The Absurd Arab Arguments Against the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism

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The Temple Mount in Jerusalem, March 20, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Ammar Awad.

This week, 122 Arab intellectuals wrote a letter to The Guardian opposing the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.

Let’s look at their arguments:

1. The fight against antisemitism must be deployed within the frame of international law and human rights. It should be part and parcel of the fight against all forms of racism and xenophobia, including Islamophobia, and anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian racism. The aim of this struggle is to guarantee freedom and emancipation for all oppressed groups. It is deeply distorted when geared towards the defence of an oppressive and predatory state.

This is doubletalk. Those who advance this argument divide the world into “oppressor” and “oppressed,” and Jews end up on the “oppressor” side — both because of their perceived “whiteness” and because of how Israel is seen as the “oppressive and predatory state.” So the very framework that is supposed to protect Jews is being used by Israel’s opponents to attack Jews who believe that Jews are a people and a nation.

2. There is a huge difference between a condition where Jews are singled out, oppressed and suppressed as a minority by antisemitic regimes or groups, and a condition where the self-determination of a Jewish population in Palestine/Israel has been implemented in the form of an ethnic exclusivist and territorially expansionist state. As it currently exists, the state of Israel is based on uprooting the vast majority of the natives – what Palestinians and Arabs refer to as the Nakba – and on subjugating those natives who still live on the territory of historical Palestine as either second-class citizens or people under occupation, denying them their right to self-determination.

Arabs mis-defining Zionism is as offensive as Arabs mis-defining antisemitism. Zionism is not based on “subjugating” anyone, and Zionism views Jews as the natives of the land. Israel is not “an ethnic exclusivist and territorially expansionist state.” If Arabs need to lie to justify their anti-Zionist arguments, that indicates that their arguments are based on a far more fundamental hate, which itself shows that the IHRA working definition is quite accurate.

3. The IHRA definition of antisemitism and the related legal measures adopted in several countries have been deployed mostly against leftwing and human rights groups supporting Palestinian rights and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, sidelining the very real threat to Jews coming from rightwing white nationalist movements in Europe and the US. The portrayal of the BDS campaign as antisemitic is a gross distortion of what is fundamentally a legitimate non-violent means of struggle for Palestinian rights.

This is because one does not need an updated definition of antisemitism to fight against neo-Nazi and white supremacist antisemitism. The entire purpose is to identify and call out antisemitism that is hiding behind the facade of anti-Zionism — which this letter justifies.

4. The IHRA definition’s statement that an example of antisemitism is “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” is quite odd. It does not bother to recognise that under international law, the current state of Israel has been an occupying power for over half a century, as recognised by the governments of countries where the IHRA definition is being upheld. It does not bother to consider whether this right includes the right to create a Jewish majority by way of ethnic cleansing and whether it should be balanced against the rights of the Palestinian people. Furthermore, the IHRA definition potentially discards as antisemitic all non-Zionist visions of the future of the Israeli state, such as the advocacy of a binational state or a secular democratic one that represents all its citizens equally. Genuine support for the principle of a people’s right to self-determination cannot exclude the Palestinian nation, nor any other.

There is nothing odd about saying that singling out the Jewish state as uniquely racist or evil is antisemitic. The assertion that Zionism is inherently racist, or that it demands ethnic cleansing, or that it excludes Palestinian rights is an absurd lie. We just  marked the anniversary of Palestinians rejecting a state that the UN suggested for them in 1947.  This paragraph shows exactly why anti-Zionism is antisemitism — because it treats Jewish nationalism as uniquely exclusivist when it is exactly the same as any other nationalism.

5. We believe that no right to self-determination should include the right to uproot another people and prevent them from returning to their land, or any other means of securing a demographic majority within the state. The demand by Palestinians for their right of return to the land from which they themselves, their parents and grandparents were expelled cannot be construed as antisemitic. The fact that such a demand creates anxieties among Israelis does not prove that it is unjust, nor that it is antisemitic. It is a right recognised by international law as represented in United Nations general assembly resolution 194 of 1948.

The history of the “right of return” shows quite definitively that its purpose is to destroy the Jewish state, not to provide rights for Palestinians. As early as October 1949, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Muhammad Salah al-Din said, “in demanding the return of the Palestinian refugees, the Arabs mean their return as masters, not slaves; or to put it quite clearly — the intention is the extermination of Israel.” In 1960 Egypt’s Nasser said, “If the refugees return to Israel, Israel will cease to exist.” Prime Minister of Lebanon Abdullah el-Yafi stated in 1966, “The day on which the Arabs’ hope for the return of the refugees to Palestine is realized will be the day of Israel’s extermination.” If Arabs cared about Palestinian human rights, they would insist that Palestinians be given full rights in their host countries while they are there — but these hypocrites writing this letter don’t say that. (The last sentence is a lie as well, as we have documented many times.)

There is one more point that applies to this and to the other arguments: the bizarre assumption that it is impossible to support Palestinian rights without calling the Jewish state racist, or Nazi, or evil. That is not only an insult to anyone’s intelligence — it is an insult to the Palestinian Arab cause itself.

6. To level the charge of antisemitism against anyone who regards the existing state of Israel as racist, notwithstanding the actual institutional and constitutional discrimination upon which it is based, amounts to granting Israel absolute impunity. Israel can thus deport its Palestinian citizens, or revoke their citizenship or deny them the right to vote, and still be immune from the accusation of racism. The IHRA definition and the way it has been deployed prohibit any discussion of the Israeli state as based on ethno-religious discrimination. It thus contravenes elementary justice and basic norms of human rights and international law.

This is a straw man. Beyond that, the IHRA example was that “the State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” which is much different from saying that some things it does can be construed as racist, since that would fall under the exception of “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” So, yes, if Israel would decide to deport Arabs for no reason, criticizing it is not antisemitic — and I would be the first to criticize it.

7. We believe that justice requires the full support of Palestinians’ right to self-determination, including the demand to end the internationally acknowledged occupation of their territories and the statelessness and deprivation of Palestinian refugees. The suppression of Palestinian rights in the IHRA definition betrays an attitude upholding Jewish privilege in Palestine instead of Jewish rights, and Jewish supremacy over Palestinians instead of Jewish safety. We believe that human values and rights are indivisible and that the fight against antisemitism should go hand in hand with the struggle on behalf of all oppressed peoples and groups for dignity, equality and emancipation.

“Jewish privilege”? “Jewish supremacy”? Wow. This argument against using the IHRA definition embraces antisemitic tropes — which is hardly surprising, because as this letter shows, much of Arab anti-Zionism is based on antisemitism, and the only argument they really have is to redefine antisemitism to exclude Arabs and leftists from the charge.

Elder of Ziyon has been blogging about Israel and the Arab world for a really long time now. He also controls the world, but deep down, you already knew that.

The Absurd Arab Arguments Against the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism

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