Monday 18 July 2016

Anglo-Jewry adopts IHRA definition of antisemitsim
While we were all busy last week worrying about Brexit and our new Prime Minister, it seems that Anglo Jewry has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of contemporary antisemitismChief Rabbi Mirvis told the Parliamentary Home Affairs committee, who are investigating the rise of antisemitism in Britain, that:
‘I would love it if this group referred to the European Union Monitoring Centre definition, linked to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition, as the guideline: This is what we would like everybody to follow. This is how we want authorities to apply the rules for anyone who steps out of line.’

When the Chief Rabbi says ‘we’ is he speaking on behalf of the 300,000 Jews who live in the UK.  He was not acting alone in endorsing this definition because Sir Mick Davis, in his written submission to the Home affairs Committee stated:

‘It is my position, as well as that of the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust, the British Jewish community’s authoritative voice on antisemitsim and community security, that this committee uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism as its guide as well.’

Would the Chief Rabbi, Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust all recommend that the Home affairs Committee use the IHRA definition unless they intended to use it themselves in future? 
If so, they should all be congratulated in making this decision because it now allows us to say to the Universities, politicians and trade unions, this is our community’s definition and if you cross the line, especially when discussing Israel, we will not have a problem calling you an antisemite.  
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is an intergovernmental body comprising of thirty-one countries, including the United Kingdom. Although the Community Security Trust recommends that we no longer use the European Monitoring Centre (EUMC) working definition of antisemitism as that organisation no longer exists, the IHRA’s definition of antisemitsim is just a refined version of the EUMC definition.

Chief Rabbi Mirvis also explained to the committee why anti-Zionism was antisemitic saying:

'Zionism has been an integral part of Judaism from the dawn of our faith. The very first imperative given to the founders of our faith, Abraham and Sarah, by God, as recorded in the book of Genesis, was to uproot themselves from Mesopotamia and go to live in Canaan. Ever since that time, that part of the world has been the centre of our spiritual universal. We have prayed towards Israel. Open any prayer book and you will find Israel jumping out at you. It is the centre of what we are.

As a result—further to a political development in the latter part of the 19th century through which Zionism gained an added dimension, spelling out the right of the Jewish people to live within secure borders with self-determination in their own country, which they had been absent from for 2,000 years—that is what Zionism is. If you are an anti-Zionist, you are anti everything I have just mentioned. If you want to criticise a Government, that’s fine.'

Anglo Jewry have been reluctant in the past to adopt a definition and only two years ago, the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism reported that:
There is little if any pressure from the established representative bodies in the Jewish community to pursue the adoption of a definition of antisemitism.’
However when you read what the Chief Rabbi Mirvis told the committee  as to why we why need a definition, you wonder why it has taken so long for Anglo-Jewry to adopt one. He said:
‘A definition is so crucial because, if not for a definition, you could have a person who is guilty of antisemitic comments and who goes on to say that in his 47 years of being a member of a party he has never seen any antisemitism. If you don’t have a clear definition, anybody can say anything about what is or is not, which is why it is so important for there to be that clear definition.

There are some groups who will oppose the adoption of a definition. In their submission to the Chakrabarti inquiry into antisemitsim in the Labour party, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) wrote that they consider:

‘Antisemitism hatred of or discrimination against Jewish people on the basis of their religion or identity’,

and that criticism of the Israeli Government’s policies and actions or Zionism is not antisemitic. They also stated that Zionism is a political ideology rather than:

the right to Jewish self-determination in a land that has been at the centre of the Jewish world for more than 3,000 years.’  

The PSC along with other anti-Israel submissions condemned the use of the EUMC definition of antisemitsim saying it denied their right to challenge ‘the racism of the Israeli state’

It is of some comfort to me personally that five years after I lost my legal action against my trade union, the UCU, the community now has an agreed definition of antisemitism to refer to. If there had been a definition in place then, would the outcome have been different?

Ronnie Fraser


Academic Friends of Israel

Sunday 28 February 2016

Extremism in British Universities: A Kingston Perspective

Professor Julius Weinberg, the Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University, was invited by Kingston Synagogue to address a meeting last week on this topic.  He appeared to be very happy and comfortable to discuss the difficulties facing Muslim students and expressed concern that Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims are likely to cause friction for each other in the months and years to come.  His delivery was light, jokey and at times verging on the slightly dismissive of people with what might be described as ‘radical’ views, calling them 'mad idiots' at times.

To be fair to him Professor Weinberg’s lecture was really focusing on extremism as it related to Muslim students and Prevent, the Government’s strategy for dealing with extremism in educational establishments. His major concern was freedom of speech: the right not to be offended is not paralleled by a right to be offensive; the relevant question, he said concerns the limits of tolerance and he related back to these themes throughout. 

All this was well and good, however, but his audience, which contained several academics who lecture at Kingston University was more concerned with anti -Jewish feeling at his University and he didn’t say how tolerant he expects Jewish staff and students to be.  Asked by many people about anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian sentiment on campus and harassment of Jewish students at Fresher's week he consistently changed the subject to discuss the feelings of Muslim students, many of them, he assured us came from poor backgrounds.  When confronted with a photo of an antisemitic banner held up at Fresher's week last year, he denied all knowledge of it.

His attitude was consistent at least.  He really didn’t see a problem.  His dismissive approach continued.  When asked if a Holocaust denier like David Irving would be welcome to speak at Kingston, his reply was an emphatic ‘certainly’.  His main focus was on freedom of speech.  He made it quite clear that as long as a person stayed within British law they are welcome to express their views at his University.  It was pointed out that David Irving is a convicted Holocaust denier and his response was that since Holocaust denial is not illegal in this country it is just a debating topic and people who find his views offensive should be more concerned with the debate; after all, he said, Kingston University is a place of learning and people need to be free to debate all topics. 

‘Did you know,’ he asked ‘that Kingston University offers a degree in Holocaust studies?’ He was right, we didn’t know and after researching the University’s web site, I still don’t know.  All I could find on their website was a MA in Human Rights offering a module on genocide and crimes against humanity, therefore not Holocaust Studies.  It is possible that the module has been omitted for some reason from the web site or he is being disingenuous about the module.

He was also asked several times as to what he understood to be antisemitism but flatly refused to answer the question, the reason for this we can only wonder at.  It was therefore no surprise that when asked about contemporary antisemitsm and the call for the delegitimisation of the State of Israel he said he had no problem with a debate at Kingston on discussing Israeli's right to exist. Prof Weinberg was asked if he would allow a debate on the delegitimisation of the State of Israel.  He said he has a problem with a State which is based on a religious ideal. He did not mention if the State concerned was Israel, Vatican City, ISIL (Daesh) or the United States of America.

It was not surprising that he made no mention of the fact that last September, Kingston University was named by the Prime Minister along with  King's College London, University of London's Queen Mary and School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) as the leading universities to give a platform to extremists and hate speakers.

So it would seem that he clearly disagrees with Mr Cameron since when asked about  the National Union of Students  “no platform” policy, he said that while people should always be safe, ideas should not be. It is essential to allow speakers with whom one disagrees to have their ideas tested and challenged

The default position at Kingston University is to allow any speaker as long as he or she does not have links with any organisation on the government's banned list  and had previously signed a declaration not to break the law and agreed to take questions. Gender segregation is not allowed and all meetings must be open to all members of the University.

It is clear from the Professor's views that in his eyes freedom of speech trumps hate speech as long as it doesn't break the law. It would appear therefore that he considers those of us who believe that students of all races and ethnic backgrounds have a right to walk around university campuses without fear of being targeted for either their religious or cultural practices, or their views on Israel are wrong since any offence requires, in his view, more tolerance.

It would appear that Jewish students and Faculty members are being expected to tolerate offensive antisemitic rhetoric and for there to be no limits to their tolerance.  Isn’t this reminiscent of Europe in the 1930’s? ‘It’s just talk’. ‘It will come to nothing’, German Jews said ….

Ronnie Fraser


Academic Friends of Israel