May 31, 2020

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UN report on antisemitism is a good start, but doesn’t accept the IHRA’s examples about Israel
UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed

The UN has released an important report about antisemitism worldwide.

Written by  the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, much of it is a list of both antisemitic incidents and charges.

It properly notes Arab antisemitism:

The Special Rapporteur received numerous reports that in countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Jews are frequently conflated with Israel and Zionism, even in countries with a deep history of Jewish life. Literature demonizing Jews is prevalent in the media in this region. Saudi school textbooks contained antisemitic passages, with some passages even urging violence against Jews. 

Examples: In Saudi Arabia, the newspaper Al-Iqtisadiyya printed an editorial cartoon showing a grinding machine in the shape of the Star of David, grinding Gazans into skulls. In Algeria, Echourouk El Youmi published an article claiming that Jews had been plotting against Muslims for centuries, that Jews were responsible for most of the disasters that have befallen Muslims, and that Jews controlled the media, cinema, art, and fashion. In Qatar, the privately-owned Al-Raya newspaper published a cartoon showing a witch with a Star of David wand causing inter-Arab disputes.

The report notes the existence of left-wing antisemitism as well:

The Special Rapporteur also takes note of numerous reports of an increase in many countries of what is sometimes called ‘left-wing’ antisemitism, in which individuals claiming to hold anti-racist and anti-imperialist views employ antisemitic narratives or tropes in the course of expressing anger at policies or practices of the Government of Israel. In some cases, individuals expressing such views have engaged in Holocaust denial; in others, they have conflated Zionism, the self-determination movement of the Jewish people, with racism; claimed Israel does not have a right to exist; and accused those expressing concern over antisemitism as acting in bad faith. He emphasizes that it is never acceptable to render Jews as proxies for the Government of Israel. He further recalls that Secretary-General Guterres has characterized “attempts to delegitimize the right of Israel to exist, including calls for its destruction” as a contemporary manifestation of antisemitism.

On the other hand, in the next paragraph that discusses BDS it presents both sides of the argument that BDS is inherently antisemitic and the report effectively supports the BDS right to boycott Israel and takes a stand against legislation to prohibit such boycotts. Shaheed doesn’t bother to do any fact checking to see which side is telling the truth.

The Special Rapporteur further notes claims that the objectives, activities and effects
of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement are fundamentally antisemitic. The movement promotes boycotts and stockholder divestment initiatives against Israeli or international corporations and institutions that BDS supporters maintain are ‘complicit’ in violations of the human rights of Palestinians by the Government of Israel. Critics of BDS that the architects of the campaign have indicated that one of its core aims is to bring about the end of the State of Israel and further allege that some individuals have employed antisemitic narratives, conspiracies and tropes in the course of expressing support for the BDS campaign. The Special Rapporteur notes that these allegations are rejected by the BDS movement, including by one of its principal actors, who asserted that the movement is “inspired by the South African anti-apartheid and U.S. Civil Rights movements;” maintained that they oppose all forms of racism and that they take steps against those who use antisemitic tropes in the campaign, and stressed that they employ “nonviolent measures to bring about Israel’s compliance with its obligations under international law.” Concern about the adoption of laws that penalize support for the BDS movement, including the negative impact of such laws on efforts to combat antisemitism have also been communicated to the Special Rapporteur. He recalls that international law recognizes boycotts as constituting legitimate forms of political expression, and that non-violent expressions of support for boycotts are, as a general matter, legitimate speech that should be protected. However, he stresses that expression which draws upon antisemitic tropes or stereotypes, rejects the right of Israel to exist, or advocates discrimination against Jewish individuals because of their religion should be condemned.

The good news is that the document says that the IHRA working definition of antisemitism is valuable.

The bad news is it doesn’t appear that the Special Rapporteur understands the examples given specifically about Israel as really being antisemitic.

He writes:

The Special Rapporteur notes that critics of the Working Definition have expressed concern that it can be applied in ways that could effectively restrict legitimate political expression, including criticism of policies and practices being promoted by the Government of Israel which violate the rights of Palestinians. Such concerns are focused on three of the illustrative examples attached to the definition namely, claiming that the existence of Israel is a racist endeavour; requiring of Israel a behaviour not demanded of other democratic states; equating Israeli government policy with that of the Nazis. The Special Rapporteur notes that the IHRA definition does not designate these as examples of speech that are ipso facto antisemitic and further observes that a contextual assessment is required under the definition to determine if they are antisemitic. Nevertheless, the potential chilling effects of the use of these examples by public bodies on speech that is critical of Israeli government policies and practices must be taken seriously as should the concern that criticism of Israel sometimes has been used to incite hatred towards Jews in general such as through expression that feed on traditional antisemitic stereotypes of Jews. Therefore, the use of the definition, as a non-legal educational tool, could minimize such chilling effects and contribute usefully to efforts to combat antisemitism. Where public bodies use the definition in any regulatory context, due diligence must be exercised to ensure that freedom of expression within the law is protected for all.

It is true that the IHRA says that those examples could theoretically be not considered antisemitic based on context, but in reality essentially all such uses are absolutely antisemitic and this fig leaf of “legitimate criticism” must be called out for what it is – an excuse for Jew-hatred. (The only counterexamples I can think of are some overheated and unfortunate rhetoric within Israel itself.)

Saying that Zionism is racism is antisemitic, because Zionism is the movement for self-determination of the Jewish people, and denying Jews that right is inherently antisemitic.

Saying that Israel is uniquely evil when other countries do things that are much worse is antisemitic because the criticisms are clearly hurled at the Jewish state because it is the Jewish state. “Human rights” is an excuse for hate in those cases, and the hypocrisy should be called out.

Equating Israeli policy with the Nazis is antisemitic because such examples are never meant to illuminate but to claim that the victims of the Holocaust are no better than the perpetrators. The accusation is a direct attack on Jews because the accusers know that such comparisons are especially painful for Jews.

Saying that Israel violates Palestinian human rights, whether one agrees with that or not, is not antisemitism. Saying that Israel treats them like Nazis treated Jews clearly is.

In the recommendations, Shaheed says that IHRA is useful but still includes the caveat that allows Jew-haters to hide behind the “legitimate criticism” facade:

The Special Rapporteur recognises that the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism can offer valuable guidance for identifying antisemitism in its various forms, and therefore encourages States to adopt it for use in education, awareness-raising and for monitoring and responding to manifestations of antisemitism. The Special Rapporteur recommends its use as a critical non-legal, educational tool that should be applied in line with guidance provided by the Rabat Plan of Action, Human Rights Committee in General Comment 34, and the CERD in General Recommendation  In this regard, the Special Rapporteur notes that criticism of the Government of Israel is not per se antisemitic, as stated in the Working Definition, unless it is accompanied by manifestations of hatred towards Jews in general, or expressions that build on traditional antisemitic stereotypes.

Comparing Israel to Nazi Germany and the other two examples do not fit under Shaheed’s two exceptions, meaning that he has effectively accepted the claims of the left wing antisemites who say – falsely – that the IHRA definition chills free speech and legitimate criticism of Israel. 
Saying that some of these examples might be legitimate criticism of Israel is akin to saying that some people who use blackface today are not being racist. It is theoretically possible but at this point in history the chances that the act is done innocently are practically nil, and all cases should be treated under the assumption that the violator is a bigot and any excuses are simply that. The Special Rapporteur clearly thinks otherwise.
Most of the report is quite good. But the continued cover for antisemitism disguised as legitimate criticism of Israel shows that even the UN expert on freedom of religion or belief truly doesn’t understand how treating the Jewish state with double standards is simply hate.

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