Review of David Hirsh, Contemporary Left Antisemitism (Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2017)
The United Kingdom’s Labour party and its trade unions, like the University College Union (UCU), consider themselves progressive and “antiracist” spaces. As such, these arenas pride themselves on being free of prejudice in the form of sexism, racism, or otherwise. And, yet, these same institutions have come to tolerate, and perhaps promote, hatred in the form of anti-Semitism. David Hirsh set out to write his book, Contemporary Left Antisemitism, as a former member of the UCU and a leading activist, speaking out against the anti-Semitism present within this realm and current editor of the online journal, Engage. In the book, Hirsh explores how these “antiracist” spaces in the UK allowed for institutional racism to foster, and why it continues. While this book focuses primarily on anti-Semitism in the contemporary left of the UK, it draws a relation to the rise in the anti-Semitism from the left on a global scale.
On the left, individuals engage in anti-Semitism most when they talk about Israel – they do so in ways that demonize, delegitimize, or hold Israel to a double standard. Singling Israel out is, to many progressives, well-founded and not anti-Semitic; it is excused as ‘criticism’ against Israel and its policies. Should anybody speak out and call it what it is, anti-Semitic, the accuser is then discredited and accused of ‘bad faith’ and trying to ‘silence criticism against Israel.’ Herein lies the “Livingstone Formulation,” a term which Hirsh coined to explain the ways in which progressives deflect allegations of anti-Semitism. And, so, antisemitism is tolerated.
Progressive institutions went beyond tolerating it, though. They served as incubators for anti-Semitism to flourish. Because the so-called antiracist and progressivist left supposedly stands up against all forms of hatred, they see themselves as the warriors for the oppressed in the fight against oppressors. Such a mentality arose from what Hirsh calls a ‘campist mentality’ wherein we now engage in politics of position, regarding your position in the world, rather than a politics of reason. In terms of position, Israel and Zionists are thrown into the oppressor camp, as allegedly part of a larger white imperialist spirit that can be accused of all that is wrong in the world. Antizionism, then, becomes legitimized as a fight against the white oppressor.
Hirsh concedes that while some criticism of Israel is indeed wholly legitimate and not anti-Semitic, much of the hostility to Israel is anti-Semitic. Hirsh explains how people have come to conflate ‘Jew’ with ‘Israeli’ and ‘Zionist’ such that criticizing Israel and Zionism is a route to target Jews. Individuals on the left (among others) will distinguish between antizionism and anti-Semitism, but Hirsh does not believe it is valid to distinguish them absolutely – there is some crossover. He draws upon historical tropes and stereotypes used against Jews throughout history, primarily medieval blood libel and conspiracy theories, and highlights how they are now being re-appropriated towards ‘Zionists.’ more »
The film, Whitewashed: Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, can be found online at J-TV, a YouTube channel dedicated to global Jewish interests and issues. A short documentary, it is a partner film to a book of the same title and these are part of The Whitewashed Project. The project was produced and self-financed by a group of individuals in the United Kingdom who are invested in the subject matter.
David Hirsh is the main narrator of the film. As a member of a trade union, a member of the Labour party, and as a Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths University of London – all this while being Jewish – he was inspired to partake in the project.
Overall, the project can be seen as a direct response to the Chakrabati Report, a report written after Shami Chakrabati led an inquiry regarding anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. In her findings, Chakrabati concluded that there was not systematic anti-Semitism to be found within the rank and file of the UK’s Labour Patrty.
Immediately after being published, the report drew criticism from many individuals in the Jewish community. Taking just two months to complete, the report appears to have been put together hastily and to have disregarded key content. Many submissions of written testimony by Jewish members of parliament (MPs) were cast aside, bypassed, or otherwise condensed to seemingly belittle the issues these submissions rose. This film is important in bringing the omissions to the public’s attention; a report which ultimately found there to not be an issue of anti-Semitism, was in fact anti-Semitic in dismissing many of the claims otherwise.
The issue with anti-Semitism in the Labour party is the same issue seen in many circles on the Left and that is that anti-Semitism in these spheres is manifesting itself in the form of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric. Many individuals who are the worst offenders in the Labour party have been excused as being merely critical to Israel. In fact, those alleging anti-Semitism are discredited by claims that they are “disingenuously trying to silence criticism” of Israel. However, as Dr. Eve Garrard clarified, while anti-Zionism “need not be anti-Semitism,” it “most often is” which is an important statement to distinguish the difference. The Chakrabati Inquiry erred in characterizing anti-Israel statements and anti-Semitism as two different things absolutely, ignoring the instances when the anti-Israel statements crossed the line.
Whether you are an MP or a concerned citizen, whether you are in the UK or otherwise, it is nonetheless important to watch this film. If anything, it should expose the viewer to concrete examples of modern-day anti-Semitism on the left, and how easily it is now being overlooked.
In response to the Co-operative Group’s boycott of Israeli goods, four U.S. states have banned investments in the company as a result of their respective anti-BDS laws: Arizona, New York, Illinois, and Florida. The New York State Office of General Services and the State Board of Administration of Florida placed the Co-Op Group in a list of institutions determined to participate in acts of boycott, divestment, and sanctions, and both Arizona and Illinois included it in its list of “prohibited investments.”
The Manchester-based supermarket retailer initiated its anti-Israel policy in 2009 when it refused to stock products from Israeli West Bank settlements. The company then expanded its policy in 2012 to bar engagement with Israeli suppliers known to work with settlements. The boycott directly cuts ties with the four main exporters of Israeli fresh produce, Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, Adafresh, and Mehadrin, and severs contracts worth up to £350,000 under the pretense of “exceptional circumstances,” stating on its website that “this position does not constitute a boycott of Israeli businesses. We remain committed to sourcing produce from and trading with Israeli suppliers that do not source from the settlements.” However, Luke Akehurst, director of the We Believe in Israel, a grassroots group that campaigns against boycotts, declared, “The Co-op Group’s boycott of certain Israeli suppliers has done nothing to advance peace and coexistence or to help the Palestinians. All it has achieved is to alienate Jewish and other pro-Israel customers…”
The Co-op Group is the 5th largest retail grocery chain the United Kingdom, and the only major British retailer to boycott Israeli goods.The Co-op Group is also a major funder of the Co-operative Party, which holds an electoral pact with the Labour Party. Given the current balance of power in Britain, the company’s boycott does not come as a shock. The Labour Party has increasingly faced criticism for the anti-Semitic rhetoric of its party, with up to 50 members facing suspension for allegations of anti-Semitism between April and June of 2016. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has been quoted referring to Hezbollah and Hamas as his “friends,” and has faced severe backlash for his failure to adequately respond to anti-Semitism within his own party
Following the general election last month where Corbyn and his party scored a major electoral victory over the Conservative party currently in power, the American state’s anti-BDS actions are all the more significant. Banning the Co-op Group’s financial services and retail stores from their states serves as an act of defiance against a political climate that has increasingly alienated members of the British Jewish community. The action also represents a significant victory for efforts to ensure that state anti-BDS bills are being implemented. New York, Illinois, Florida, and Arizona’s actions follow stipulations within their respective anti-BDS resolutions that require the compilation of a list of companies that engage in boycotting activities against Israel, pursuant to each state’s definition of BDS.
On Thursday, June 27th, North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper signed an anti- Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (“BDS”) bill into law, making North Carolina the 22nd state to enact such a law or resolution. North Carolina joins states like Nevada and Kansas, which recently passed similar measures.
While not all anti-BDS legislation is identical, it all has the same goal of combating the BDS movement. The North Carolina bill calls for divestment from, and bars state agencies from contracting with, companies who have chosen policies to boycott Israel.
The North Carolina bill, entitled “Divestment from Companies That Boycott Israel,” saw a great deal of support throughout the North Carolina state legislature. Before coming to the Governor’s desk, it passed the state House of Representatives by a vote of 96-19 and the state Senate by a vote of 45-3. Such widespread support is telling of North Carolina’s important relationship with Israel, a country that has “long been an important trading partner of North Carolina”, as highlighted by CEO of the Jewish Federation of Raleigh-Cary, Carin Savel. Israel is indeed essential for trade in the state, affirmed by the astounding $140 million worth of exports and commerce North Carolinian businesses do with Israel every year.
Last week, Ryerson University, located in Toronto, Canada, printed a definition of anti-Semitism that the Ryerson Student Union (RSU) had adopted earlier this year, making it official school policy. Back in March, the RSU adopted the definition of anti-Semitism as found in the “Ottawa Protocol.”
The Ottawa Protocol reaffirms the EUMC’s working definition of anti-Semitism – the EUMC now being recognized as the Fundamental Rights Agency (“FRA”). The EUMC working definition is similar to the definition used by the U.S. State Department. These definitions account for anti-Semitism that may hide under the guise of Israel criticism, among other forms. In addition to this affirmation, the Ottawa Protocol also advises that universities should use the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism and that “there should be zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.” According to the Centre for Israel and Jewish affairs, a Canadian Jewish advocacy organization, Ryerson was the first Canadian University to adopt the Ottawa Protocol.
Students Supporting Israel (SSI) and StandWithUs Canada spearheaded this effort on Ryerson’s campus. The new definition came just in time, right after reports that the head of a university program “resigned over anti-Semitic tweets.” Setting a definition for anti-Semitism is an important step for a university to affirm its commitment to standing up for its students in the face of anti-Semitism. This sentiment was shared by RSU president Obaid Ullah, who wrote that “Jewish community members had lost faith in the RSU and did not feel supported” prior to this decision to create a definition.
In the United States, several schools’ student governments have passed similar resolutions. Such resolutions were accomplished by the student government’s at San Diego State University, East Carolina University (ECU), UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSB, Capital University, and Indiana University. As told by a member of the Student Government Association at ECU, the students had decided to “take a stand with the Jewish community at [ECU]” by passing a resolution to define anti-Semitism in line with the definition adopted by the U.S. State Department.
Earlier this week, both President Emmanuel Macron of France and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York made bold statements declaring their support of Israel, definitively condemning anti-Zionism as a modern manifestation of anti-Semitism.
President Macron in a ceremony on July 16 addressed growing religious tensions in French, as well as the French government’s complicity the Holocaust. In an unprecedented declaration, President Macron forcefully asserted that anti-Zionism is a “reinvented form of anti-Semitism,” dispelling any equivocation on the subject. As Professor William Jacobson, author of the Legal Insurrection blog and a member of LDB’s Law Student Speakers Bureau, noted, world leaders are beginning to call out anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism, and Macron’s refusal to “surrender to the message of hate” is incredibly powerful given the wave of anti-Semitic incidents across Europe.
The significance of the date was not lost on the audience: on July 16th-17th, 1942, over 13,000 French Jews were herded into the Vélodrome d’Hiver (or Vel d’Hiv) stadium in Paris. France’s politicians in the past have denied French responsibility for the Vel d’Hiv roundup, placing the blame on the Germans and the collaborative Vichy regime instead. However, Macron aims to draw attention to the French government’s direct role in the roundup, and to take responsibility for France’s wartime actions in order for the country to move forward. In the wake of rising anti-Semitism in France, President Macron’s statements serve as a strong declaration of support to French Jews.
The Senate Minority Leader, Senator Schumer of New York, applauded President’s Macron’s statement on anti-Semitism in his speech before the Senate on Monday, July 17. He praised Macron’s description of anti-Zionism as a reinvented form of anti-Semitism due to its denial of the Jews’ right to a homeland, and he cited multiple historical examples of prejudice towards Jews in Europe. A staunch supporter of Israel, Senator Schumer has also repeatedly advocated against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. In a speech before AIPAC earlier this year, he referred to Israel as a “humanitarian leader in the global community.” He further condemned the BDS movement as a “biased campaign” working to delegitimize the Jewish state. Cognizant of the rise of the BDS movement, particularly on college campuses, Senator Schumer forcefully urged politicians to take action against the BDS movement. New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed an executive order in June of last year directing state agencies to divest public funds supporting BDS campaigns against Israel. Ohio, North Carolina, and numerous other states have signed similar bills.
The notion that anti-Zionism often manifests as anti-Semitism is not a new one. President of the Louis D. Brandeis Center, Kenneth L. Marcus has written extensively on the subject of modern anti-Semitism. In about 2004, Israeli politician and worldwide human rights leader, Natan Sharansky, outlined the so-called “3-D Test of Anti-Semitism” to distinguish criticism of Israel from outright anti-Semitic behavior. Under the 3-D Test, criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism where it 1) Demonizes, 2) Delegitimizes, or 3) applies it to a Double standard. Variations of this test have been adopted by worldwide bodies including the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and the U.S. Department of State.
As Senator Schumer summarized, “the idea that all other peoples can seek and defend their right to self-determination, but the Jewish people cannot; that other nations have a right to exist but the Jewish state does not, that too is a modern form of anti-Semitism, just as President Macron of France said this weekend.”
On Thursday, June 29th, the Equality Court sitting in the South Gauteng High Court of South Africa found Bongani Masuku guilty of hate speech following his comments calling for Jewish lives to be made “hell,” among other incendiary remarks. Over twenty-five years since the end of apartheid, South Africa continues the fight to eradicate discrimination, and the landmark ruling has widespread implications for the global fight against anti-Semitism.
In March 2009, Mr. Masuku, the international relations spokesperson for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), threatened students in his speech at Wits University in Johannesburg during the “Israel Apartheid Week.” His controversial statements targeted South African families who had members serving in the Israeli Defense Force, and called for Jews in South Africa to be forcibly “removed” from the country. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) lodged a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in April 2009, which declared that the defendant’s comments qualified as hate speech, and ordered him to apologize.
However, Mr. Masuku refused to comply. The SAHRC subsequently brought the case to the High Court in order to enforce the ruling where a few days ago Judge Moshidi ruled that the 2009 statements constituted hate speech. Judge Moshidi also dismissed arguments by the Defense that the statements were about Zionists and thus not directed at Jews as a whole. In its press release, SAJBD commended the fact that “in terms of judgment, threats and insults against Jews who support Israel cannot be justified on the alleged basis that such attacks are aimed not at Jews but at ‘Zionists.’”
In his ruling, Justice Moshidi declared that the defendant’s statements violated section 10 of the Equality Act 4 of 2000, the comprehensive South African anti-discrimination law prohibiting hate speech. The Act holds the courts and state accountable for hate speech prevention, and ensures agencies abide by the terms of international and constitutional human rights law. Mr. Masuku must now apologize to SAJBD, the overarching organization for the South African Jewish community, within 30 days.
South Africa’s Equality Court has set a strong example that anti-Semitism, just like all forms of hate and bigotry, is unacceptable.
On June 6th, the Ohio House of Representatives initiated a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) in response to rising incidents of anti-Semitism in the state. The House expects a vote on the measure in late August or early September of this year.
The House Concurrent Resolution 10 calls for increased economic, cultural, and educational ties between Ohio and Israel. Importantly, the resolution also declares that the goals of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic, “the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement is one of the main vehicles for legitimizing anti-Semitism on campus and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state”
The resolution follows the passage of the anti-BDS House Bill 476 that was signed into law in December 2016. Howie Beigelman, Executive Director of Ohio Jewish Communities, stated that while the resolution has no legal standing, it provides an important “message of support” to those affected by the BDS movement.
Support for the bill transcends both political and religious divisions, including the evangelical Christian group, Proclaiming Justice to the Nations (PJTN), among its advocates. PJTN focuses on the “biblical responsibility” of Christians to stand with Jews and Israel.
The primary sponsors of the resolution, Republican representatives Dave Greenspan and Andy Thompson, added that the anti-BDS resolution builds upon the success of the anti-BDS law by taking a stronger stand on anti-Semitism in the face of the rising threat to Jewish students on college and university campuses. Unlike HB 476, the resolution addresses the complicity of university administrators in incidents of anti-Semitism, particularly those related to BDS agitation. As Representative Thompson noted, “…when it comes to college administration, sometimes they seem to be as intimidated as the groups that are being targeted here, so….we are just trying to provide some more backbone to those who would do the right thing when it comes to the climate.”
The resolution comes at a pivotal moment for Jewish university students in light of recent anti-Semitic incidents, including Jewish students being harassed and intimidated on campuses, such as at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jewish student groups being disinvited from campus-wide events at San Francisco State University.
The British government cannot restrict local governments from engaging in boycotts against Israel, a UK High Court Judge ruled last week, prompting British pro-Israel advocates to call for primary anti-BDS legislation.
The judgment, issued by Sir Ross Cranston, a judge of the High Court, Queens Bench Division, followed a case that challenged policy guidance issued by the UK Department for Communities and Local Government last year. The guidance sought to prevent local governments, like city and town councils, from engaging in policies that support “boycotts, divestment and sanctions [‘BDS’] against foreign nations and UK defense industries” with regards to pension funds. The guidance did not mention Israel specifically. Other European nations, including France, have enacted similar policies.
The case was brought by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), a UK group that equates Zionism, the belief in a national homeland for the Jewish people, with “racism, occupation and colonization” and has called for the end of Israel as a Jewish state. The PSC claimed that the Department’s provision restricted their freedom to protest against companies “complicit” in Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. The PSC, an active member of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, was supported in their case by other pro-BDS groups, including the Quakers and the Campaign Against Arms Trade.
In response, the Government argued that allowing local governments to take political stances on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict might “undermine community cohesion at home by legitimizing anti-Semitic or racist attitudes and attacks” in addition to sending mixed messages about British national policy. In it’s argument, the Government noted that, although the such pro-BDS legislation could provoke anti-Semitism in local communities, the anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian movements are not inherently anti-Semitic.
In his decision, Sir Ross Cranston noted that the political merits of the arguments of the PSC or the government have nothing to do with his judgment and that the decision came from “legal analysis, not political argument.” The Judge explained that Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government, acted beyond his authority in issuing the guidance. The Judge noted that since the guidance was issued to protect “UK foreign policy or UK defense policy”, Secretary Javid was acting beyond the scope of his authority because the provision was issued for purposes that extended beyond pension and investment regulation.
Despite Cranston’s statement that the political merits of the PSC’s argument had no bearing on the decision, British anti-Israel activists rejoiced at the judgment, with the PSC calling the case “a victory for Palestine, local democracy and for the rule of law.” On the other hand, British pro-Israel leaders are calling for primary legislation to combat BDS in local government. Although prospective, parliamentary legislation would likely ban local councils and other forms of municipal governments from engaging in boycotts based on national origin. Such legislation would promote a broad array of British interests, including community cohesion, reduction of anti-Semitic incidents and the maintenance of a clear and coherent British foreign policy towards Israel and the Middle East. Last year, the British government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s expansive definition of antisemitism that explicitly states that criticisms of Israel that portray the Jewish state as a “Jewish collectivity” are anti-Semitic.
The Department’s now-defunct guidance had stirred controversy among anti-Israel activists and local government officials across the UK since it was first introduced in 2015. Local government officials had called the guidance “political interference on a huge scale.” Jeremy Corbyn, UK Labour Party Leader and former candidate for Prime Minister, called the guidance “unethical and an attack on local democracy.” Supporters of the guidance welcomed the provision, calling the behavior the guidance sought to prevent “bad for the local taxpayer and deeply damaging to community relations”, in addition to encouraging anti-Semitism. Over recent years, Corbyn and the UK Labour party supporters have been repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism, particularly after a high-profile Corbyn supporter questioned the need for increased security at Jewish schools and made disparaging comments about Holocaust Memorial Day.
Furthermore, the BDS movement has gained significant popularity among the British public. The PSC reported that its own polling indicates that 43% of the British public think the BDS movement is a “reasonable” solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. This surge in BDS support has reached UK college and university campuses, with the University of Manchester Student Union Senate, the largest student union in the UK, officially endorsing BDS in 2016.
This is coupled with an alarming rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the UK. In February, the Community Security Trust, a British organization that monitors anti-Semitism, reported that anti-Semitic hate incidents had increased by over 36% in 2016, including over 100 incidents of physical attacks. This rise in anti-Semitism has been particularly felt on UK campuses, with over 25% of Jewish students in the UK reported in April that they are worried that they will be the target of anti-Semitic abuse by their peers.
American pro-Israel activists say that last week’s UK judgment is unlikely to have any effect on American anti-BDS legislation. Nearly half of all U.S. states have passed anti-BDS legislation that prohibits state governments from doing business with companies and organizations supporting or engaging in the BDS movement. The U.S. Congress is also currently considering federal anti-BDS legislation.
In late June, legislators from North Carolina’s General Assembly passed House Bill 161, an anti-BDS bill which would seek to punish companies engaged with state business who actively participate in boycott campaigns against the State of Israel. The bill will now be sent to Governor Roy Cooper for his signature. Carin Savel, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Raleigh-Cary, stated that the bill “makes it clear that the State of North Carolina stands with Israel, which has long been an important trading partner of North Carolina.” The bill enjoyed bipartisan support, having been sponsored by both Democratic and Republican senators and representatives.
ABC affiliate Channel 11 in Raleigh, North Carolina, recently wrote in its report on BDS that “supporters of BDS, including activist Linda Sarsour, insist [that BDS] is a non-violent protest against Israel for occupying and colonizing Palestinian land.” Regardless of this insistence, the text of House Bill 161 states that it is the public policy of both North Carolina and the United States as a whole to oppose boycotts as a matter of national trade policy, as “cooperation with Israel materially benefits United States companies and improves American competitiveness…therefore, a company’s decision to discriminate against Israel…is an unsound business practice.”
If signed into law by Governor Cooper, this will be the 22nd anti-BDS law adopted by a U.S. State. Recently, both Kansas and Nevada passed their own anti-BDS legislation. The number of states that have passed anti-BDS legislation is rapidly approaching the halfway mark. States with large and active BDS campaigns, particularly on their college campuses, are facing active pressures against this new form of anti-Semitism. Universities and academic associations, such as the American Studies Association, have been put on the defensive through litigation and legal advocacy against BDS. BDS, along with the anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism it spreads, is being combatted on many stages in the United States. Soon, there will be no home for the anti-intellectual, anti-factual, hate-filled BDS movement in America.