Anti-Semitism, a definition in questions

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How can we better fight anti-Semitism? While anti-Semitic acts and threats are on the increase, especially as a result of extreme right-wing groups and individuals, another battle has grown steadily in recent times: that of the very definition of the anti-Semitism. In France, Great Britain, the United States, Israel but also in Switzerland, this battle is all the more fierce as it is accompanied by an offensive by the Israeli authorities seeking to silence critics of its policy. vis-à-vis the Palestinians. In this often heated debate, we will now have to reckon with a newcomer. A host of specialists who come to shake up this question.

They are some 200 international specialists. Academics recognized for their work on anti-Semitism, the Jewish worlds, the Holocaust, but also the history of Palestine and the region. At the end of a good year of work, originally carried out in Israel, they have just published “the Jerusalem Declaration”, which is intended to be the best working tool to date in order to define anti-Semitism in a concise and clear manner. also provide a series of guidelines to better frame the debate.

Political calculations?

However, this initiative is far from representing a pure academic exercise. Because the Declaration aims to oppose another definition of anti-Semitism which has continued to gain ground and which has already been adopted by a good number of parliaments, regions or municipalities, mainly in Europe. . So much so that this definition, produced and adopted in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), has practically become the standard in the matter, despite the fact that it was theoretically designed at the origin as a “working” document devoid of any power of constraint.

“The definition of the IHRA has become more of an issue of contestation than an effective tool in the fight against anti-Semitism”, summarizes for Le Temps the professor of Relations between Jews and Muslims at University College London, Seth Anziska, l ‘one of the members of the Jerusalem Declaration coordinating committee. “The very essence of this definition,” he said, “is today affected by political calculations. And we hope that the joint work of 200 academics will give a certain authority to the understanding of this issue. ”

Political calculations? After sleeping for ten years in a drawer, the IHRA document came out very conveniently as the State of Israel was waging a massive campaign to silence critics. Beyond the basic definition, which consists of 2 lines, the text thus includes a series of “contemporary examples of anti-Semitism”. However, among these 11 “examples”, 7 relate to the State of Israel.

Two main targets

Very quickly, while the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, does not cease insulting the protesters by calling them anti-Semites, Israeli officials used this text to put organizations considered to be pro-Palestinian on the spot. , including when they work in Israel. A number of NGOs have seen their funding threatened. The two main targets of this Israeli campaign: on the one hand, the movement which calls for a boycott of the State of Israel on the grounds that it occupies the territories of Palestine, and on the other hand, all those who advocate, for lack of anything better, the establishment of a binational state that would integrate both Israelis and Palestinians.

The risk of political instrumentalization is such that American lawyer Kenneth Stern, one of the original drafters of the IHRA definition, himself has repeatedly warned against the dangers of using this definition. same definition for objectives which have nothing to do in his eyes with his initial conception, and which threaten in particular freedom of expression.

In the United States and Great Britain, campuses have ignited over this text. Still in Great Britain, this affair is largely at the origin of the sidelining of Labor Jeremy Corbyn, considered anti-Semitic in particular because he refused to endorse this definition. In France, in a context tense by the worsening of anti-Semitic acts, Emmanuel Macron caused a sensation before the CRIF (Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France) by advocating the adoption in the reference texts of France of the definition of the anti-Semitism of the IHRA. The French president went even further by making anti-Zionism “one of the modern forms of anti-Semitism”.

Certain constants

In the Jerusalem Declaration, its authors recall certain constants of classical anti-Semitism, whether they are affirmed directly – “The Jews control governments in the shadows” – or indirectly – “The Rothschilds control the world.” They also indicate some guidelines in connection with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and deem anti-Semitic for example the fact of “holding the Jews collectively responsible for the conduct of Israel” or of “assuming that the non-Israeli Jews, simply because they are Jews, are necessarily more loyal to Israel than to their own country ”.

In this, the text differs only marginally from the definition of the IHRA. However, scholars also offer a series of examples which, in their view, do not constitute anti-Semitic positions: criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism; report possible systematic racial discrimination against Palestinians; advocate boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel, which are all “common and non-violent forms of political protest”.

Open a real debate

“Our desire is above all to open up space so that a real and profound debate can take place,” says Seth Anziska. Library shelves are full of books on anti-Semitism, a notion rooted in the reality of a given era. But today, the debate is locked, and opposing the definition of the IHRA is more and more often equated with being in favor of anti-Semitism. It is a choice that has been skewed. We must shed light on all facets of this debate, rather than shutting them down. ”

In the meantime, the debate continues to ignite. For these last days alone: ​​at the head of an ecological and communist coalition, the mayor of Strasbourg, Jeanne Barseghian, has just drawn the wrath of certain Jewish (and Israeli) organizations by refusing to adopt at the scale of the city as defined by the IHRA. Conversely, the Israeli embassy in France was quick to publicly welcome the adoption of this same definition by the city of Neuilly. In Great Britain, it is the venerable City, University of London which has come to know the public reproach after its student committee also refused to adopt this definition.

A federal report

And in Switzerland? Following a parliamentary process, the Federal Council should submit a report in the coming weeks on whether or not to use the definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the IHRA. The Inter-Community Coordination Against Antisemitism and Defamation (CICAD) is among those encouraging the Swiss authorities to take the step. CICAD relies year after year on this definition, including its controversial “examples” to establish its review of anti-Semitic acts committed in French-speaking Switzerland. “This definition is very easy to understand and very useful”, considers its secretary general, Johanne Gurfinkiel, highlighting the fact that it has also been very widely adopted by “dozens of other associations” which fight against the anti-Semitism. If he insists on the fact that this definition leaves room for criticism of Israel, he on the contrary judges that the Jerusalem Declaration is “too politicized”, even if it includes “some literary improvements” compared to that of the IHRA.

“The definition of the IHRA, by filling a void, has satisfied a symbolic desire to respond to anti-Semitic acts,” concludes Seth Anziska. For lack of alternative, each clings to this text. But it should only be one tool among many. And above all, it should not make us forget the following stages which are certainly the fight against anti-Semitism but also against discrimination and against any form of racism. “

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