July 12, 2011

Another desperate defence of the working definition

Now it's the turn of the Jewish Chronicle's Geoffrey Alderman to defend the EUMC working definition of antisemitism. His point is as ludicrous as any and his involvement is further evidence of the motive of the working definition's promoters: to protect the State of Israel from criticism.  Let's have a look at what he says:
No one would describe the EUMC working definition as a state-of-the-art exposition of the characteristics of anti-Jewish prejudice in all its forms. 
Well Dr David Hirsh of the Israel advocacy site, Engage, does not actually stoop to calling the working definition "a state-of-the-art exposition of the characteristics of anti-Jewish prejudice", he just says it's the definition of antisemitism as in,
Instead of addressing the antisemitic culture, the leadership of the union now proposes to alter the definition of antisemitism
And there has been quite a mobilisation of Jewish leaders and zionist activists to condemn the UCU as if the working definition was the only thing standing between the world's Jews and the nazis. But let's see some more of Alderman's piece:

it does put down some markers. Antisemitism, it proclaims, is "a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews."
It adds that "such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity". It explains that denying "the Jewish people" the right to self-determination - for example, by proclaiming that Israel is "a racist endeavour"- could be regarded as antisemitism, as could holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the state of Israel.
But it also says that "criticism of Israel similar to that levelled at any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic". And we might also note that, within the working definition's more general list of actions and activities that could be regarded as antisemitic are: calling for the killing of Jews in the name of an "extremist" religion; making "mendacious" claims about Jews - such as the myth of a Jewish world conspiracy; and accusing Jews "as a people" of "inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust".
Such, in outline, are the broad characteristics of the working definition. At its recent conference, the UCU resolved that it would henceforth make "no use" of the definition - which must and can only mean no use whatever. And that, "in any public discussion on the matter", it would "dissociate itself" from the definition - which can only and must mean that it would and will publicly repudiate the content of that definition: the content, the whole content and nothing but the content.
For the wording of the UCU's resolution contains no reservation. The brothers and sisters of the UCU - or rather, to be fair, of the UCU conference delegations - rejected the definition in its entirety.
Now let's take another little look at the UCU resolution:
Congress believes that the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine antisemitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus.
What has happened here is that, typically, Israel advocates have listed out some things which are truly antisemitic, some things which are not and some things which "taking into account overall context, could be" antisemitic. Among the things that are not of themselves antisemitic are comparing Israel to the nazis and "denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination". Some Israel advocates say that this could be antisemitic in certain contexts like say walking into a synagogue and shouting "you have no right to self-determination" at the congregation but since that could apply equally to throwing a bunch of daffodils into a synagogue congregation it shouldn't really be included in a working definition of antisemitism lest some idiots come away with the idea that it is antisemitic to to say that the ethnic cleansing and colonial settlement policies required to implement self-determination for the Jewish people is not very nice.

Anyway, what Geoffrey Alderman is failing to recognise is that the working definition is a curate's egg. What's a curate's egg? A curate's egg is an egg that is rotten but, according to the curate, is good in parts. The thing is you can't eat the good bits of a rotten egg and you can't accept a working definition of antisemitism that is so rotten in so many parts that the good parts could be confused with the good parts. Let's the resolution again,
Congress believes that the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine antisemitism,
Clearly, contrary to what Alderman is saying, the UCU recognises that there is such a thing as antisemitism. They just reject the confusion of criticism of the State of Israel with the real thing. If they didn't recognise the real thing as existing then why did they mention it in their resolution? Maybe more to the point, why didn't Geoffrey Alderman mention that they mentioned it in their resolution?

What the UCU is doing is what should always be done with a curate's egg and that is rejecting the whole shebang whilst recognising that it may well be good in parts but the rotten parts render the whole thing rotten.


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