Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

  • Given the rise in xenophobic hate crimes against Muslims and Jews since the Brexit referendum, it is important to recognise xenophobic hate with defined terms, where the xenophobia extends beyond intrinsic characteristics. It is important so that the public becomes aware that hatred based on different cultures is unacceptable, and that it is recognised as wrong to attribute beliefs or prejudices to people born into heterogenous religions, and where people identify with religions’ beliefs and cultures to their own individual varying degrees.
  • The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has published a ‘working’ definition of anti-Semitism.  According to the author of the definition in his testimony before the US Congress (Kenneth Stern,  2017, pp 7-10), the definition was devised to standardise data collection of the incidence of anti-Semitism. It was not devised to police, to chill academic freedom or political speech. Yet this is what it will do if it is used to police.
  • Geoffrey Robertson QC has stated that the working definition “is imprecise, confusing and open to misinterpretation and even manipulation. It does not cover some insidious forms of anti-Semitism.”
  • While adopting institutions caveat their adoption of the definition that it is not anti-Semitic to criticise the Government of Israel without additional evidence to suggest anti-Semitic intent, and that it is not anti-Semitic to hold the Israeli government to the same standard as other democracies, the caveats do not make it clear that a couple of the IHRA’s examples can be constructed to over-reach and censor political speech and academic freedom when used to police.
  • The All Party Parliamentary Group on Kashmir and All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims is now using the IHRA template definition of anti-Semitism to define Islamophobia. The definition suffers similar and additional problems.
  • The following are dangerous problems that the definitions and their accompanying examples beget:
    • To the extent that the concept of ‘race’ is a legitimate one, Islam is not a race. Religion is not intrinsic. It could, however, become racist if person A attributes to person B born into a Muslim household beliefs simply because of what religious tradition person B was born into. Some Islamophobia may be racist, but it is wrong for the APPG definition to state that Islamophobia ‘is a type of racism’, because not all Islamophobia is necessarily racist.
    • IHRA example 6/APPG example 5 [Accusing Jewish/Muslim citizens of being more loyal to Israel/the Ummah, /or to their countries of origin, or to the alleged priorities of Jews/Muslims worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations]: It cannot be anti-Semitic/Islamophobic to state an opinion that nationals are more loyal to the interests of Israel/the Ummah than to their own nation, if their actions suggest that they probably are, as is the case with Shamima Begum. Rahm Emanuel, who has written that it is anti-Semitic to do this, decided to volunteer with the Israel Defence Force during the first Gulf War, rather than with the US armed forces. The example uses the word ‘accuses’. People should not in sensible and civilised discourse claim to know what is going on in the minds of others, but they should be able to question whether a person has dual loyalty.
    • IHRA example 7 [claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor]: While the example refers to ‘a State of Israel’ rather than ‘the State of Israel’, again, the narrow distance could be used to freeze the critique that the State of Israel was a 20th century colonial enterprise, in the same way that the colonisation of the Americas, South Africa and Oceania were. 
    • APPG example 6: Denying Palestinians or Kashmiris a right to self-determination may not be based on Islamophobia.
      • Jawaharlal Nehru denied self-determination to Kashmiris at a time when doing so ensured the integrity of a new India’s borders. He was also Kashmiri himself, and would not have wanted to see his homeland carved out from the country which he led. The bulk of evidence suggests Nehru was not an Islamophobe. But the APPG definition of Islamophobia could be constructed to present Nehru as an Islamophobe. It would equivalise him to Narendra Modi. The definition obfuscates. It damages politics.

Recommendations:

  • Hate against Jews and against Muslims should be defined precisely and parsimoniously. The Oxford English Dictionary defines anti-Semitism as ‘Hostility to or prejudice against Jews’. However, Lexico.com (powered by Oxford University Press) goes further than ‘hostility to’ in its definition of ‘homophobia‘ as ‘Dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people’. Therefore, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia should be defined respectively as
    • ‘dislike of or prejudice against Jews’.
    • ‘dislike of or prejudice against Muslims’.

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