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When is being anti-Israeli evidence that you are antisemitic?

Antisemitism is basically hatred of Jews. My analysis concludes that anti-Israeli words may, or may not be, evidence of antisemitism. As well as what is said, one needs to consider other evidence of the person's attitude towards Jews.

Summary

20 June 2016

I was recently asked by the newspaper "The Jewish News" if I would write an article for them.

I decided to tackle an issue that has been much in the news this year as a result of past comments of some Labour politicians being cited as evidence that they are antisemites. I wrote a piece two years ago "When does anti-Zionism become antisemitism?" and decided to address the question again, as I have been thinking further about it.

My piece was published on page 14 of the 16 June 2016 edition of the physical newspaper. I had submitted it with the same title as this page, but the editor used his prerogative to change the title to "When is being anti-Israel evidence of anti-Semitism?" which is also the title used on the Jewish News website version. The editor also omitted "He is writing in a personal capacity" in my self-description, which was submitted as "Mohammed Amin is the Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester. He is writing in a personal capacity."

I have reproduced the article below, adding some more hyperlinks as I did so.

When is being anti-Israel evidence of anti-Semitism?

Mohammed Amin - Mohammed is co-chair, Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester

Six years ago, in a “below the line” comment debate about Israel, I was surprised to be accused of antisemitism. That led to me writing “When does anti-Zionism become antisemitism?” which can easily be found on my website.

As several people have recently been accused of antisemitism because of social media or mainstream media comments about Israel, I have been thinking about the question again.

What is antisemitism?

There are some relatively well-established definitions. The most recent is the working definition adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) on 26 May:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The text above is actually identical to the working definition devised around 2003 by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).

When you read it closely, the entire definition is contained in the first sentence. A perception is something that happens inside your mind. So indeed is hatred. Since we cannot read people’s minds, we can only know that hatred exists within a person’s mind when it is manifested in words and deeds, which is what the second sentence is about.

Accordingly, we are left looking for words (most commonly) or deeds (occasionally) which provide evidence, sometimes overwhelming evidence, that the person hates Jews. If we find such overwhelming evidence, we can the person of antisemitism.

We are entitled to disregard the individual’s protestation that they do not hate Jews, unless the individual can offer equally strong evidence in the form of their other words or deeds. Mere assertions of “not being antisemitic” will not acquit the individual.

The EUMC definition has always been controversial. I think that was due to the EUMC providing, alongside its definition, a long list of potential markers of antisemitism, including several anti-Israeli behaviours. Some used the EUMC definition as if those possible indicators of antisemitism were part of the definition and constituted automatic proof of antisemitism regardless of context. The IHRA appears to have avoided that bear-trap.

What is being anti-Israeli?

There is an endless list of possibilities. As a mathematics graduate, when faced with a continuous variable I always find thinking about the most extreme possibilities a worthwhile aid to analysis.

At its mildest, being anti-Israeli could comprise no more than daring to disagree with any policy of the Israeli government. I do not believe that anyone would attempt to contend that a person falling in this category had provided verbal evidence of their antisemitism.

At its most extreme, being anti-Israeli could involve expressing the view that Israel should be militarily crushed with the entire Jewish population being slaughtered. In this case I would expect all reasonable people to convict the individual of having provided verbal evidence of their antisemitism.

As one goes from the mild extremity, steadily ratcheting up the level of anti-Israeli views, the greater the likelihood that the individual hates Jews.

However, it is impossible to specify a particular form of anti-Israeli words, whereby all milder versions are not evidence of the individual being antisemitic while all stronger versions are such evidence.

The reason is that one is attempting to determine the individual’s mental state (“does this person hate Jews?”) and two people may use the same words while having entirely different mental attitudes towards Jews. Furthermore, for each individual one has to assess the strength of any evidence for the defence that would rebut an accusation of antisemitism.

I’m not antisemitic but…

Recently, after a public meeting, I was approached by someone starting with these words who then gave me a tirade against Israel and against the behaviour of Jews throughout history. The only conclusion I can draw from the person’s words is that this individual hates Jews. I am also not aware of any evidence in the other direction that would defend against a charge of antisemitism.

However, I suspect (although this is guesswork on my part having only met the individual once) that this person was not consciously lying to me. Rather, they were insufficiently self-aware to realise that what they believed about Jews constituted hatred. Sadly, I doubt that the person is unique in this respect.

 

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