Tony Greenstein | 19 October 2020 | Post Views:

Gavin Williamson’s Attempt to Force Universities to Adopt the IHRA is like a Mafia Boss offering his clients ‘Protection’

The IHRA has NOTHING to do with anti-Semitism – it is an attempt to redefine the Palestinian liberation struggle as ‘anti-Semitic’

Perhaps the only good thing that Theresa May did in her time in office was to sack Gavin Williamson for being a liar.

Of one thing we should be under no doubt. The IHRA ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with using the memory of the Holocaust dead to provide moral legitimacy to racism and imperialism. Its purpose is to negate anti-Zionism, Palestine solidarity and Western foreign policy. One of the least remarked upon aspects of the IHRA is how genuine anti-Semites have no quarrel with the IHRA. The IHRA is there to defend Israeli Apartheid NOT Jews.

The IHRA has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with using the memory of the Holocaust dead to provide moral legitimacy to racism and imperialism

Both the Polish and Hungarian governments have adopted the IHRA and are amongst the 31 member countries of the IHRA alliance.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban won the 2018 General Election with a transparently anti-Semitic campaign against George Soros, who was a childhood survivor of the Hungarian holocaust. Pictures of Soros were plastered everywhere with the slogan ‘Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh’ which bears a remarkable similarity to Hitler’s ‘Prophecy’ speech on 30 January 1939, which he repeated many times. Hitler promised that if there was another world war then

The Jewish race which only received my prophecies with laughter … that I would then among many other things settle the Jewish problem. Their laughter was uproarious, but I think that for some time now they have been laughing on the other side of their face. Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!’.

Orban described Admiral Horthy, the pro-Nazi ruler of Hungary, who oversaw the deportation of nearly half a million Jews to Auschwitz as an ‘exceptional statesman’. None of this prevented Benjamin Netanyahu forging a close alliance and friendship with Orban.

Poland, as part of the Vizigrad 4, has a government which is stuffed with anti-Semites. Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz told listeners to the anti-Semitic Catholic radio station Radio Maryja in 2002 that he had read Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery by the Czarist secret police and that “Experience shows that there are such groups in Jewish circles.” Polish defence minister condemned over Jewish conspiracy theory

Hitler, in Mein Kampf wrote that

‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion ‘are based on a forgery’, the Frankfurter Zeitung moans and screams once every week: the best proof that they are authentic.’

Anna Zalewska, Poland’s Education Minister discounted two well-documented massacres of Jews, including Jedwabne, by calling them a matter of opinion. When far-right nationalists marched in Warsaw in 2018, brandishing slogans and signs that said “Clean Blood,” “White Europe” and “Europe Will Be White.” Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said the march was fuelled by “patriotic behavior of Poles” and displays of xenophobia were “incidents” that were “of course, reprehensible.”  See Why are anti-Semitic regimes so attractive to Israel and the Zionist movement?

It speaks volumes that there has been no criticism by the IHRA Alliance of either Poland or Hungary. Jew hate is the ‘wrong form of anti-Semitism’.

On 9th October Gavin Williamson wrote to Vice Chancellors ‘asking’ them to adopt the IHRA misdefinition of anti-Semitism. According to Williamson the number of universities who have adopted it, about 20% is ‘shamefully low.’ The full letter can be seen here and here. Williamson tweeted his letter making threats to suspend the funding of any university which defied his dictat. Such are the government’s methods of ‘persuasion’.

Williamson accused universities of ignoring anti-Semitism whilst putting his hand on his heart and bleeting that

‘I believe sincerely that adopting the IHRA definition is morally the right thing to do….You should have no doubt: this government has zero tolerance towards anti-Semitism.’

This is the same Gavin Williamson who has never displayed the slightest interest in any other form of racism. Williamson has said not a word about the Windrush scandal in which the government deported hundreds of Black British citizens to the West Indies, where some of them languished and died in poverty. Williamson has said nothing about the ‘hostile environment’ policy or the criminalisation of those who rescue refugees from the Mediterranean. It is the European Union’s unofficial policy that the more refugees who drown the greater will be the deterrent to future refugees. On all this Williamson has nothing to say. Nor has the IHRA Alliance.

You would think that organisations like the Holocaust Educational Trust would draw the very simple lesson from the holocaust that we should open our doors to refugees. If the Jews of Germany had found a refuge in the United States they would not have been exterminated but the anti-Semites, backed up by the Zionists of the time, opposed lowering the immigration barriers. Today Israel is trying to deport 40,000 Black African refugees because they are neither Jewish nor White. Hence Zionist holocaust memorial groups shut their mouths and avert their eyes.

There is a very simple moral here. When the State takes over the messages of anti-racism and converts them into ‘hate speech’ it depoliticizes the fight against racism and subverts it to its own racist agenda.

The IHRA was the product of a small group of Zionists, led by Kenneth Stern of the American Jewish Committee, whose goal was to define criticism of Israel as ‘anti-Semitic’.

At a conference ‘The Working Definition of Antisemitism – Six Years After’ organised by the Stephen Roth Institute,Mike Whine explained that the reasons for creating the WDA were

‘the demonization and disproportionate criticism of Israel which masqueraded as anti-Zionism, and which came increasingly from Muslims’.

Kenneth Stern, the principal author of the IHRA and an American academic, has spent much of the past decade railing against what he sees as the ‘bastardisation’ of the IHRA and in particular its use to brand individuals and groups as anti-Semitic. In testimony to Congress in November 2017 he argued that ‘The definition was not drafted, and was never intended, as a tool to target or chill speech on a college campus.’ [1] Perhaps not in his eyes but that was not how his fellow Zionists saw it.

When Zionism first arose it was seen as a Jewish form of anti-Semitism. The anti-Semites wanted Jews out of Europe and the Zionists also wanted them to go. As Lucien Wolfe of the Board of Deputies wrote:

I have spent most of my life in combating these very doctrines, when presented to me in the form of anti-Semitism, and I can only regard them as the more dangerous when they come to me in the guise of Zionism. They constitute a capitulation to our enemies.’.

There was more than an alliance of convenience between Zionism and anti-Semitism. Zionism saw the Jews in the diaspora as having been the cause of the anti-Semitism they suffered. In the words of Jacob Klatzkin, Editor of the Zionist paper Die Welt and one of the founders of the Encyclopedia Judaica.

‘If we do not admit the rightfulness of anti-Semitism we deny the rightfulness of our own nationalism… Instead of establishing societies for defence against the anti-Semites who want to reduce our rights, we should establish societies for defence against our friends, who desire to defend our rights.’

Theodor Herzl the founder of Political Zionism was effusive about anti-Semitism. He wrote in The Jewish State that:

‘the governments of all countries scourged by Anti-Semitism will be keenly interested in assisting us to obtain the sovereignty we want…. Great exertions will hardly be necessary to spur on the movement. Anti-Semites provide the requisite impetus’

Herzl lavished praise on anti-Semitism, without which there would be no Zionism. It contained ‘the Divine will to Good, because it forces us to close ranks,… and through our unity will make us free.’

The definition has been criticised by academics such as Brian Klug, David Feldman, and Antony Lerman; and jurists including Hugh Tomlinson QC, Stephen Sedley, Geoffrey Bindman QC, and Geoffrey Robertson QC.

Tomlinson described the IHRA as ‘vague’ and ‘confusing’, that ‘lacks clarity and comprehensiveness’ and has a ‘potential chilling effect on public bodies.’

Lerman, a former Director of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research stated that

‘Not only is there now overwhelming evidence that it’s not fit for purpose, but it also has the effect of making Jews more vulnerable to antisemitism, not less.’

Sir Geoffrey Bindman described the 38 word IHRA definition as

‘poorly drafted, misleading, and in practice has led to the suppression of legitimate debate and freedom of expression.

Stephen Sedley, a Jewish former Court of Appeal Judge  said the IHRA ‘fails the first test of any definition: it is indefinite. He also described it as

‘placing the historical, political, military and humanitarian uniqueness of Israel’s occupation and colonisation of Palestine beyond permissible criticism.’

David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism described it as ‘bewilderingly imprecise”. Geoffrey Robertson QC stated that it would ‘chill free speech’ and that it was ‘not fit for purpose’.

Williamson, like all right-wing supporters of the IHRA, has never responded to any of these criticisms. In so far as the purpose of the IHRA is to use Jews and the the dead of the holocaust to legitimise attacks on solidarity with the Palestinians it is anti-Semitic. Jews are being used as patsies for Western foreign policy in the Middle East.

One of the major justifications of the IHRA is that whatever its faults it is the ‘self-definition’ of anti-Semitism by Jews. This is yet one more lie. The idea for a definition that conflated anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism originated in Tel Aviv’s Kantor Centre for the Study of Contemporary Jewry. The brain behind it was Dinah Porat, Chief Historian at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Propaganda Museum.

Hannah Weizfeld of the liberal Zionist Yachad complained that ‘when Jewish communities call for Labour to adopt the IHRA definition of antsemitism they are not allowed to define their own oppression.[2] Jonathan Freedland likewise complained that:

On the left, black people are usually allowed to define what’s racism; women can define sexism; Muslims are trusted to define Islamophobia. But when Jews call out something as antisemitic, leftist non-Jews feel curiously entitled to tell Jews they’re wrong.[3]

Of course this dishonest polemic is all to be expected from these intellectual pygmies. No one on the left says that there is a ‘right to define’ one’s oppression. Oppression isn’t fixed anyway.

Such a formulation is racist as it assumes that there is one opinion amongst Jews, Blacks, Muslims etc. How people see their oppression is mediated by class, race and sex. That is why collaborators with racism are to be found in particular amongst the Black and Jewish petit bourgeoisie whose goal is to create a capitalist paradise where they too can become exploiters and oppressors.

Not for nothing was Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association termed Black Zionism. Benyamin Neuberger wrote that

Du Bois

The ideologues of Black nationalism had a warm and sympathetic attitude toward Zionism, too, which they saw as a paradigm for Black nationalism. … W.E.B. DuBois, one of the most important Black leaders in the first half of the 20th century told the Second Pan-African Congress (1919) that the “African movement means to us what the Zionist movement must mean to the Jews”.

The IHRA has eleven illustrations of ‘anti-Semitism’, seven of which refer to the Israeli state. What for example has ‘Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’ got to do with anti-Semitism?

Israelis use the Nazis and the holocaust as a metaphor continually. According to Williamson and Keir Sturmer, when Professor Ze’ev Sternhell wrote In Israel, Growing Fascism and a Racism Akin to Early Nazism he was being anti-Semitic. [Ha’aretz, 19.1.18]., The fact that Sternhell was a world authority on fascism and himself a child survivor of the holocaust is irrelevant to racists like Williamson. What is clear is that its not Jews who are ‘self defining’ but people like Williamson and the Israeli state who are doing it on their behalf.

But even if it were true that Jews had all, except for the ‘wrong sort of Jew’ agreed on the IHRA so what? The IHRA says that calling Israel a racist state ( ‘endeavour’) is anti-Semitic. But Palestinians in Israel are the subject of vicious racism, from police killings to confiscation of land, lower welfare benefits, no student grants etc. If Williamson is correct then anti-Semitism can now be true! Can there be anything more anti-Semitic?

Why a definition of anti-Semitism?

The first question that should be asked in the case of the IHRA is why is there a need for a definition? When my father took part in the Battle of Cable Street against Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists on October 4 1936, he was told not to do so by the very people who today are so concerned about ‘anti-Semitism’. Unfortunately Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell did not possess the political courage or intellectual capacity to call out these hypocrites for what they were.

Did my dad need definition of anti-Semitism before he joined with over 100,000 Jewish and non-Jewish workers in defeating Moseley? Of course not. As he told me once, if you walked down the wrong street such as Ridley Road in the East End and you were Jewish the chances were you would get your head kicked in. There is a perfectly good definition of anti-Semitism in the OED. Anti-Semitism is ‘hostility to or prejudice against Jews’ as Jews. However if your real agenda is defence of Israel it is obviously unsatisfactory.

The IHRA isn’t even, as Stephen Sedley, a Jewish Appeal Court Judge wrote, a definition since it is indefinite. At 500+ words long it is obviously not a definition. It is a political formulation with only one purpose, to brand support for the Palestinians as anti-Semitic.

There have been dozens of articles written on the IHRA, most of them critical. There has been no serious defence of the contents of the IHRA. Its defenders use identity politics as a means of supporting it. Because Jews allegedly support it, there is no need for further argument. In essence it is indefensible.

However the IHRA has been supported by the Establishment press, including both Keir Sturmer and Boris Johnson. Jeremy Corbyn voluntarily adopted it in December 2016 after Theresa May had embraced it. Once again Corbyn was a complete fool, making a rod for his own back. The IHRA doesn’t rest on argument but the naked interests of those who support it. As Marx observed the ruling ideas in any society are the ideas of the ruling class.

When I challenged Caroline Lucas the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion as to why she was supporting it, her only response was that it didn’t prevent support for the Palestinians. In fact she is wrong. The IHRA is there to prevent all but the most anodyne criticism of Israel.

Gavin Williamson’s threats are bluster. There is no way he can stop funding 80% of universities. However it needs a collective defence by universities, who should tell Williamson where to go.

It is also important that Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which has all but abandoned the fight against the IHRA, wake up to the fact that this is a battle that can be won if only they abandon their lethargy. Jewish Voices for Labour too have been flying the flag of surrender and at last PSC AGM its supporters, Naomi Wimborne-Iddrissi and Professor Jonathan Rosenhead provided cover for PSC Executive and told members that we had to recognise that some battles were lost.

It is a political battle that has to be won. Too many Palestinian solidarity activists believe that all is needed is more direction action and activism. That is important but to neglect the political struggle such as against the IHRA or to believe that all that is necessary is to advertise the latest Israeli atrocities is to allow the Israel lobby an empty goal.

There should be a vigorous campaign against those universities such as Bristol and UCL which have adopted the IHRA. Our message should be that the IHRA has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with suppression of free speech. The Zionists are jumping up and down at the refusal of academics to be brow beaten. It is up to us to support them.

Liberty, the civil rights group, has passed policy opposing the IHRA yet it refuses to campaign on the issue, basically because its right-wing leadership opposes that policy. They need to be challenged.

This is a battle that can be won but if PSC, JVL and other groups simply go through the motions it will be lost and if it is lost then Palestine solidarity work will be that much harder on campus.

For further information see Robert Cohen’s excellent Open Letter to the Vice Chancellor of Lancaster University ‘don’t let Gavin Williamson bully you into adopting IHRA

Tony Greenstein


[2]           Jewish Chronicle, 13.7.18., Labour needs to realise Jews’ identity is inexorably linked to Israel,

[3]           The Guardian, 29.4.16., My plea to the left: treat Jews the same way you’d treat any other minority,

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