Israel lobbyists finally concede that EU has ditched anti-Semitism “definition”

Pro-Israel groups this week have finally admitted what had been clear for some time: that a European Union body’s “working definition” of anti-Semitism is dead in the water.

At the end of October, I blogged for The Electronic Intifada on a BBC Trust decision that revealed how the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) had removed a document outlining the “working definition” from its website. The definition had contended that describing the foundation of Israel as a “racist endeavor” was tantamount to anti-Semitism.

News of the definition’s burial prompted dismay among those who had been so enthusiastically deploying the definition. At the same time some — including the Israeli government and the American Jewish Committee — sought to put fresh pressure on the FRA to formally adopt the text.  The definition had been drawn up by the FRA’s precursor, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), in close consultation with several pro-Israel lobby groups. 

Now, however, efforts to revive the definition seem doomed to failure, with EU officials restating the abandonment of the definition on three separate occasions lately. Firstly, at the end of last week, the European Jewish Press quoted an FRA official who confirmed the story that appeared in The Electronic Intifada, saying:

We don’t foresee adding the working definition to our webpage. The FRA is not a standard-setting body and creating definitions is not part of our mandate. The EUMC working definition of anti-Semitism is not an official EU definition and has not been adopted by the FRA.

Then, earlier this week, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Shimon Samuels wrote a post for The Times of Israel, expressing the hope he would never have to write: “EU disowns the ‘EU working definition of anti-Semitism.’” Samuels too had received a response from the EU, this time from the European Commission’s department of justice, which told him that “neither the Commission in particular, nor the Union have an established definition of anti-Semitism and that there is no policy to create one” and that the FRA “recently … removed” the “working definition.” 

Never “valid”

Finally, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency yesterday cited remarks by FRA spokesperson Blanca Tapia, who stated that the agency’s staff “are not aware of any official definition [of anti-Semitism],” that the document had “never” been viewed “as a valid definition” by the FRA and that “the agency does not need to develop its own definition of anti-Semitism in order to research these issues.”

It seems the penny has dropped even for groups like Honest Reporting, which have confessed that the “disappearance and disavowal of the definition” by the FRA does somewhat undermine “the validity” of a petition they had only recently launched, calling for the media to adopt the definition.

Yet the definition was long ago discredited, with those doing serious anti-racism work at the FRA clear it was not fit for purpose. That was what a senior FRA official told me for an article I published in The Electronic Intifada in September 2012. Others were told something similar even earlier.

It remains to be seen how groups that had been using or referencing the definition will respond. There is no mention of the FRA’s dismissal of the document, for example, on relevant sections of the websites of CIF Watch (which monitors criticisms of Israel on the Guardian’s Comment is Free section) or the Community Security Trust, a charity that has been involved in pro-Israel advocacy.

This is certainly not the end of efforts by Israel lobby groups to abuse and manipulate the fight against anti-Semitism in order to target Palestine solidarity work. However, the loss of the “working definition” is certainly a blow to those who had invested so much in its development and promotion.




I have corresponded with the EU FRA regarding the EUMC’s Working Definition of Antisemitism. They stated: “All non-official documents produced by FRA’s predecessor, the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, have been archived and are no longer available on the FRA website.” i.e. FRA did not specifically remove the EUMC's working definition of antisemitism but rather all non-official documents.

I then asked: “I’ve seen articles describe the Working Definition of Anti-Semitism produced by the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia as 'discredited.' Can you please clarify whether the Fundamental Rights Agency has repudiated the working definition of anti-Semitism produced by its predecessor?”

Here is the response I received:
"As the FRA, by its legal mandate, is not a standard setting body, it can neither set nor repudiate any definitions.

We hope this helps clarification.

Best regards,
The FRA Information Team"

i.e. the FRA simply does not define antisemitism. This does not give license to anti-Zionists to draw "comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of Nazis," which the working definition classified as antisemitic. The FRA recently published a survey of European Jews, in which they found that "eight in 10 respondents consider the following statements antisemitic: ‘Israelis behave “like Nazis” towards Palestinians’ (81%)." In contrast, only 34% of respondents consider criticizing Israel to be antisemitic:
Hence, the majority opinion of [European] Jews is aligned with the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism.

Furthermore, 72% of respondents consider supporting boycotts of Israeli goods/products to be antisemitic.

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.