Only someone with a very twisted sense of humor could enjoy an event where Jews are depicted as insects. Yet that was the “entertainment” offered at the carnival in Aalst, a Belgian city, last weekend.
The revolting spectacle serves as a reminder that anti-Semitism remains a real problem. In this case, the problem can be found less than 20 miles from Brussels, home to the major European Union institutions.
The latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defines anti-Semitism as “prejudice, hostility or discrimination towards Jewish people on religious, cultural or ethnic grounds.”
Without doubt the Aalst carnival promotes the worst kind of prejudice.
The threadbare excuses from its organizers cannot conceal how the event suggests Jews are less than human. The Nazis spread a similar message.
Correctly, the Aalst carnival has been condemned by senior EU representatives. But are these representatives really serious about tackling bigotry against Jews?
Next month the EU will hold a meeting of its relatively new working group on anti-Semitism.
That meeting will not be guided by the clear description of anti-Semitism offered by the Oxford English Dictionary. Rather, it will focus on a more complicated definition approved by a club of 33 countries known as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Shielding Israel from scrutiny
The real purpose of the IHRA definition is not to protect Europe’s Jews from persecution. It is to shield Israel from scrutiny.
Most examples of supposed anti-Semitism cited in the memo accompanying the definition relate explicitly to Israel. According to that memo, it is anti-Semitic to question Israel’s right to exist or allege that Israel’s foundation was a “racist endeavor.”
In other words, it is now deemed anti-Semitic to tell the truth about Israel’s activities.
Israel has been established through the mass expulsion of indigenous Palestinians and through the erection of an apartheid system.
No state is entitled to base its very existence on the dispossession of an entire people. Israel, therefore, does not have the right to exist as an apartheid state.
It is completely logical to be outraged both by how Israel oppresses the Palestinians and by such displays of intolerance as the Aalst carnival. Don’t expect such comprehensive outrage, though, from the EU’s working group on anti-Semitism.
The EU’s bureaucracy has been secretive about this group’s activities. I had to invoke freedom of information rules in order to receive a list of organizations participating in it.
Many of these organizations are part of the pro-Israel lobby and are seeking to muzzle Palestine solidarity campaigners.
The Paris-based CRIF, for example, persuaded the French parliament last year to formally declare that it regards opposing Israel’s state ideology, Zionism, as anti-Semitism. That is despite how Zionism has always been contested by large numbers of Jews around the world, who see it – accurately – as a political movement dedicated to uprooting Palestinians from their homeland.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany is involved, too, in the EU’s working group. That organization has supported efforts to smear the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement – which demands equality between Palestinians and Israeli Jews.
The working group’s membership list – published below – also includes B’nai B’rith, the European Jewish Congress and the European Union of Jewish Students. All three of those organizations have tried to defend Israel’s violence against Palestinians.
The EU’s working group does not reflect the diversity of opinions among Europe’s Jews. No Jewish organization or individuals who are outspoken against Israel and Zionism have been invited to take part in its activities.
In theory, the IHRA definition is not legally binding.
Nonetheless, the EU’s working group boasts representatives from Europol, a law enforcement agency headquartered in The Hague, as well as police forces from Ireland and Austria, and justice or interior ministries from many countries.
With the involvement of police in the working group, it is not unreasonable to fear that denouncing Israeli apartheid could become a criminal offense – at least de facto. The police in Britain, until recently an EU member, have already begun treating Palestine solidarity campaigners as subversives.
While the EU’s efforts could have chilling effects for free expression, nobody should be deterred from insisting on justice for Palestinians. Smears will ultimately prove futile if enough people speak out.