Journalist Richard Sudan explains why it’s important that pro-Palestine activists resist the imposition of a definition of anti-semitism that is currently being pushed by pro-Israel organisations.
The question whether Israel is racist has been brought into sharp focus as pro-Israel activists and right-wing Labour MPs continue to accuse the Labour Party of being soft on anti-semitism. The latest example of this is the ire directed at the Labour leadership for not adopting the definition of anti-semitism defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
Among other criteria this definition states:
“Claiming Israel’s existence as a state is a racist endeavor’ is anti-Semitic.”
Well, put simply, it isn’t. And if we accept that it is we’ll set a dangerous precedent which will ultimately damage free speech, as well as limiting the ability for others to speak up for the Palestinians.
So let’s be crystal clear – speaking up for the Palestinians, who remain colonised and imprisoned in their own country, is simply a question of morality, human rights and international law. It cannot be racist. If it is then we’ve bankrupted the word “racism” of all meaning.
Because according to the United Nations, and every respected human rights organisation worth its salt, Israel continues to break international law and violate United Nations resolutions on a daily basis. These are facts; not conjecture.
Palestinians born in Palestine are subjected to violent colonialism for no other reason than because they are Palestinian, and have been for 70 years. From the murder of Palestinian civilians and children, to normalised daily humiliations, to a two-tier legal system with limited and controlled movement, the treatment of the Palestinians meets the very definition of racism and then some.
And yet those lobbying and advocating for Israel (who ignore acts of Israeli aggression towards Palestinians or justify them claiming Palestinians are terrorists) in the face of one massacre after another, claim that to question Israel’s legitimacy is itself racist and anti-semitic. To me, this is the working definition of insanity; not anti-semitism.
An insult to our intelligence
The IHRA view of anti-semitism, which is advocated by pro-Israel organisations, doesn’t make sense. It’s akin to saying that to criticise the actions of the racist, Apartheid state in South Africa, and to call that state a “racist endeavour” would in itself be racist. This is a basic logical fallacy, and an insult to one’s intelligence.
And yet this is precisely the rule which applies to criticism of Israel, according to the IHRA. This utter hypocrisy can only be viewed as Orwellian doublespeak. No wonder many view the IHRA’s definition of anti-semitism, and the vigour from many in the political class to promote it, as a dangerous step towards self-censorship and the clamping down of free speech.
Individuals as well as public institutions and political organisations must not be intimidated into being silenced when it comes to criticising the Israeli state and government. Thank goodness advocates for a free South Africa didn’t listen to the likes of the British government which claimed Nelson Mandela was terrorist. Could we really imagine a scenario in which criticism of the racist South African government could be seen as racist? Then why should we accept it when it comes to Israel?
Criticising the Apartheid South African government and questioning its validity was not racist. Criticising the actions of the Saudi Arabian government, and its legitimacy, is not racist. And criticising the government of Israel, and questioning its legitimacy, is also not racist.
While much of alternative and social media have in the last few years exposed the brutal, unmitigated violence of Israel towards Palestinians, most of the mainstream media and political class continue to support the state of Israel. But the fight is far from over.
Racism in all its forms, including genuine anti-semitism, is a vile cancer which needs to be cut out and removed from society. Islamophobia and anti-semitism sadly still plague our society, public institutions and, yes, also our political parties. There is no doubt about this.
But criticising Israel’s violent colonialism is not racism, and never can be. We should organise and oppose any attempts to shut down debate, intimidate or make it illegal to call out racism and violence wherever it manifests. It is a mark of shame that many politicians and others would like to shut down debate around the violent Israeli government’s colonial policy, while turning the other cheek to rampant Islamophobia.