The big American group, Jewish Voice for Peace, has been lobbying the social media companies, particularly Facebook for a year or more, with some success. It recently asked for European support, which EJJP was glad to to give. We lobbied Meta (Fcebook and Instagram) Google (YouTube) and Tik Tok. We were unable to lobby Twitter since none knows who to approach there at the moment.
28 February 2023
Dear Mr./Ms. …………………….
We are writing to you about the pressure you are under to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA WD). We urge you not to adopt it.
Antisemitism, like all racisms, is reprehensible and should not be tolerated. However, in recent years the issue of antisemitism has become entangled with the right to criticise Israel, largely because the Israeli government and the Israel lobby have been promoting the IHRA WD, which is biased towards seeing fundamental criticism of Israeli actions as hidden antisemitism.
While criticisms of Israel can be hidden antisemitism, it is equally true that allegations of antisemitism can be hidden attempts to suppress criticism. It is necessary to have criteria which distinguishes logically between the two. The IHRA WD does not provide that. It does the opposite.
Its provenance gives a sure clue to its nature. Despite being taken up by the IHRA, it was actually produced by a very small group of people working for or with big Jewish communal organisations that support Israeli policies. It is shot through with confusion and bias.
The core definition says “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” That is bewilderingly imprecise. 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 says ‘criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic’. That creates uncertainty about what kind of criticism is to be considered antisemitic because it is in the negative and because ‘similar’ is so imprecise. Again, two questions will suffice as illustrations. Who is to decide whether any particular criticism is close enough to criticism aimed at other countries to be judged “similar”, and by what criteria?
The eleven illustrative examples of antisemitic comment create a strong bias towards seeing criticism of Israel as antisemitic. Two examples in particular create the bias, i.e. “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.”, and “applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
The first of these is a non-sequitur because there is no logical connection between the two clauses. Whether the Jewish people have a right to self-determination is a question of how “self-determination” is defined, how and where it was to be achieved, who else might be affected by it, and international law. Whether Israel is a “racist endeavour” is a question of the philosophy of Zionism and the actions of Israeli governments. The two issues are different. It is not antisemitic to raise questions about either issue unless there is specific evidence of anti-Jewish animus in the questioning.
The second is based on the false assumption that other democratic nations act in the same way Israel acts. They patently do not. They do not systematically discriminate against 20% of their own citizens on ethnic grounds. They are not belligerently occupying and settling another peoples land, denying their human rights and forcibly suppressing their resistance. People are trying to hold Israel to the same standards expected of democracies, not higher standards. .
Tik Tok is in a privileged position. It provides a service which encourages people to express themselves freely, take part in public debate and widen their social sphere. With that goes the responsibility of allowing legally protected free speech even when it is controversial, but denying a platform to hatred, incitement to violence, racism and other forms of prejudice.
If Tik Tok were to bar users from its sites on the basis of the IHRA WD, it would soon fall foul of the First Amendment Rights to Free Speech, the European Convention on Human Rights or the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, all of which have the force of law.
The criteria Tik Tok needs can be provided by the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA), an initiative launched in 2020 by an international group of eminent academics in the fields of Holocaust history, Jewish studies and Middle East studies. The Declaration is endorsed by more than 200 scholars from several countries. The JDA provides a clear definition of antisemitism, provides detailed guidance for its use in various circumstances, distinguishes between antisemitism and criticism of Israel, and is not biased either for or against criticism of Israel. It is consistent with human rights legislation.
An instance of the JDA’s clarity is its simple definition of antisemitism, which says “Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish)”.
We have attached a full analysis of the IHRA WD and the JDA and a brief description of our group to our covering e-mail. We would be happy to meet you on-line to discuss these issues.
Dror Feiler, Chair EJJP, Judar för Israelisk-Palestinsk Fred, Stockholm
Arthur Goodman, Diplomatic and Parliamentary Officer, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, London