Towards a helpful definition

November 24, 2016 23:22

On March 30 last year, without any fanfare, a British government minister made probably the most important statement on anti-Jewish prejudice that any British government spokesperson has made. Yet that statement - an official expression of government policy - went almost totally unreported in the media.

Go to the website of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and search "Sir Eric Pickles", who now serves as the UK's "Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues." You will find an "article" by Pickles entitled "A definition of antisemitism."

"The problem of antisemitism," Pickles wrote, "continues to be a serious one. One issue is the absence of an agreed international definition of antisemitism." And having stated the obvious, Pickles then spent almost 800 words remedying this deficiency. "The Government," he insisted, "is committed to ensuring that British people of all faiths and ethnicities can live without fear of abuse or attack... The UK Government's overall policy is that it is up to the victim to determine whether a crime against them was motivated by any particular characteristics… However, for those seeking a definition of antisemitism, the UK's College of Policing does include a working definition of antisemitism in their guidance to police forces in the UK."

Pickles then proceeded to reproduce the College of Policing's definition:

● "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… individuals, community institutions and religious facilities.

This is how police must measure all home-grown abuse

● Such manifestations could target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.

● Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for "why things go wrong."

● It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits."

Pickles, again drawing heavily upon the College of Policing's definition, then offered numerous examples of what might constitute an antisemitic manifestation. I noted that these examples included "Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel" and "denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination" by, for example, "claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour." Although Pickles claimed to have reproduced the College's definition of antisemitism "in full", he omitted some crucial passages that the College's statement added by way of clarification. Download the college's "Hate Crime Operational Guidance". The section on antisemitism includes the following sentences: "The ongoing political conflict between Israel and Palestine has led to a new antisemitism, sometimes also referred to as anti-Zionism… This form of hostility often blames Jews and/or Israelis for all of the tension in the region."

Let's be clear. The College of Policing, established four years ago as the officially recognised professional educational and training body for the police forces of England and Wales, has laid down, as a declaration of best practice, that anti-Zionism is "a new antisemitism."

This is a policing statement of critical importance, not least because it must act as a benchmark against which the police measure all home-grown condemnations of Israel. We can of course argue about what constitutes anti-Zionism. But I would have thought that anyone or any organisation claiming, for instance, that "Zionism is racism" must fall foul of that statement, with all that that implies for their possible criminal prosecution.

I don't want to sound mealy-mouthed about all this. Eric Pickles's statement is to the best of my knowledge the first instance of Her Majesty's Government adopting, on the record, a definition of what constitutes anti-Jewish prejudice. But the definition does not go as far as it might. Crucially, it refers to the text promulgated by the College of Policing, but does not follow that text to the letter, and omits any mention of the word "Zionism." Perhaps Sir Eric can be persuaded to tell us why.

November 24, 2016 23:22

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