Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A new, better definition of antisemitism (update)

Lately, it seems, everyone wants to define antisemitism.

For years since the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance issued its Working Definition of Antisemitism, which accurately included examples of antisemitism that manifested itself as hatred towards Israel, that definition has been under attack from anti-Zionists. But  only recently has that crowd attempted to come up with their own definition - the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism.

Meanwhile, another group - the Nexus Task force - tries to replace the IHRA definition with a more watered down version that, like the JDA, focuses nearly as much on what they say antisemitism isn't (criticism of Israel) rather than what it is.

The three definitions referred to each have a core component, yet each one of those definitions are lacking, hence the need for each of them to add explanations and examples.

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.
This is lacking. It is not at all obvious that this includes attacks on Israel as a Jewish state - it would be a stretch to say that Israel is  community institution or religious facility. The IHRA's examples are excellent but the definition itself doesn't cover them.

Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).

This is worse. Attacks on Judaism aren't covered. Although listing "discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence" is an improvement over IHRA's "hatred."

Nexus Task Force:

Antisemitism consists of anti-Jewish beliefs, attitudes, actions or systemic conditions. It includes negative beliefs and feelings about Jews, hostile behavior directed against Jews (because they are Jews), and conditions that discriminate against Jews and significantly impede their ability to participate as equals in political, religious, cultural, economic, or social life.

As an embodiment of collective Jewish organization and action, Israel can be a target of antisemitism and antisemitic behavior. Thus, it is important for Jews and their allies to understand what is and what is not antisemitic in relation to Israel.

This is lengthy and it also treats hate of Israel as a special case of antisemitism, when it is a core example.

I decided to enter the fray.

I wanted to create a definition that could stand alone without examples and that would be short enough to fit in a tweet, a definition that includes all kinds of antisemitism and excludes what isn't, one that doesn't treat hatred of Israel as a special case of antisemitism with different rules than other types.

Here is what I came up with. (The line breaks are deliberate to make it easier to read and understand.)
Antisemitism is
hostility toward
denigration of or 
discrimination against 
as individual Jews
as a people
as a religion
as an ethnic group or 
as a nation (i.e., Israel.)
Some Jews identify as being part of the Jewish religion, some are atheists but identify with the Jewish people, some as an ethnic group, some as Zionist - part of the Jewish nation. All of these are legitimate aspects of Jewishness, and attacking any one of them is antisemitic, no matter how individual Jews identify.

 Judaism is multifaceted, and unfair attacks on any of these facets is antisemitism, no matter how individuals feel. 

Attacking Jews as a religious group is clearly antisemitic even to Jews who don't adhere to the religion. Likewise, attacking the Jewish state is just as antisemitic as attacking Jews as a people. Why distinguish between different aspects of Jewishness? A thoroughly secular Israeli who only identifies as Jewish through his Zionism is as much a Jew - and as much a target for antisemitism - as an atheist Jew in America whose Jewish ties comes from lox and bagels. An attack on one is an attack on all. 

People who reject Israel as the Jewish state have no right to exclude Israel as an expression of Jewishness and target for anti-Jewish hate any more than people who reject Judaism as a religion can exclude religious Jews from a definition of what Jewishness includes. Roughly half of all Jews now live in Israel and the vast majority of the rest support Jewish nationalism, so the rejection of Zionism by a small minority has no bearing on the fact that Israel is just as much a component of Jewishness today as keeping Shabbat or speaking Yiddish.

The word "denigration" is important. Denigration specifically means unfair criticism. It excludes legitimate criticism - not only of Israel but of Judaism as a religion, or Jews as a people. Israel is not a special case - it is a specific manifestation of Jewishness today and should be treated no better or worse than any other manifestation.  No further caveat or example is necessary.

Hostility towards Israel as a state is no more legitimate than hostility towards Jews as a people or as individual Jews. Hostility towards Israel is not about legitimate grievances - which would be anger at decision makers or leaders, not the entire state.

Discrimination against Israel is no different from discrimination against Jews as an ethnic group or as a people. Saying that Israel cannot be on certain UN committees, or considered a part of Asia in international forums, or that it is the only nation whose supposed crimes make it and its people subject to boycotts, or that somehow Jewish nationalism is pernicious when every other ethnic nationalism is accepted - all of those are discrimination and bigotry. When seen through this lens, it is obvious that all of those are antisemitic attacks on the Jewish state because it is Jewish. 

Perhaps I didn't spend months with dozens of experts to come up with this definition, but I (modestly) think that this has great advantages the others. 

I welcome all constructive criticism.

UPDATE: I modified this definition slightly to include Holocaust denial, the Khazar theory and other historical lies that pretend to be legitimate research. That is now on the graphics above.