Rights agency – and BBC – ditch ‘working definition’ of antisemitism
By Ben White, Electronic Intifada
October 30, 2013
The reputation of a discredited definition of antisemitism has suffered a further blow with the news that the BBC’s governing body amended a ruling to reflect the abandonment of the text by a European Union body.
A 2005 “discussion paper” definition of anti-Semitism was drafted on the initiative of the European Union’s Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (which has subsequently been renamed the Fundamental Rights Agency — FRA).
It claimed that describing Israel’s establishment as a “racist endeavor” is an example of “anti-Semitism.”
The definition has been pushed by Israel advocates since its publication, and used in efforts to undermine Palestine solidarity work (see The Electronic Intifada report “Israel lobby uses discredited anti-Semitism definition to muzzle debate.”)
In a BBC Trust ruling earlier this year, a complaint relating to the broadcaster’s coverage on comments about Israel by a British member of Parliament, David Ward, was partially upheld. The complaint had cited the EU agency’s “working definition.”
However, in correspondence with blogger Mark Elf of Jews sans frontieres, the BBC Trust first investigated, then changed its ruling (available online) to note that the definition has now “been removed” from the FRA’s website.
While the BBC Trust’s amendment of the ruling made minimal changes, the email to Mark Elf was more revealing, with the BBC Trust Unit writing:
A press officer at the FRA has explained that this was a discussion paper and was never adopted by the EU as a working definition, although it has been on the FRA website until recently when it was removed during a clear out of “non-official” documents. The link to the FRA site provided by the complainant in his appeal no longer works.
The BBC added that the “working definition… was not material to the committee’s finding that the accuracy guidelines had been breached.”
Despite its being an abandoned draft text, plenty of Israel’s defenders still refer to the definition in a way that infers official credibility.
The group Israel Academia Monitor continues to base its concept of a “distinction” between “legitimate and illegitimate criticism of Israel” on the definition, claiming it was “adopted” by the FRA. Pro-Israel media lobbying group HonestReporting recently called it “the EU’s working definition,” while a UK-based right-wing site referred this week to what it called “EUMC working definition.”
October 27, 2013
A Liberal Democrat MP who accused “the Jews” of “inflicting atrocities on Palestinians… on a daily basis” has apologised for the “unintended offence”.
Bradford East MP David Ward said in a blog post he had been “trying to make clear that everybody needs to learn the lessons of the Holocaust”.
He had made his initial comments ahead of Sunday’s Holocaust Memorial Day.
On Friday, his party “condemned” his “use of language”.
He was also summoned to a meeting with party whips next week.
I recognise, of course, the deep sensitivities of these issues at all times, and particularly on occasions of commemoration such as this weekend”
Last week he said he was “saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza”.
But in a blog posting on Saturday he apologised, saying: “I never for a moment intended to criticise or offend the Jewish people as a whole, either as a race or as a people of faith, and apologise sincerely for the unintended offence which my words caused.
“I recognise, of course, the deep sensitivities of these issues at all times, and particularly on occasions of commemoration such as this weekend.”
He said his criticisms “of actions since 1948 in the Palestinian territories in the name of the state of Israel remain as strong as ever”.
He added: “I will continue to make criticisms of actions in Palestine in the strongest possible terms for as long as Israel continues to oppress the Palestinian people.”
In the article published on his website on Friday, Mr Ward had looked ahead to Holocaust Memorial Day, which marks the 68th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp.
More than one million people – mostly Jews – died at the camp.
The article said he supported efforts “to combat prejudice and racism today” by the Holocaust Educational Trust and had honoured “those who were persecuted and killed during the Holocaust” by signing “a book of commitment”.
His initial comments drew criticism from his own party, as well as the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
The Israeli embassy said Mr Ward’s comments demonstrated a “shocking insensitivity to the feelings of both Holocaust survivors and Israeli victims of terrorism”.
Embassy spokesman Amir Ofek said: “David Ward’s comments show a troubling ignorance of the brutal campaign of terrorist attacks waged against Israeli children, women and men by Palestinian terrorist groups, and of the extraordinary efforts made by Israel to protect its citizens in an effective and humane manner.”
Earlier in the week, Mr Ward’s party said: “This is a matter we take extremely seriously. The Liberal Democrats deeply regret and condemn the statement issued by David Ward and his use of language which is unacceptable.”
On Saturday, a party spokesman said this position had not changed and he was still set to meet party whips.
Mr Ward had, at first, reacted by telling BBC News he had chosen his words carefully and did not regret the timing of the statement.
“I’ve spoken to the chief whip and he’s got his views. I don’t feel bad about it in any way. They consider my comments regrettable – I consider their reprimand regrettable,” he added.
Update August 2013: This story has been amended following a complaint to the BBC Trust’s editorial standards committee which was partly upheld.
By Mark Elf, Jews sans frontieres
October 27, 2013
I noticed this a long time ago on the Engage website. Someone made a complaint to the BBC Trust about something about the Lib Dem MP, David Ward. It doesn’t really matter what it was but it became a part of the drip-drip way in which zionists are trying to have their bogus so-called Working Definition of Antisemitism gaining general acceptance.
Here’s a part of the BBC Trust’s ruling as per the Engage post:
The Committee noted also the European Union’s working definition of anti-Semitism, which states that “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” was a manifestation of anti-Semitism.
Well I wasn’t having that so I wrote to the BBC Trust as follows:
I have just read the above complaint and the complaint and the decision contain an error of fact relating to what they both refer to as “the EU’s working definition of anti-Semitism”.
The European Union does not have a working or any other definition of antisemitism. The Editorial Standards Committee appears to have assumed that the “working definition of ant-Semitism” is the EU’s simply because the complainant said it is.
The problem here is that the so-called “working definition” has other elements that are at best controversial and appear to be designed to insulate The State of Israel from criticism.
I have no objection to the rest of the content of the decision but it accords to the “working definition” a formal status which it does not have.
In light of the above I think you should correct the decision and rely on standard definitions of racism in general rather than this special definition of antisemitism in particular.
I should also be grateful if you could direct me to the source the Committee used to peruse the “working definition of anti-Semitism” if indeed it was not simply the complainant’s own assertion.
Eventually I got a reply and here’s an extract:
In light of your comments and our subsequent enquiries into this matter we propose to amend the published decision to make it clearer that the Committee noted an assertion put forward by the complainant.
By way of background, the so-called “working definition of anti-semitism” referred to in the finding and cited by the complainant was published on the website of the EU Monitoring Committee for Racism and Xenophobia in 2005. This body was replaced by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (the FRA) in 2007. A press officer at the FRA has explained that this was a discussion paper and was never adopted by the EU as a working definition, although it has been on the FRA website until recently when it was removed during a clear out of “non-official” documents. The link to the FRA site provided by the complainant in his appeal no longer works.
We propose to make the following amendment to the finding (changes shown in bold):
The Committee noted also the complainant’s argument that the European Union’s working definition of anti-Semitism, which states that “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” was a manifestation of anti-Semitism.
We will add the following footnote to this amendment:
The Committee further notes, however, that the definition relied upon by the complainant, which was previously available on the website of the EU Monitoring Committee for Racism and Xenophobia, has recently been removed by its successor, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.
So the BBC Trust appears to have relied on the mere assertion of the complainant that the EU had a working definition of antisemitism which it didn’t. Not only that, it’s amendment to the original ruling doesn’t really clarify the position. It does not make clear to the general public that the EU doesn’t have a working definition of antisemitism, simply that it doesn’t host it on its website anymore.
I did press them to further clarify the position on the website but they refused. Ah well, little acorns….
By Mark Elf, Jews sans frontieres
October 28, 2013
For a long time the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) hosted on its website a zionist drafted so-called working definition of antisemitism. It’s successor organisation, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), continued hosting the dodgy definition leading to much confusion about its status with the EU in spite of objections that the working definition appeared to be designed to prevent serious criticism of The State of Israel.
Well now see this extract from a BBC Trust email reply to me when I pointed out an error of theirs in referring to the working definition as the “EU’s”:
the so-called “working definition of anti-semitism” referred to in the finding and cited by the complainant was published on the website of the EU Monitoring Committee for Racism and Xenophobia in 2005. This body was replaced by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (the FRA) in 2007. A press officer at the FRA has explained that this was a discussion paper and was never adopted by the EU as a working definition, although it has been on the FRA website until recently when it was removed during a clear out of “non-official” documents. The link to the FRA site provided by the complainant in his appeal no longer works.
It would be interesting to know what was discussed about this “discussion paper” because a mere glance exposes it as a hasbara document but it is good news to know that the FRA has finally ditched it as being a “”non-official” document”
Notes and links
The original story about David Ward’s comments was covered in Blundering into the Semites’ grove
BBC, Editorial Standards Findings July, August 2013, pdf file.
The London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism cites the EUMC working definition
Union defeats legal challenge alleging antisemitism It was used by Ronnie Fraser in his defeated legal claim that the University and Colleges Union was antisemitic.
US opponents of Palestinians wield false authority for draft paper on antisemitism This post contains a full list of articles about the EUMC and the ‘working definition of antisemitism’.