Tackling Trump is Not Enough

Genocide historian Mike Joseph argues that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism dangerously conflates anti-Zionism and antisemitism. He collages Jewish voices from Wales and beyond, and draws on his family history to warn Labour and Plaid Cymru that they would harm Welsh Jews by adopting the definition in full.

At first it seemed just another instance of Labour's problems with antisemitism. What should stop Labour from ratifying in full the ‘internationally accepted’ definition of antisemitism?

Then I read the Definition, Guidance and Examples in growing astonishment. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s code1 should worry everyone, especially Jews. It achieves what generations of antisemitism have not, discrediting the very concept of antisemitism, by weaponising it in defence of the Israeli government.

From the start of its ‘Guidance’, the IHRA prioritises Israel, not Jews. ‘Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.’ This Summer, with perfect timing, Israel legislated that only Jews have a right to national self-determination in Israel. The IHRA gives valuable cover to this explicitly racist policy.

No less than seven of the eleven ‘Examples’ of antisemitism refer to Israel and to criticisms of Israel, seeking to merge and confuse antisemitism with anti-Zionism. By conflating the two, the IHRA condemns Jewish critics of Israel as antisemites. Ludicrously, the code effectively invites antisemites to perpetrate Example 11, ‘Holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the state of Israel’.

All these Jews have breached the code:

Gerhard Graf, founding Rabbi of Wales’ only Reform Synagogue. Nearly half of Dr. Graf’s Welsh congregation were German-born refugees like himself. In the 1950s, progressive Judaism was anti-Zionist, in line with the Reform view of Judaism as a religion, not a nationalism. Rabbi Graf was a prominent member of the Jewish Fellowship, the leading Jewish anti-Zionist campaign in Britain, at the time of the formation of Israel. I recall my parents (also German-Jewish refugees) having heated arguments with their Rabbi over Israel. Upset Zionists though they were, they did not go as far as Sheffield's Jewish Labour MP Harry Morris, writing in The Jewish Chronicle, ‘in their rejection of Palestine as a Jewish state ... Liberal Jews have forfeited all rights to be part of Jewry at all’.

Dr Graf breaches Example 7, ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour ’.

Martin Buber, Jewish theologian, philosopher and leader said in 1947: ‘A solution giving to either side the right of domination would lead to a sudden catastrophe. The only solution … is the creation of a bi-national state. That is, putting Jews and Arabs together in a kind of condominium … [with] equal rights’.2

Martin Buber breaches Example 7.

Aharon Zisling, Minister of Agriculture in Israel’s first government, who signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence in May 1948. My uncle fought in the young state’s army. In October 1948 he was in Operation Yoav which captured Beersheva, cleared many Palestinian villages and massacred hundreds of Palestinians at al-Dawayima on October 29. Two weeks later Zisling told the Israeli Cabinet ‘I couldn’t sleep all night. I felt the things that were going on were hurting my soul, the soul of my family and all of us here (...) now Jews too have behaved like Nazis and my entire being has been shaken’.3

Aharon Zisling breaches Example 10, ‘Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’.

Primo Levi, Auschwitz survivor and celebrated witness and documenter of Nazism and genocide, said in 1982: ‘This war of Israel’s, this massacre in Beirut, is polluting the image of Jews throughout the world. … Not even raison d’état, so often invoked by Begin and Sharon, can justify the Israeli government’s most recent decisions. … they should resign. … the whole group governing Israel today look a lot like the ruling classes of other Middle Eastern states … they are adopting the demagogy … that marks out so many rulers in that area. [Begin] was a student of Jabotinsky … who called himself a Fascist and was one of Mussolini’s interlocutors. Yes, Begin was his pupil.

The present government of Israel risks becoming the Jewish people’s worst enemy. … Israel was founded by people like me … Men with numbers from Auschwitz tattooed on their arms … who found in Israel a home and a homeland. I know all of this. But I also know that this is Begin’s favourite defence. And I deny any validity to that defence.’4

Primo Levi breaches Example 5, ‘Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust’. He denies Israel the right to plead the Holocaust in its defence.

Daniel Barenboim, renowned musician, wrote in 2018: ‘The Israeli Government has just passed a law that replaces the principle of equality and universal values with nationalism and racism. This law states that only the Jewish people have a right to national self-determination in Israel.

We have a law that confirms the Arab population as second-class citizens. It follows that this is a very clear form of apartheid. I don’t think the Jewish people lived for 20 centuries, mostly through persecution and enduring endless cruelties, in order to become the oppressor, inflicting cruelty on others. This new law does exactly that. Therefore, I am ashamed of being an Israeli today.’5

Daniel Barenboim breaches Example 7.

... and even myself. Visiting Israel and the West Bank for S4C in 2010, I said ‘People here have no desire to coexist. I fear for the future. Israel is starting to forget the teachings of Rabbi Hillel, who lived in Jerusalem at the same time as Jesus: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.” That is the essence of Judaism. Unfortunately I see Israel doing to the Palestinians the hateful things that were done to them.’6

I breach Example 8, ‘Applying double standards by requiring of it behaviour not expected or demanded of any other nation’. Orthodox Judaism expects its followers to adhere to 613 commandments. Of all these, Rabbi Hillel’s is the essence.

The IHRA declaration defames these and all Jews who say that Israel does not act in our name. The code should be seen for what it is, a blatant defence of Israel’s apartheid state.

This September, not only Labour politicians will be voting on the full IHRA definition. Plaid’s MPs too will ask the party’s National Council to accept the definition in full and unamended. The Jewish Leadership Council welcomed the move: ‘through adopting it, confidence will be created within the historic Welsh Jewish community and in Plaid Cymru’s stance as a party which rejects prejudice’.7

In December 2016 Vicky Moller (who was third on the Plaid Mid and West Wales regional list in the last Assembly elections behind Simon Thomas and Helen Mary Jones) co-signed this letter to The Guardian:

‘… it is antisemitic to associate Jews with the actions of the Israeli state. Unfortunately this is precisely what the IHRA’s definition will achieve through perpetuating the stereotype that all Jews support the Israeli state. The IHRA will strengthen not weaken antisemitism. … 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.’8

Should Plaid vote for the definition, it will do so knowing it gives a win to Benjamin Netanyahu and his racist Zionism; and thereby will harm Welsh Jews.

Guns at Yad Vashem: Young Israelis visit Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial, to complete their induction in the Israeli Army. They deposit their weapons at the entrance.  Image © Mike Joseph.

Guns at Yad Vashem: Young Israelis visit Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial, to complete their induction in the Israeli Army. They deposit their weapons at the entrance. Image © Mike Joseph.

Hillel Street, Jerusalem (SL275253), named after Rabbi Hillel. Image © Mike Joseph.

Hillel Street, Jerusalem (SL275253), named after Rabbi Hillel. Image © Mike Joseph.

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About the author

Mike Joseph is a broadcaster, writer and historian of genocide. He is an Honorary Research Associate at Swansea University and member of the International Network of Genocide Scholars.

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