Refuting Tony Greenstein’s Guardian claim that antisemitism definition silences Israel’s critics

As reported on these pages, the UK government adopted the IHRA (International Holocaust Rememberance Alliance) Working Definition on Antisemitism last week, a decision enthusiastically welcomed by British Jews and anti-racist campaigners.

Quite naturally, anti-Zionists weren’t too pleased, as the WD defines as antisemitic the view that Zionism = Racism, and the corresponding belief that Israel has no right to exist. Among those objecting to the government’s decision were a group of anti-Zionists in the UK (including Tony Greenstein) whose letter – which, in effect, accuses British Jews of falsely crying antisemitism to silence debate about Israel appeared in the Guardian on Dec. 17th.


Here it is:

You report that the government is going to adopt a “new definition” of antisemitism in order to prevent an “over-sweeping condemnation of Israel” (Britain to pioneer new antisemitism definition, 12 December). The new definition has nothing to do with opposing antisemitism, it is merely designed to silence public debate on Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Antisemitic incidents comprise about 2% of all hate crime. Why then the concentration on antisemitism and not on Islamophobia, which is far more widespread? The suspicion must be that the real concern is not with antisemitism but with Britain’s support for Israel.

Israel claims to be “the only democracy in the Middle East.” Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation are governed by a wholly different set of laws than Jewish settlers. This makes Israel the world’s only apartheid state and thus deserving of strong condemnation and the target of boycott, divestment and sanctions. We agree that it is antisemitic to associate Jews with the actions of the Israeli state. Unfortunately this is precisely what the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition will achieve through perpetuating the stereotype that all Jews support the Israeli state. The IHRA will strengthen not weaken antisemitism. There is a very simple definition of antisemitism from Oxford University’s Brian Klug. Antisemitism is “a form of hostility towards Jews as ‘Jews’.” The IHRA definition smuggles in anti-Zionism, in the guise of antisemitism, as a means of protecting the Israeli state and thus western foreign policy.

The Guardian then published a superb reply by Stephen Franklin on Dec. 19th.

I was shocked by the letter (17 December) from Tony Greenstein and others about the government adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. The letter said: “The new definition has nothing to do with opposing antisemitism, it is merely designed to silence public debate on Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Antisemitic incidents comprise about 2% of all hate crime. Why then the concentration on antisemitism and not on Islamophobia, which is far more widespread?”

Those assertions are all either misleading or false and seem to say that antisemitism in Britain doesn’t matter. It is true that religiously based hate crime represents a very small percentage of all hate crime. In 2015 out of about 66,000 hate crimes in the UK, about 5,000 were on grounds of religion and, of those, about 1,000 attacks each were antisemitic and Islamophobic. Both types of attack are as abhorrent as each other. The British Jewish population is less than 10% of the size of the British Muslim population, so the Jewish community is facing far more frequent racist attacks pro rata than the Muslim community. In fact, the attacks on the Jewish community are concentrated on those who are easily identified as being Jewish, including those going to or from Jewish community centres, events or synagogues. Secular Jews are frequently unaware of such attacks.

The new definition of antisemitism that the government has adopted specifically states that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”. It does, however, define “applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” as antisemitic. Is that what they want to do?

There is nothing in the new definition that would stifle legitimate criticism of Israel. When unjustified criticism of Israel is published in the media, such as the false report of a massacre in Jenin, antisemitic attacks in the UK increase, so this new definition is needed. Islamophobia does not increase in response to reports of the Israel-Palestine dispute. It does increase in response to reports of jihadi attacks in the west. That is also unfair on Muslims in Britain who are strongly opposed to terrorism. But it is no reason to make light of antisemitism in Britain.

You can read the entire British government report on antisemitism in question here, but we’ll show you the relevant section:


As you can see, the report goes out of it’s way to explain that mere criticism of the Israeli government is NOT considered antisemitic – vindicating Stephen Franklin and undermining the dishonest smears of Tony Greenstein.

35 replies »

  1. The moment these characters start sounding off that a definition stifles criticism, that sounding off, broadcast far and wide, disproves the point they think they are making! They choose to ventilate their loathsome opinions and the rest of us work out a benchmark for rating those opinions. If they choose to read, mark and inwardly digest that definition, come to understand what it means in its historical and moral perspectives and decide to change their minds as a result then they themselves would be “stifling” their former opinions, not anybody else. Definitions take no action only individuals…

  2. You quote a Report purporting to be from the British government. A select committee is not the government. Theresa May made no mention of the additional caveats when announcing the governments intentions. We have not seen a final version of what the government is to ” adopt”. Since this final version will effectively be written by the CST the betting is that the caveats will not be there.

    • “A select committee is not the government.”

      I know what you mean. A clueless, screeching, Israel-bashing internet troll isn’t much of a critic. He’s just an asshole.

      • Bubba regardless of what I may or may not be, a select committee is not the government.Quite clearly you do not know what I mean. Even the least informed Okie knows more than you, it would seem.

        • Bellend are you being deliberately obtuse?
          The link is clearly to the Government response, laid before Parliament, to the Home Affairs Select Committee.
          Key words are Government response.

          • Gerald nothing has been laid before parliament nor will anything be. It is indeed the govts response to the select committee report which makes no reference to the caveats added to the ” definition” the caveats that Adam refers to.

            • Bellend you are the gift that keeps on giving.
              Under the title of the paper is clearly written, “Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government by Command of Her Majesty. December 2016”
              It is a Command Paper, Bellend!

              Your claim that the Government’s response “..makes no reference to the caveats..” Is a lie!

              • Don’t be so ridiculous. That’s just jargon. A bit of our quaint constitution. It will never be laid before parliament in the sense of a Bill being debated and passed into law or rejected. It has never been debated by parliament, approved by parliament or passed into law by parliament. It is a report. The vast majority of MP’s have probably never even read it.

                Gerald I will take this as gently and as slowly as I can……

                The select committee produced a report. It recommended the adoption of the IHRA ” definition” PLUS caveats.

                The govt made a statement saying they will ” adopt ” a ” definition” of AS based on IHRA ” definition” with no mention of the said caveats.

                I welcome all of this it is a mega own goal.

                I merely am saying that since the CST will be writing the final version, the betting is that the caveats will not there.

                • Bellend you clearly do not understand how the U.K.s Parliamentary system works.

                  All anybody has to do is click on the link and they can read for themselves that you are clearly and deliberately lying.

                  • Bellend as you are clearly not the sharpest tool in the box.
                    The Government’s response to the ‘Additional Caveats’ is at the top of page 5.
                    Pay particular attention to the last two sentences of this response.

                    • Actually, I think it’s the first two sentences which are relevant:

                      “Government has agreed to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition on anti-Semitism [minus the caveats suggested by the Home Affairs Select Committee]. We [quite properly, on any plain reading of the definition] believe that references within the definition stating that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic” are sufficient to ensure freedom of speech.”

                    • James the reason that I highlight the importance of the last two sentences of the Government’s response is because this is what they say.

                      “It is worth noting that an earlier version of the definition is being used by the police and forms part of the National Police Chief’s Council Hate Crime Manual for officers. We believe that the definition is a useful tool for criminal justice agencies and other public bodies to use to understand how anti-Semitism manifests itself in the 21st century.”

                      And within the first sentence I bring to your attention the words “..Is being used..”. Not used to be used or is replaced by.

                      The relevant section of the Manual is available by clicking on the tab “Antisemitism” at the top of this blog.

                    • Quote obviously the select committee didn’t think the definition was fit for the purpose of guaranteeing free speech without the caveats. The reason they are not going to be there is because the CST don’t want them there, for obvious reasons. The last thing they want is free speech on Israel.

                      ” criticism similar to that levelled at any other country” is utterly meaningless.

                    • Bellend you make two preposterous claims in your post.
                      One is that the U.K. Government’s response was dictated by the CST.
                      Two that the CST does not want “ speech on Israel.”

                      Where, exactly is your evidence to substantiate your preposterous claims?
                      Either back up your claims with verifiable evidence, or withdraw them, or stand condemned by your own hand as an anti-Semitic ‘nut job’ who spews out wild and weird conspiracy theories.

                    • I’ll go for ” stand condemned by your own hand as an anti-Semitic ‘nut job’ who spews out wild and weird conspiracy theories.”

                      Gerald the CST brags endlessly about how it is in ” partnership” with the police and the government. It is clear that the police and the government are very much junior partners. Ask yourself why the caveats are left out. Why would they do that? They don’t spend all day thinking about this stuff. The claim is that the caveats are not necessary. But the select committee thinks they are. And anyway what would be the detriment if they had been included? Who would want them not included ? Only someone who felt that too much of a guarantee of free speech on Israel was undesirable.

                      How many times are CST mentioned in the report and the response ?

                      Why did May give the response at a FOI dinner ? It’s supposed to be about antisemitism not Israel. Isn’t it ?

                      Simon Johnson of JLC expressed the hope and expectation that the govt would be guided by the CST in formulation of the final ” adoption” . Simon knows stuff. This was not a hope but an expectation. A reminder of who is in charge.

                    • What all this clearly demonstrates of course is that the Israel lobby is more powerful and has more influence with the government than a supposedly powerful select committee. I am starting to love this definition more and more.

                    • Bellend you see the power of the ‘Israeli Lobby’ everywhere. It is one of the symptoms of your mental illness.
                      You probably believe that the fact that Christians this time of year celebrate the birth of a Jewish baby is due to the strength of the ‘Israeli Lobby’.

  3. Despite the fact that the Guardian posted the rebuttal, the fact that they chose (and always choose) to post similar letters from Greenstein and the rest of the rubber stamp brigade that invariably sign those letters indicates that they approve of their views.

    They have the choice to post the letters from Greenstein and the gang, or not. By exercising that choice in favor of publishing the editorial staff of the Guardian once again demonstrates its preference for attacks on Israel and support for anti-Semitism in England.

    • I find it simply amazing that the Guardian actually posted the rebuttal – usually such a rebuttal would have been deleted as not being conform to the standards of the commentary. Could it possibly be that the Guardian feels that their bias is getting to be so strong that they themselves will be scrutinized with respect to these new guide lines? Are they beginning to be a little less careless about their reputation? Will wonders never cease?

  4. Its not anti-Semitic to hold Israel to the same standards of other “Liberal” countries- But it is anti-Semitic to hold Israel to standards that you would not hold other “Liberal” states to!

    • Thats cool Steve we can live with that. There will be healthy debates about the degree in which Israel’s behaviour is consistent with that of a liberal democracy. Bring it on.

      • Let us know when you start complaining about other countries, Shitstain. And please link us to those conversations! I want to see how you go over in the Ukraine…. and, particularly, which side you’re on over there.

        And now we sing!

        Over there… Over there…
        Another blog page about another war is where….
        Stevie Shitstain…. will scream again!
        About how everything is so unfair!!!

  5. Off topic.

    I want to wish all those of good will a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
    May next year bring peace, health and wealth to Israel and its supporters wherever they are.

    I’m off to enjoy a break and catch up on my reading and will return after ‘Befana’ has been.