31 January 2023
To the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and
Vice-President of the European Commission
Dear Dr. Borrell,
re: your answer to MEPs questions regarding the International Holocaust Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism and apartheid related to Israel
European Jews for a Just Peace disagrees with your declarations in the European Parliament that “it is not appropriate to use the term apartheid in connection with the State of Israel”, latterly made on 20 January. You cited the Commission’s adoption of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA WD), “as a practical guidance tool” and said that ‘Claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour is amongst the illustrative examples included under the IHRA definition’.
Taking all that together, your message is crystal clear: Using the term apartheid in connection with Israel is both inappropriate and antisemitic because the IHRA WD says so.
According that authority to the IHRA WD simply does not stand up to examination. Whether a state practices apartheid is determined by what it does in relation to the Crime of Apartheid defined in the Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statutes of the International Criminal Court. Therefore, questioning whether Israel practices apartheid in those terms, not because of its identity as Israel, cannot be either inappropriate or antisemitic. It is profoundly undemocratic for the Commission to have a policy that prevents Israeli practices being questioned in the same ways as other states practices can be questioned.
Since 2020, six respected NGOs have produced reports concluding that Israel has created a system of apartheid. It is fatuous to claim those NGOs are antisemitic, as the Israeli government and some of its supporters have done.
The whole IHRA WD is shot through with confusion and bias.
The core “definition” itself says “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” This is bewilderingly imprecise and fails to meet the first test of a definition, which is to define. Just two questions will suffice as illustrations: What is “a certain perception” supposed to mean? What is “may be expressed as hatred” supposed to include or exclude, since ‘may be’ implies ‘may not be’?”
The sentence supposedly guaranteeing freedom to criticise Israel is also unhelpful. It says ‘criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic’. That actually creates uncertainty about what kind of criticism is to be considered antisemitic because it is in the negative and because ‘similar’ is so imprecise.
The 11 illustrative examples create a strong bias towards seeing criticism of Israel as antisemitic. First, the reference to Israel in seven of them conflates Jews and Israel. Together with the absence of any examples of legitimate criticism of Israel, this creates the bias. Secondly, some of the 11 examples would clearly be antisemitic but others might or might not be depending on their context. There is no differentiation between them, which imparts an ambiguity that exacerbates the bias.
The IHRA WD has inevitably caused confusion between antisemitism and legitimate criticism of Israel. It has misdirected people’s attention toward seeing antisemitism as being mainly about discriminating against the state of Israel, whereas it is really about discriminating against Jewish people.
It has also suppressed debate about Israel/Palestine because people fear being called antisemitic if they criticise Israel. That has privileged Israeli intolerance of criticism over the rights of European Union citizens to freedom of expression, guaranteed by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Criticism of Israel as a state, its institutions, policies and practices, is not antisemitic unless there is specific evidence of anti-Jewish animus.
Finally, we would like to refer you, to the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA), an initiative launched in 2020 in Jerusalem as an alternative to the faulty IHRA Definition, by a number of international scholars working in Antisemitism Studies and related fields, including Holocaust Studies, Israel, Palestine, and Middle East Studies. The JDA provides a clear definition of antisemitism, distinguishes logically between antisemitism and criticism of Israel, and is not biased either for or against criticism of Israel.
Dear Dr. Borrell, we urge you to use your position to stand up for both freedom of expression and calling out racism of all kinds. .
Dror Feiler, Chair EJJP, Judar för Israelisk-Palestinsk Fred, Stockholm
Arthur Goodman, Diplomatic and Parliamentary Officer, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, London
c.c. Michael Mann, Head of Mena 2
attached to covering e-mail
analysis of International Holocaust Working Definition of Antisemitism and Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism
introduction to European Jews for a Just Peace
the paper analysing the IHRA WD and the JDA can be obtained on request