Discredited definition of anti-Semitism no longer in use, says BBC

The reputation of a discredited definition of anti-Semitism has suffered a further blow with the news that the BBC’s governing body amended a ruling to reflect the abandonment of the text by a European Union body. 

A 2005 “discussion paper” definition of anti-Semitism was drafted on the initiative of the European Union’s Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (which has subsequently been renamed the Fundamental Rights Agency — FRA).

It claimed that describing Israel’s establishment as a “racist endeavor” is an example of “anti-Semitism.”

The definition has been pushed by Israel advocates since its publication, and used in efforts to undermine Palestine solidarity work (see The Electronic Intifada report “Israel lobby uses discredited anti-Semitism definition to muzzle debate”).

In a BBC Trust ruling earlier this year, a complaint relating to the broadcaster’s coverage on comments about Israel by a British member of Parliament, David Ward, was partially upheld. The complaint had cited the EU agency’s “working definition.” 

However, in correspondence with blogger Mark Elf of Jews sans frontieres, the BBC Trust first investigated, then changed its ruling (available online) to note that the definition has now “been removed” from the FRA’s website.


While the BBC Trust’s amendment of the ruling made minimal changes, the email to Mark Elf was more revealing, with the BBC Trust Unit writing:

A press officer at the FRA has explained that this was a discussion paper and was never adopted by the EU as a working definition, although it has been on the FRA website until recently when it was removed during a clear out of “non-official” documents. The link to the FRA site provided by the complainant in his appeal no longer works.

The BBC added that the “working definition … was not material to the committee’s finding that the accuracy guidelines had been breached.”

Despite it being an abandoned draft text, plenty of Israel’s defenders still refer to the definition in a way that infers official credibility.

The group Israel Academia Monitor continues to base its concept of a “distinction” between “legitimate and illegitimate criticism of Israel” on the definition, claiming it was “adopted” by the FRA. Pro-Israel media lobbying group HonestReporting recently called it “the EU’s working definition,” while a UK-based right-wing site referred this week to what it called the “EUMC working definition.” 




My union, UCU, was completely right to pass a resolution dissociating itself from the EUMC definition and resolving never to use it. Ronnie Fraser and Denis MacShane eat your hearts out!

Ben White

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Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist, specialising in Palestine/Israel. His articles have been widely published in the likes of The Guardian‘s Comment is free, Al Jazeera, Electronic Intifada, New Statesman, and many others. He is the author of ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ (2009, Pluto Press) and ‘Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination & Democracy’ (2012, Pluto Press). Ben is a researcher/writer for the Journal of Palestine Studies.