Defining anti-Semitism has again proven its importance – this time, in the UK. Last week, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), the UK’s leading universities regulator, ruled in favor of a disabled Jewish student’s complaint of campus anti-Semitism. The decision cited the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia’s Working Definition of Anti-Semitism (“Working Definition”) in determining that the anti-Israel incidents had crossed the line into anti-Semitism.
This is an important case for Americans to follow, because the OIA adopted a definition that is substantially similar to the definition that LDB advocates in the United States and throughout the world. LDB’s Kenneth L. Marcus urged this approach at a meeting of the UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) just last month in London. The UKLFI, an outstanding legal organization, is continuing to score important victories.
UKLFI Member and LDB Advisory Board Member Lesley Klaff
The student, assisted by UKLFI members Lesley Klaff and David Lewis, initially brought a complaint against England’s Sheffield Hallam University for tolerating anti-Israel activity on campus that crossed the line from legitimate criticism of Israel into anti-Semitism and harassment. (Klaff is also a member of LDB’s Legal Advisory Board.) This appalling activity, as explained by Klaff, included Facebook posts and tweets, which “inter alia, accused Israel and Israelis of genocide, deliberately killing Palestinian children, deliberately killing other Palestinian civilians, war crimes, atrocities, using chemical weapons, ethnic cleansing, inhumanity, cruelty, behaving like Nazis, sexual and other abuse of Palestinian children (including abduction and human trafficking), stealing Palestinian organs, being racists and fascists, and rejoicing in Palestinian deaths.” Furthermore, according to Ben Cohen’s article in The Tower, the student added that he “felt ‘vulnerable’ on campus. Whenever he wore a Star of David or a kippah, he said, he felt that “people were giving me dirty looks or trying to block my wheelchair.”
The University took nine months to consider his complaint before rejecting it, stating that the student was wrongly conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish prejudice and strongly suggested that this was merely an effort to get the University to adopt the Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, which had been a requested outcome of his complaint.
Following the University’s rejection, the student took his case to the OIA to review the University’s decision. The OIA ruled differently, finding that the materials circulated by the Palestine Society indeed crossed the line from acceptable criticism of Israel into anti-Semitism. Importantly, the OIA cited the Working Definition in making this determination, identifying it as of particular relevance to the question of whether material which criticized Israel “crossed the line.”
The Working Definition defines anti-Semitism as “A certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities. In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” It is an exemplar definition in that it also provides examples of the new anti-Semitism we see on campuses today, or “antisemitism [that] manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context.” These examples include:
- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
- Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
- Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
- Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.
The Working Definition is one of several definitions – including the definition adopted by the U.S. Department of State, and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) Working Definition – that includes examples of “coded anti-Semitism” (or crypto-racism) in the form of anti-Semitism relative to Israel.
In their decision, the OIA criticized the University for failing to address this complaint with seriousness, and ordered the University to compensate the student £3,000 for the stress and inconvenience caused to him by failing to adequately consider his complaint.
Interestingly, Sheffield Hallem is the same English university that hosted an outstanding international conference on anti-Semitism just last month. LDB’s Kenneth L. Marcus participated in the conference.
This is a victory in the battle against campus anti-Semitism, and demonstrates the importance for universities – in the U.K. and U.S. and worldwide – to define anti-Semitism.