November 10, 2013
Two weeks ago, I wrote about a BBC Trust decision that shed further light on the abandonment of the draft working definition of anti-Semitism by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA)
The FRA was previously known as the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).
My post has prompted the Los Angeles-based pro-Israel group the Simon Wiesenthal Center – who it appears are keen readers of The Electronic Intifada – to write an angry letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, demanding that the EU: "launch an investigation into the disappearance of the Working Definition" [from the FRA website]; "return this important document to the current FRA website;" and "ensure that the appropriate EU bodies endorse the Working Definition in its entirety."
Dr. Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Director for International Relations, and author of the letter to Ashton, appears to believe his own misleading hype, inferring that the definition is one of the EUMC’s "published decisions," "accept[ed] and disseminat[ed]" by the EU.
In fact, the working definition was only ever a draft document that was then subsequently ditched by the FRA.
Silencing criticism of Israel
The working definition is popular with pro-Israel groups because it defines certain kinds of criticism of Israel, including criticism of its self-definition as a "Jewish state," as forms of anti-Semitism.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the groups that has used it most crudely, such as in 2012 when it asked the French government to cancel a conference on Israeli apartheid.
But the Simon Wiesenthal Center was not the only pro-Israel group that felt the need to respond to my post, with media lobby organization CAMERA publishing a defense of the definition.
There was also this response from disgraced former British MP Denis MacShane, who recently contributed to an extraordinary attack on anti-semitism expert Dr. Brian Klug, alongside the likes of NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg.
In addition to its demands of Ashton, the Simon Wiesenthal Center said that it was "especially disturbing…to read the satisfaction of 'Electronic Intifada’ that the Jews seem to have been robbed of an EU defence mechanism."
The shameless distortion aside, has it escaped the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s attention that the FRA left the definition to gather dust precisely because it was deemed inadequate for fighting anti-semitism?
In 2008, the FRA informed the UK government that "initial feedback and comments drew attention to several issues that impacted on the effectiveness of the definition as a data collection support tool" – in other words it wasn’t fit for purpose. In 2012, head of the FRA’s Equality and Citizens’ Rights Department Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos told me
that during discussions of racism and xenophobia monitors throughout the EU "it became evident that there was no interest by primary data collectors to adopt or use" the working definition. He also confirmed that the Fundamental Rights Agency "will not follow-up [the draft working definition] any further," adding that the body "has no legal competence to develop itself any such 'definitions.’"
Exploiting anti-Semitism report
In addition to these efforts from the likes of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and CAMERA, this week has also seen attempts to exploit the publication of the FRA’s new report, "Discrimination and hate crime against Jews in EU Member States: experiences and perceptions of antisemitism," for a renewed promotion of the failed working definition. The seminal new survey does not even mention the definition.
Speaking with visiting EU lawmakers in advance of the publication of the full FRA survey, Shimon Ohayon, chair of the Israeli parliament’s "Committee for Fighting Anti-Semitism," this week urged "all relevant European agencies to recognize and legally ratify the Working Definition of Antisemitism." Ohayon characterized those "fighting against the 'Working Definition’" as "anti-Semites."
Knesset Committee chair Ohayon’s credibility for a fight against "racism and hatred" is undermined somewhat by his belief that "there is no problem for a Palestinian nation to find self-expression in other places" and his pride in having been involved in bringing "new immigrants from US" to live in the former Jewish settlements in Gaza.
Pro-Israel groups dismayed
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) responded to the FRA survey by urging the EU "to formally adopt [the draft working definition]," which, they revealingly highlight, places "branding Israel as a racist entity… well beyond the boundary of legitimate criticism" (Note that in 2011, AJC official Andrew Baker acknowledged opposition from the FRA to the definition, adding "thus it bears repeating whenever possible").
Kenneth L. Marcus, on the Louis D. Brandeis Center website, similarly called for the FRA to "apply" the working definition "in a more consistent manner." Marcus has led recent efforts to silence Palestine solidarity activism on US campuses by claiming that such activism amounts to bigotry against Jewish students that adminstrators are legally required to punish and suppress under Title VI of the US Civil Rights Act.
The FRA has its work cut out fighting real racism without pressure from those whose efforts to shield Israeli apartheid from criticism and accountability have, in the words of Jerry Haber, only "Zionist-ized, politicized, and ulimately, trivialized, anti-Semitism".