Israel’s pressure to conflate criticism of its treatment of Palestinians with the evils of anti-Semitism has stifled a needed debate in Western societies, as Lawrence Davidson explains.
By Lawrence Davidson
“Back in the day,” which in this case was Feb. 8, 2007, the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism adopted a “working definition” of anti-Semitism which included the following point: It is anti-Semitic to “deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination (e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor).”
The whole definition, including the quoted sentence, was not original with the State Department. It was originally “written collaboratively by a small group of non-governmental organizations” which remained unnamed.
This “working definition” has proved to have staying power. Thus, the U.S. Congress has used the State Department document in devising its Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016, and in December of 2016, the British government adopted an almost identical “working definition,” which listed the same alleged act of denial – the one that links the Jewish people’s “right of self-determination” with the “claim that the existence of Israel is a racist endeavor” as an example of “contemporary anti-Semitism.”
There is something not quite right about this aspect of the “working definition.” The two parts of the quoted sentence don’t really go together logically. Thus, labeling Israel as it presently exists as a “racist endeavor” does not “deny the Jewish people their right of self-determination.” It only asserts that self-determination carried forth in a racist manner, by Jews or anyone else, is illegitimate.
Although neither the State Department’s nor the U.K. government’s taking up of this “working definition” are not legally binding on non-governmental individuals or organizations (a fact not widely publicized), it has allowed both U.S. and British Zionists to label critics of Israel as anti-Semites in what appears to be a semi-official way, and this has opened the floodgates for a growing number of actions by colleges, universities, civic groups and the like to ban conferences, student organizations and speakers who would condemn Israeli behavior and support Palestinian rights.
Subsequently, the respected British jurist Hugh Tomlinson has come out with an opinion on this “working definition” which finds it flawed, and the U.K. government’s assertion of it legally unenforceable.
A Flawed Assumption
The assertion that criticism of Israel is an act of anti-Semitism relies on the assumption that, because Israel describes itself as “a Jewish state,” it represents all Jews. This exaggeration, in turn, seems reasonable due to a broader tendency, most prevalent in the democratic West, to confuse governments and the people they claim authority over.
Americans and most Europeans live in democracies and vote for their governments in relatively honest elections. So, aren’t they in some way to be identified with the policies of their governments? The claim can be no more than partially true. Maybe an argument can be made for those who actually voted for the policymakers in a politically aware fashion. But what of those who did not vote for them? Or how about those who did not vote at all? How about those who do not reside within the country that claims them?
It is interesting to note that this identification of specific groups with specific governments is rarely made by those living in dictatorships and states with rigged elections. In those places the population knows that their wishes have no relation to policy. Often their assumption is that the same sort of disconnect is a really a worldwide phenomenon.
So, for instance, if you go to Iran, Iranians will usually tell you that they heartily dislike the U.S. government and, at the same time, really like the American people. No one believes that the two things, government and people, are really the same thing.
When it comes to populations that are spread out beyond one particular state, the exaggeration becomes even more obvious. Thus, can the Buddhist government of Sri Lanka claim the loyalty of Nepalese Buddhists for their horrible war against the Tamils? Should the ethnic Chinese living in San Francisco be expected to support the expansionist policies of the Chinese government in Tibet?
Common sense tells us that it is a gross exaggeration to identify specific ethnic or religious groups with the policies of specific governments, even democratic ones. Yet as we have seen above, in one ongoing case, that of the Jews and Israel, the argument is being pushed very strongly – to the point where laws are being considered to mandate just such an identification.
Since the inception of the State of Israel, one Israeli government after the other has insisted that the Israeli state officially represents every last Jew on the planet – thus conflating nationality and religious identity. The fabricated nature of this claim has become more obvious as Israeli behavior and culture has grown ever more racist and the policies of its governments more blatantly in violation of international law and the norms of human and civil rights.
While much of the rest of the world has strived to increase diversity and tolerance, Israel and a small number of other states (such places as Myanmar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, etc.) go about practicing official discrimination, segregation, and expulsion. As they do so, they inevitably produce cultures that those who support human and civil rights can only describe as ugly and deformed. As a consequence, more and more Jews have responded by disassociating themselves with Zionist Israel.
What then has been the response of the Israeli government? It is, essentially, to spit in the face of Jews supportive of human rights. The Israelis seek to force the issue by using their influence and that of Zionist lobby surrogates to push for new laws in key foreign lands, such as the U.S. and the U.K., to make criticism of the Israeli state legally synonymous with anti-Semitism. The U.S. and British adoption of the suspect portion of the “working definition” of anti-Semitism cited here is a step in this direction, and a consequence of Zionist pressure.
It should be noted that Israel and its supporters, being the “deep thinkers” they aren’t, have created a reductio ad absurdum situation. To wit, anyone who publicly condemns Israeli human rights violations (that is Israeli racist acts) must be anti-Semitic (racist) – even if they happen to be Jewish. That is what you get when you pursue particularistic expediency over the general logic of tolerance and humanitarianism.
One can ask how it is that American and British, as well as other politicians and lawmakers, who are themselves part of cultures that are even now seeking to overcome racism, can buy into such an illogical argument?
Their doing so seems to be an expression of the electoral marketplace. Politicians need money to survive in their chosen career. As long as it does not cost them an overwhelming number of votes, they will sell their support to high bidders. And, no one bids higher than the Zionists.
This means that democratic politics is most often not a principled activity. It can be idealized, of course, but as long as it is dependent on incessant fund-raising, it will be corrupt in practice. That is why the Zionists can easily arrange for most Western politicians to selectively suppress free speech in their own countries and support racism in Israel.
Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism. He blogs at www.tothepointanalyses.com.