wasn’t a particular Labour antisemitism problem under John Smith, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband. The problem was Jeremy Corbyn and his faction.

What started as antisemitic politics was then also embedded in the institutions of the Party by the powerful leading faction. John Ware’s Panorama and the whistle-blowers from inside the Labour machine testified that the internal party institutions were stopped from dealing with antisemitism properly.

Jeremy Corbyn was in charge when the party became institutionally antisemitic. The concept of ‘institutional racism’ does not exonerate the people who are responsible for the problem.

  1. ‘There were only a small number of antisemites in the Party.’

It was like the layers of an onion. There was only small number of people who fought long and hard for antisemitic politics. But they were surrounded by layers who thought they were cool and radical. And they were surrounded by layers of people who thought that this was really about supporting the Palestinians.  And they were surrounded by people who thought that the antisemites and the ‘Zionists’ were each as bad as each other. And they were surrounded by people who didn’t want to involve themselves in this horrible fight. And they were surrounded by people who didn’t want to seem disloyal. And they were surrounded by people who didn’t want to upset their friends.

What started with politics and institutional corruption then also became a culture in which those who complained about antisemitism were put, sometimes subtly and sometimes brutally, out of the community.

  1. ‘But wasn’t Jeremy Corbyn clear that he opposed antisemitism? His mother was at Cable Street, after all.’

Corbyn did often say he opposed antisemitism but he was never able to say what the antisemitism he opposed was. Corbyn’s worldview made it impossible for him to understand his own antisemitism.

He believes that capitalism-imperialism-modernity is the key aggressive machine on the planet, responsible for war, poverty and misery. He believes that anybody against capitalism-imperialism-modernity is therefore on the side of a better future.

So when people on the right are antisemitic, he understands that antisemitism is bad. But when people who he thinks are on his side are antisemitic, he cannot see it at all. He does not understand the menace of opposing capitalism-imperialism-modernity-Zionism!

If you only oppose the antisemitism of those you hate anyway, but if you say that the antisemitism amongst your own political community is invented by Zionists, then you don’t oppose antisemitism.

  1. ‘But Labour under Corbyn did expel antisemites, even Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson!’

But Corbyn does not disagree with Livingstone or Williamson, they have the same politics. It’s true that they both enjoy saying explicitly what Corbyn became afraid to say when he was leader, but there is no difference of worldview. Corbyn also believes that antisemitism was invented or weaponized by Zionists and Tories. He believes it was a smear against him and his movement.

11.   But this is all word salad. What did Corbyn and his faction ever do or say that was really antisemitic?’

  1. Corbyn defended the antisemitic mural. https://www.thejc.com/comment/opinion/not-sure-why-that-mural-is-antisemitic-let-me-explain-1.461503
  2. Corbyn honoured the terrorists who castrated and murdered the Israeli Olympic team in 1972 in Munich. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/15/jeremy-corbyn-honesty-labour-wreath-mess
  3. Corbyn defended Steven Sizer, a vicar who said that Israel was responsible for 9/11. https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2018/08/26/steven-sizer-pushes-antisemitic-conspiracy-theory-jeremy-corbyn-defends-him-as-a-victim-of-the-lobby-david-hirsh/
  4. Corbyn believes that Israel should be excluded from the global community of Art, scholarship, sport and business. https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/why-bds-is-antisemitic-david-hirsh/
  5. Corbyn donated to Paul Eisen even after everyone knew he was a Holocaust denier. https://www.thejc.com/news/uk/revealed-jeremy-corbyn-attended-event-hosted-by-holocaust-denier-s-group-in-2013-1.68163
  6. Corbyn defended Raed Salah, a man who pushes medieval blood libel. https://cst.org.uk/news/blog/2011/11/28/truth-and-lies-on-sheikh-raed-salah
  7. Corbyn says that Israel is apartheid. https://www.bicom.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/BICOM_Apartheid-Smear_FINAL.pdf
  8. Corbyn was national Chair of ‘Stop the War’ which advocated war of annihilation against Israel. https://jewishnews.timesofisrael.com/stop-the-war-deleted-controversial-articles-including-one-advocating-war-with-israel/
  9. Corbyn believes that Hamas and Hezbollah, antisemitic organisations, are fighters for peace and justice across the Middle East. http://hurryupharry.org/2009/04/07/promoting-violent-extremism/
  10. Corbyn worked for the antisemitic English language propaganda TV channel of the Iranian regime. https://www.businessinsider.com/jeremy-corbyn-paid-iran-press-tv-tortured-journalist-2016-6?r=US&IR=T
  11. Corbyn sat silently and watched Pete Willsman treat 60 rabbis as ‘Trump fanatics’. https://www.thejc.com/news/uk/bombshell-recording-proves-corbyn-ally-blamed-jewish-trump-fantatics-for-false-antisemitism-clai-1.467802
  12. Corbyn sneered that Zionists don’t understand English irony. https://www.thejc.com/news/uk/jeremy-corbyn-sued-by-jewish-activist-richard-millett-for-defamatory-allegations-1.485376
  13. Corbyn wrote a gushing introduction for an edition of Hobson’s ‘Imperialism’, a profoundly antisemitic book. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/corbyn-s-praise-for-deeply-antisemitic-book-6jfcmh5fp
  14. Corbyn commissioned Shami Chakrabarti to whitewash Labour antisemitism and then he put her in the House of Lords.
    https://www.thejc.com/comment/opinion/the-chakrabarti-report-failed-again-and-again-1.60223
  15. When Ruth Smeeth asked for Corbyn’s help after she and Margaret Hodge were denounced in obscene, misogynist and antisemitic terms, Corbyn did nothing. https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/labours-intersection-of-antisemitism-and-misogyny/
  16. When Luciana Berger was driven out of the Party by the misogynistic antisemitism of Corbyn’s allies, he did nothing. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/luciana-berger-labour-antisemitism-jeremy-corbyn-election-latest-liberal-democrats-finchley-a9196696.html
  17. When Louise Ellman was driven out of the Party by the misogynistic antisemitism of Corbyn’s allies, he did nothing. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/oct/16/louise-ellman-quits-labour-party-over-antisemitism
  18. When Joan Ryan was driven out of the Party by the misogynistic antisemitism of Corbyn’s allies, he did nothing. https://www.politicshome.com/news/article/joan-ryan-blames-jeremy-corbyn-for-culture-of-antisemitism-as-she-becomes-eighth-mp-to-quit-labour
  19. When Warren Morgan, Labour leader of Brighton Council, was forced out of the Party by Corbyn’s allies, Corbyn did nothing.
    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/brighton-labour-leader-warren-morgan-reveals-lies-that-forced-him-out-dq9sr3qqp
  20. When Dany Louise, a Labour councillor in Hastings, was forced out of the Party by antisemitic bullying, Corbyn did nothing.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4f_TexfjbI
  21. For 122 further documented and explained examples of Labour antisemitism, see Alan Johnson’s guide to Institutional antisemitism. https://fathomjournal.org/fathom-report-institutionally-antisemitic-contemporary-left-antisemitism-and-the-crisis-in-the-british-labour-party/

Their antisemitism was proven beyond doubt in the submissions to the Chakrabarti Inquiry, in John Ware’s Panorama, in Dave Rich’s book, in Alan Johnson’s Fathom report, in the documentation produced by Labour Against Antisemitism and the Campaign Against Antisemitism; in the Community Security Trust reports; in the journalism of Gabriel Pogrund; in the leaked evidence compiled by the Jewish Labour Movement to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission; daily on the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News websites; in the testimony of the Labour staff whistle-blowers; in the tweets and facebook posts of hundreds of people who made it their business to confront the antisemitism; in the quantitative data of Daniel Allington and the Institute for Jewish Policy Research; in the experience of hundreds of Labour activists, both still in and forced out of the Party; in the antisemitic responses to well-known figures who spoke out like Rachel Riley and Tracy-Ann Oberman; in Judith Ornstein’s ‘Whitewashed’ and ‘Forced Out’ projects; in the stories of heroic Labour MPs, Ian Austin, John Mann, Mike Gapes; and particularly the women Labour MPs who endured a special antisemitism laced with sexually violent threat, Luciana Berger, Ruth Smeeth, Margaret Hodge, Joan Ryan, Louise Ellman and Anna Turley.

David Hirsh

The political antisemitism of the Corbyn faction caused the institutional antisemitism deep in the Labour machine

This piece by David Hirsh is from the Jewish Chronicle.

There’s the forthcoming Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report; there’s the 851 page document produced to exonerate the Corbynites; now there’s the meticulously researched 10,000 word rebuttal of that document, written by John Ware.

Companies like BT and British Gas make their tariffs so complicated that nobody can compare their prices. In the end, they know, people will give up and go with the ‘trusted brand’.

The Corbynites know that nobody is going to read these huge documents and they hope that people will believe in the document of the side that they trust.

The EHRC might not feel free to give an overview of the politics of the whole situation. I think they’ll be tempted to stick to specific cases of clear discrimination. They’ll say that this process did not work properly, that this official lied, that the other official was bullied and the result was that the whole Labour machine was not fit for purpose. They might say that the whole labour machine became institutionally antisemitic. But the danger is that the politics of the whole situation gets lost in the detail.

Why did the Labour Party machine suddenly become institutionally antisemitic between 2015 and 2019? Here’s the big story.

The Corbyn faction was not just left wing, it was a specific kind of left. It embraced the populist notion that liberal and democratic politics is nothing but a cover for capitalist and imperialist exploitation. Society is dominated by a ‘liberal elite’, it said, which pretends to be egalitarian but which quietly runs everything only in its own selfish interest; it is the ‘enemy of the people’.

When you designate the ‘enemy of the people’ as liberal, metropolitan, cosmopolitan, educated, exploitative and unproductive, then the temptation to picture that enemy as Jewish, to rediscover antisemitic tropes that are available in the cultural unconscious, is great. Antidemocratic politics opens a movement up to antisemitism.

But this left is built on a foundation of antifascism and antiracism. How could it possibly be open to such a fascist and racist way of imagining the enemy? It can do so via Israel.

This left tradition recognises Israelis not as Jews who had survived and learnt how to defend themselves, but as anti-Jews. The Jews loved by the left are oppressed, stateless, and powerless. They are made good, wise and sardonic by their suffering. But, thinks this left, Zionists were perverted by their oppression. They saved themselves by putting Muslims into the firing line in their place. They became vulgar, macho, Americanized, Trumpy Jews, fake-liberal and fake-democratic. This is how actually existing Jews come to be imagined as all that is wrong in the world. Antizionism is no longer about the conflict between the Israelis and their neighbours, it becomes a whole populist worldview.

So Corbyn came to power in Labour. For him it was deep common sense that democratic states were the global menace and that Israel was symbolic of that menace; and that any movement calling itself anti-imperialist was on the side of the good. Hundreds of thousands of people in Britain had been in and around the revolutionary left in their youth. Many came alive again and they came into the party; or they shouted for Corbyn online. And whole waves of cranks who had more in common with Piers than with Jeremy also came. Some people came in with a fresh democratic spirit, but that spirit turned out to be less contagious than the deadening Stalinist dogma which was already strong there.

It was the penetration of political antisemitism on the British left, and its embodiment in Corbyn himself, which led to the arcane and detailed stories which are now emerging about what happened deep within the Labour machine.

The 850 page document says that Corbyn tried to fight antisemitism but his ‘Blairite’ and ‘Zionist’ enemies within the party sabotaged him, to make him look bad. But why was there a problem of antisemitism in the first place? When Corbyn had admitted there were ‘pockets of antisemitism’ in the party, Jews responded with the meme: ‘You are the pocket’.

The German right explained its defeat in the Great War by accusing social democrats and Jews of sabotage. It said Germany would have won but that it had been stabbed in the back by alien forces pretending to be Germans, behind its own lines.

The Corbynites have created a ‘stab in the back myth’ of their own. If it had not been for Zionists and liberals behind the Labour lines, Corbyn would now be PM.

This response is not just a historical explanation it is also a threat. It promises that next time the left will strike first against enemies within. There are cadres of people on the British left who are now convinced that between us and socialism stands Zionism.

This piece by David Hirsh is from the Jewish Chronicle.

Campaigns against kosher: a looming threat? James Mendelsohn

This piece, by James Mendelsohn, was first published in Jewish News / Times of Israel.

Following December’s General Election, many British Jews felt relief that an ‘existential threat’posed by the Labour Party had been vanquished. Two subsequent events prohibit complacency: Britain’s formal departure from the European Union, and the appointment of George Eustice MP as the Environment Secretary. Together, they herald a new threat: namely, a British ban on shechita (kosher slaughter).

Shechita and dhabiha
Shechita is performed by means of a single, swift cut to the neck with a very sharp knife. Importantly, and in contrast to “non-religious” slaughter, the animal is not stunned beforehand, because, according to Jewish religious law, this renders the animal treif – i.e. not kosher – meaning that it cannot be eaten by observant Jews. Some strands of Islam also prohibit pre-stunning in relation to dhabiha (halal slaughter, which is performed in a similar way). This has long exercised animal welfare groups, who claim that it is inhumane to slaughter animals without stunning them first.

Shechita and Brexit

UK slaughter methods will, at least until the end of the Brexit transition period, remain governed by EU legislation. This requires all animals to be stunned before slaughter, but allows member states to grant exemptions to Jews and Muslims for the purposes of shechita and dhabiha. Some EU Member States, such as Denmark and Slovenia, grant no such exemptions. In such states, EU rules on free movement of goods enable Jewish communities to import kosher meat. By contrast, the UK does allow Jews (and Muslims) to slaughter without pre-stunning – and also to import kosher meat from abroad.

Outside the EU, this could change significantly. The UK government could ban shechita. It could also ban imports or, alternatively, impose high tariffs. Such changes would make it far harder – if not impossible – for British Jews to access kosher meat.

The impact of a ban

The worst-case scenario – a ban on both domestic production and on imports – would essentially force observant Jews to go vegetarian, or to compromise their faith, or to emigrate! Is this why kosher and halal slaughter has long been a pre-occupation of the far right?

Clearly, not all those who favour a ban are from that stable. Others include the RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association, and the National Secular Society.  Nonetheless, a ban on shechita would criminalise an important aspect of orthodox Judaism and therefore signal to observant Jews, in the strongest possible way, that they were unwelcome in Britain. Regardless of motive, a ban on shechita would therefore – much like BDS – always have an antisemitic effect. Campaigns against kosher would generate anti-Semitic discourse: the “othering” of observant Jews as cruel, backwards people, who do not truly belong to the “nation of animal lovers” that is the “Christian” UK! It would be an unusual form of antisemitism, in that Jews would find themselves in the dock alongside Muslims; or perhaps, conversely, it would be an unusual form of Islamophobia.

The Eustice Manifesto?

The previous Environment Secretary, Theresa Villiers, pledged to protect shechita. By contrast, George Eustice has called for a free Parliamentary vote on whether to make stunning of all animals before slaughter obligatory. There is therefore a real prospect that shechita – and the Jews who practise it – could come under intense pressure.

The case for the defence

Various arguments can be made against a ban.
The first is that the UK, as a tolerant, liberal democracy, should uphold religious freedom – including that of minorities. Those (of all faiths and none) who believe in religious liberty should call on the government to oppose a ban.

A second argument is that campaigns to outlaw non-stun slaughter are at best highly selective and at worst hypocritical. Modern factory farming methods inflict intense suffering upon animals throughout their lives. Against this backdrop, any pain experienced in their final few moments by a comparatively small number of animals slaughtered by Jews and Muslims, is far from the most pressing animal welfare issue of our times. Only the vegans truly have the moral high ground on this one!

Perhaps most importantly, the scientific case against non-stun slaughter is significantly weaker than advocates for a ban claim. What seems clear is that the British Jewish community may soon need to steel itself once again – this time, to defend the practice of shechita.

This piece, by James Mendelsohn, was first published in Jewish News / Times of Israel.

ESA RN31 Ethnic Relations, Racism and Antisemitism mid term conf in Portugal, Sep 2020

CALL FOR PAPERS

“Human Rights, Democracy and the threats of old and new populisms: Antisemitism, Racism and Xenophobia”

Braga, 3 – 4 September 2010, University of Minho (Portugal)

The ESA Research Network 31: Ethnic Relations, Racism and Antisemitism invites submissions of papers for its biannual Mid-Term conference. The conference will be held from 3 to 4 September 2018 at the University of Minhi, Braga, Portugal.

This year’s Mid-Term conference will particularly focus on old and new populisms and the challenges to human rights and democracy. Against the background that in recent years proto-totalitarianism and populism have emerged with great speed and ferocity into mainstream democratic discourse, we are interested in scholarly work on the democratic state, critiques of democracy, the totalitarian contempt for democracy, the critique of truth, critique of ‘the media’ etc.

We will hold sessions that focus on theoretical, methodological and empirical aspects of research on antisemitism and racism, also in a comparative framework. The network’s perspective is to bridge an exclusive divide between the understanding of antisemitism and of racism, exploring the correspondences and affinities, but also the differences and contrasts. Our over-arching question is to understand what are the material conditions and the social, political and historical contexts shaping variations in racism (including neglected forms like anti-Roma discrimination, “antigypsyism”, but also anti-Muslim resentment) and antisemitism (including antisemitism related to the hostility to Israel, Islamic antisemitism, antisemitism of the left as well as of the right), across time and across different European and global contexts. Our network provides a space where antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia are each understood in the context of the others.

As we mentioned above, our over-arching question is to understand the material conditions and the social, political and historical contexts shaping variations of antisemitism and racism across time and across different European and global contexts

In addition, we are interested in scholarly research on Iberian histories of antisemitism and the Sephardic diaspora.

Our special concern lies in (but is not limited to) the following issues. A perspective on the gendered dimensions of all these issues is most welcome:

  • Critical Social Sciences in the face of inequalities;
  • Theoretical/conceptual and methodological approaches to the actuality of antisemitism, racism and xenophobia in the context of democracy and its critique;
  • Discourses on human rights and their relation to antisemitism and racism;
  • Theoretical and empirical studies on conspiracy ideologies and exclusive nationalisms;
  • Anti-establishment rhetorics and conceptions of the “white working class”;
  • Antisemitism and anti-Muslim resentment as political and social rhetoric in the extreme-right movement across Europe;
  • Neglected forms of racism and racialisation, including anti-Roma discrimination or “antigypsyism”;
  • The legacy of colonialism in the discourses and practices of democratic and post-colonial societies;
  • Intersection of different racisms or of racisms with other axes of difference, inequality and power.

We particularly welcome papers that offer a comparative framing (e.g. cross-nationally or from the perspective of different European regions), papers that offer a multi or inter-disciplinary framing (e.g. drawing on history), and papers that offer theoretical and methodological innovation in studying these questions.

During the sessions, each speaker will have 20 minutes. All presentations will be made in English. Please send an abstract including eventual institutional affiliation to the local committee of the Mid-Term conference: Maria José Casa-Nova (mjcasanova@ie.uminho.pt), Manuela Ivone Cunha (micunha2@gmail.com) and Patrícia Jerónimo Vink (ppmj@direito.uminho.pt).

Deadline: 8 May 2020

Words of ambivalence for Holocaust Memorial Day at Goldsmiths, University of London – David Hirsh

I don’t like Holocaust Memorial Day

I am conflicted and ambivalent about HMD

I don’t want to hear speeches by Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn.  I don’t want to hear about how Vladimir Putin is using the event as an opportunity to fight with the President of Poland.

I don’t want to see Prince Charles in a Kippa.

I don’t want to see footballers putting out videos on facebook.

But why not?

Leaders should remember.

Footballers can educate. In fact the footballers video was very good.

Prince Charles should wear a kippa.

 

I’m ambivalent.

 

When a  Berlin rabbi was asked about what sort of memorial the German state should build, he replied: “That is a matter for Germany. We know how to remember our dead.”

 

I am afraid on HMD, because I know that every year there are people who will mobilize the memory of the Holocaust against living Jews.

I am afraid on HMD that people who feel competitive with Jews about the Holocaust will themselves initiate competition with Jews about the Holocaust, by accusing Jews of being competitive about the Holocaust.

 

Sometimes the Holocaust is taught only as a universal lesson for mankind as a whole.

But Auschwitz was not a learning experience.

And still, it is true that the Holocaust taught us one reason why we should oppose racism; it showed us one possible manifestation or endpoint of antisemitism. And antisemitism is a racism, it is like other racisms. In some ways.

But I’m afraid that sometimes the specificities of the Holocaust are completely lost, as this complex set of events is hollowed out and simplified to find a single lesson for us all.

The Holocaust was also an event in Jewish history. It wasn’t about mankind, it was about Jews.

Oh, do I sound competitive, already? Am I doing what I just accused others of doing?

 

I don’t like HMD.

 

The attempted, significantly successful, annihilation of the world’s Jews was about Jews.

Of course others too were targeted too.

Roma, LGBTQ people, and other ‘enemies of the people’ were herded into the gas and into the pits too.

But it was the antisemitic notion of ‘The Jews’ which was key to Nazism.

The eradication of ‘The Jews’ was of pre-eminent importance to the Nazi project. It was the Nazis who put the Jews first. It was the Nazis who were obsessed by Jews.

 

So universal lessons about racism? Yes.

Jewish lessons about Jewish self-defence and self-preservation? Yes too.

But also non-Jewish lessons about the centrality of the specific phenomenon of antisemitism.  Yes.

 

Antisemitism isn’t only a danger to Jews. Antisemitism is the form of appearance of anti-democratic politics.

 

Antisemitism is a way of giving emotional content to the abstract idea of ‘enemies of the people’.

 

The cosmopolitans, the metropolitans, the elites, the establishment, the media, liberals, finance capital, the people of nowhere (as opposed to the people of somewhere), the people who engineer the weakening of our society for their own gain, the cultural Marxists, the Zionist imperialists, the people who betray our values, the people who betray the common good for their selfish interest, the people who pretend to be in favour of liberty and justice but who in reality work for their own communal enrichment.

These are all tempting populist narratives; they are all familiar in our time.

 

What happened to non-Jewish Germans who stood up against antisemitism in the early days of Nazism?

They were often told that the days of the Jews being special were over.

They were told that they would be better off looking after the German working class, than the over-achieving, metropolitans from the big cities, who have had it too good for too long.

 

And I was afraid to stand up and say any of this, here at Goldsmiths.

I had resolved to tell only personal and family stories.

 

I was going to tell you about my mum, who escaped from Germany as an 8 year old girl, with her mum and dad, and her sister; I was going to tell you how she never considered herself to be a victim but only to be lucky; and how that itself was a kind of denial that structured my own childhood; a childhood designed with great care and effort to be safe and privileged. And which of course, created this ambivalent me.

 

I was going to tell you about how my mum’s grandad’s shop in the Bavarian town of Eichstadt was picketed by National Socialists with the slogan: “Don’t buy from the Jews”.

I was going to tell you how Jews respond to being boycotted.

I was going to tell you about Fela, Fishel and Rushka, three of my mum’s cousins, who, out of an extended family of hundreds, survived the concentration camps.

I was going to tell you how Fishel, profoundly alone in the ruins of Europe, having survived the concentration camp system or four years, received a letter, through the Red Cross, from my grandad in Golders Green, telling him that two of his sisters were still alive.

I was going to tell you how Fishel, as he told me this story in Haifa, welled up with tears as he quoted my Grandad in that letter: “You are not alone. You do not need to worry about anything more. I will look after you now”.

I was going to tell you how when I picked up Fishel at Brussels Airport in 2001 to come to my wedding, the first thing he saw as we drove out of the car park was a Swastika = Star of David, painted on the wall. And he knew they meant him.

I was going to tell you about How Fishel’s wife told me about her brother, who fled East from Poland to Russia; and how he survived the whole war in the Russian army; and how, when he found a boat to Palestine, they asked him what he could do. And he said he couldn’t do anything, he was a soldier. And within two weeks of landing in Palestine, he was dead, strafed by a British Imperial Spitfire.

I was going to tell you what winning looks like.

For Fishel, for Fela and for Rushka, and for my mum too, it meant dying in your 80s or 90s, in a warm bed, surrounded by children and grandchildren who loved you, in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Netanya or Barnet.

And how I could go on. I could tell more stories, make more uncomfortable claims and analogies, I could row back from them, I could ram them home.

My PhD was about crimes against humanity, I didn’t even know that I was working through my own story by researching genocide and ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia.  And by working out how it would never happen again but how it happens again.

I got used to thinking about this stuff analytically and without great sadness.

But of course every now and then one is overwhelmed by emotion.

This HMD was worth it for me because I saw one photograph on facebook.

It was a mother and a father and a boy. The mother and the boy were beaming, smiling brightly. The father looked a bit like my grandfather.

And my “friend” on facebook, somebody I don’t know, wrote that their dad came to England on the kindertransport and his parents, who he left behind, were murdered.

I could now tell you how ambivalent I am about kindertransport. It was British immigration laws, not the Nazis, that prevented the parents from coming. The parents said goodbye and put their children on the train.

But I won’t.  I’ll just tell you what I wrote on facebook:

“I’m usually unmoveable. But this moved me lots. It always surprises me when that happens.

There was no need to murder these people. They look nice.”

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