With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brazenly claiming all Jewish victims as his own and cashing in on the attacks for blatant propaganda purposes, the French political elite signalled that the tragic events may be used as an excuse to crack down on criticism of Israel.
Now, it seems, British parliamentarians could go down the same road by considering bans on critical discourse while basing their criteria on extremely shaky definitions.
A report from the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism — while representing only the views and research of an “informal” group in Westminster — builds on the British government’s earlier shoddy research and uncritical peddling of right-wing Zionist accounts of what constitutes anti-Semitism.
Laden with flaws
While there is no doubt that anti-Semitism is a real and revolting form of racism, and is sadly present in Britain as well as other European countries, the report is laden with flaws — both in its handling of the concept of anti-Semitism, and in its approach to researching the problem in the UK.
Firstly, the report relies far too heavily on the Community Security Trust and related organizations for its information, definitions and interpretation. This is conceptually problematic.
Although the CST is supposed to be focused on ensuring the safety of Jews, it is also involved in campaigning against the boycott of Israel. The CST has sought to portray the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel as anti-Semitic, even though the Palestinian-led committee that coordinates BDS activities has explicitly condemned anti-Semitism.
The Electronic Intifada has discussed and exposed the CST’s underhand collaboration with the British authorities before, and this isn’t the place to recount that collaboration again. Suffice to say, the CST’s links to pro-Israel and anti-boycott campaigning do not make it a dependable or impartial source on these subjects and, indeed, other voices from within the British Jewish community have criticized the CST for the dangers inherent in its uncritically pro-Israel stances.
Secondly, the report states that it works on the principle that “a racist act is defined by its victim.”
“We conclude that it is the Jewish community itself that is best qualified to determine what does and does not constitute anti-Semitism,” the report adds.
On its own, this is entirely laudable, and those who feel themselves to be victims of racism — in any form — should be heard and their experiences given full respect.
Manipulation of fear
What the report fails to do, though, is acknowledge or unpack the politics around the manipulation of the Jewish community’s legitimate fears of anti-Semitism by the likes of the CST. This has seen pro-Israel campaigners clearly and deliberately misrepresenting isolated, individual acts of anti-Semitism as instead being part of a wider pattern of behavior, which they claim is characteristic of Palestine solidarity and human rights activists.
The report’s failure to address issues in its data is also illustrated by other examples, such as the statement that research on student experiences of anti-Semitism “found that the respondents who identified as ‘very positive’ about Israel were more likely to have experienced anti-Semitism than those who are ‘fairly positive.’”
It may well be that students who were “very positive” about Israel engaged in more encounters with people who had opposing views and thus experienced criticism of Israel.
Does this mean, however, that this criticism was inherently anti-Semitic, or that the “very positive” attitudes the respondents hold make them more likely to see disagreements about Israel as attacks on them as Jews, not as supporters of Israel?
This could be seen as a semantic argument — except that it is exactly these definitions which the “all-party inquiry” is suggesting as the basis of new legislation. The report’s authors advocate “exploration of the potential for using prevention orders to curb determined offenders” as part of its recommendations about how to tackle allegedly anti-Semitic comments on the Internet.
While this raise issues of freedom of speech in general, in this particular case it also needs to be asked: who decides on the definitions?
Thirdly, the report claims to present an analysis of the relationship between Israel’s attack on Gaza during the summer of 2014 and an apparent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the UK. The report’s credibility, however, has to be questioned when its version of these events is taken into account.
The outline account is as follows: “In early June, three Israeli boys were kidnapped and found dead nearly three weeks later. Following retaliatory Israeli attacks on Hamas and an escalation of rocket fire from Gaza, on 8 July Israel launched Operation Protective Edge. Notably in mid-July four Palestinian children were killed on a beach in Gaza and the fighting intensified exponentially throughout the following weeks.”
The problems with the account include but are not limited to:
- the absence of any mention of the brutal murder in Jerusalem of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian boy burned to death amid the anti-Arab hysteria which was whipped up by the Israeli government and media during the supposed “search” for the kidnapped youths;
- the fact that the Israeli government knew that the kidnapped youths were dead but failed to release the news, knowing that the tensions of the “search” offered them a better environment in which to arouse racist sentiment;
- the absence of any mention of the killing of more than 2,200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, during Operation Protective Edge. Even if one accepts the Israeli state’s own accounts of the situation, the disparity in numbers is extraordinary;
- the placing of all responsibility in the hands of Hamas, despite how Israeli police have acknowledged that Hamas was not responsible for the kidnapping of the Israeli youth;
- the omission of the larger issue of the Israeli siege on Gaza and the rights of Palestinians to resist this large-scale and illegal infringement of collective human rights.
Some members of the “all-party inquiry” are known to be sympathetic towards Israel. Hazel Blears, a former cabinet minister, is a declared supporter of the lobby group Labour Friends of Israel; Alastair Burt and David Davies have both been active with Conservative Friends of Israel, a similar group in the main government party; and Ian Paisley Junior has been involved with Northern Ireland Friends of Israel.
If the “all-party” report is prepared to be so selective, one-sided and biased in its account of Israel’s attack on Gaza, can it really be trusted to make policy recommendations which involve criminalizing public criticism of the State of Israel?