When criticism of Israel is anti-semitic – the real EUMC definition

November 7, 2011
Sarah Benton

The Real EUMC Definition of Antisemitism
In 2004 the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) published a report called Manifestations of Antisemitism in the EU 2002 – 2003. All page references below are to this report.

By Richard Kuper, JNews

LONDON – The EUMC report is a substantial document, providing a comprehensive overview of antisemitism in the 15 member-states of the EU at that time, based on an “overview of incidents of antisemitism, the political, academic and media reactions to it, information from public opinion polls and attitude surveys, and examples of good practice to combat antisemitism, from information available in the years 2002 – 2003” (p.3). On the basis of all this the Report made a number of recommendations.

One of the weaknesses identified in the Report was the absence of a common definition of antisemitism in use in the various countries. It also stressed the lack of official state monitoring of antisemitism, was aware of the problem of under-reporting and other issues. It made clear recommendations about the recording of antisemitic incidents, the need to promote education and training measures, to engage civil society, to initiate interfaith and intercultural dialogue and to involve the media in this work.

A part of the report was given over to a discussion of the contemporary debate about ‘a new antisemitism’, ‘antisemitism and Zionism’ etc (pp.225-241) and this was boiled down in the Executive summary to three pages which were entitled “Defining Antisemitism” (pp.12-14). The Report stated clearly that “Future data collection and assessment should be commonly based on the definition of antisemitism provided in this report.” (p.27)

It is therefore rather odd that what passes today for the EUMC’s definition of antisemitism is not what this report contains. Indeed it alters its thrust in significant ways. The process by which a so-called “Working definition” was produced by the American Jewish Committee and others and put for discussion on the EUMC website in 2005 has been told elsewhere (enthusiastically by one of its proponents, Kenneth Stern, in his Proposal for a Redefinition of Antisemitism, Part II), critically by Richard Kuper in Antisemitism and delegitimisation and elaborated further here).

But what hasn’t been stressed enough, perhaps, is how the later so-called “working definition”, which appears never to have been formally discussed by the EUMC, let alone approved by it, came to usurp entirely the important work done by the EUMC on this question beforehand. As far as the general public is concerned this earlier work might as well not exist. In effect the real EUMC definition has been hijacked in favour of a “working definition” that neither the EUMC, nor its successor body the Fundamental Rights Agency, has ever used or intends to develop. The intention, to produce guidelines to help operationalise the EUMC’s definition in its 2002-20003 Report, was ignored in favour of producing what was in effect a redefinition of antisemitism, with criticism of Israel at its core and the presumption that such criticism was likely to be antisemitic (see Kuper, cited above).

We thus reproduce the EUMC Definition of Antisemitism here as a contribution to discussion of this important issue:

EUMC – Manifestations of Antisemitism in the EU 2002 – 2003, pp.12-14
http://fra.europa.eu/fraWebsite/attachments/AS-Main-report.pdf , viewed 30 October 2011

If we look for commonalities between different approaches to defining antisemitism, we find two recurring aspects:

First, almost all definitions of antisemitism refer to hostile attitudes and/or activities towards Jews;

Second, a significant number of definitions contain the additional remark that the hostility is directed towards Jews “as Jews”[2], or towards Jews “because they are Jews”[3], or towards Jews “because of their actual or perceived religious or racial background or identification”.[4]

It is the second aspect that is in fact the key premise for an accurate definition and identification of antisemitism. It is not until the remark “as Jews” is added that we come to the basic conclusion that one can only speak of antisemitism, if Jews (or Non-Jews) are attacked because they are (perceived as) Jews. We will further elaborate on this below, but two important implications are obvious: First, not every hostility towards Jews is to be classified as antisemitic; and second, Non-Jews can also become the target of antisemitism (e.g. if they are perceived as Jews or associated with a pro-Jewish stance).

In the past, some traits commonly attributed to Jews have become for the antisemites a constituent part of their (imaginary) ‘Jew’. In an analysis of German antisemitic literature of the 1930s and 1940s, i.e. of the period of National Socialism, which provides a condensed image of the ideological system of racist antisemitic beliefs, Alexander Pollak and Nina Eger established six categories of the racist antisemitic stereotyping of ‘the Jew’:[5]

These antisemitic stereotypes concern:
the ‘deceitful’, ‘crooked’, ‘artful’ nature of ‘the Jew’;
the ‘foreign’ and ‘different’ essence of ‘the Jew’;
the ‘irreconcilability’, ‘hostility’, ‘agitation’ of ‘the Jew’;
the ‘commercial talent’ and ‘relation to money’ of ‘the Jew’ (construction of ‘the Jew’ as the worst possible incarnation of a capitalist);
the ‘corrupt’ nature of ‘the Jew’;
Jewish ‘power and influence’ and a Jewish ‘world conspiracy’.

To these six categories of racist antisemitic beliefs one could add a seventh category, the Christian anti-Judaist myth of ‘the Jew’ as “Christ-Killer”[6].

For the antisemite, ‘the Jew’ as the imaginary figure outlined above, is the (only) real Jew.

Following some of the remarks of Brian Klug, who argues that antisemitism “is best defined not by an attitude towards Jews but by a definition of ‘Jew’ and who regards antisemitism as “the process of turning Jews into `Jews'”[7], we understand the core of antisemitism to be:
Any acts or attitudes that are based on the perception of a social subject (individual, group, institution, or state) as “the (`deceitful’, ‘corrupt’, `conspiratorial’, etc.) Jew”.

The perception of a social subject as ‘the Jew’ (as characterised by the six or seven categories of stereotypical beliefs outlined above) goes far beyond the categorisations and generalisations we all do in everyday life when dealing with social subjects. Believing in the stereotypical construction of ‘the Jew’, means, at its extreme, appropriating a closed belief system about how ‘the Jew’ is and about how he manipulates the world — a belief system that has no exit door, because all arguments against antisemitism are then seen as resulting from Jewish power and a Jewish world conspiracy.

If we turn to the crucial question of defining the point where anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist expressions are to be considered as antisemitism, then we could conclude, on the basis of our definition of antisemitism, that anti-Israeli or anti-Zionist attitudes and expression are antisemitic in those cases where Israel is seen as being a representative of ‘the Jew’, i.e. as a representative of the traits attributed to the antisemitic construction of ‘the Jew’.[8]

But what if the opposite is the case and Jews are perceived as representatives of Israel? What if Jews are criticised or offended for Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians? If we stick to our definition, then, strictly speaking, we would have to qualify hostility towards Jews as ‘Israelis’ only then as antisemitic, if it is based on an underlying perception of Israel as ‘the Jew’. If this is not the case, then we would have to consider hostility towards Jews as ‘Israelis’ as not antisemitic, because this hostility is not based on the antisemitic stereotyping of Jews.

However, this does not mean that such a hostility towards Jews should be excluded from monitoring. There are three good reasons why hostility towards Jews as ‘Israelis’ should in any case be carefully monitored:

First, for the victims of such hostility, it does not make an immediate difference, if they are attacked as ‘the Jew’ or as ‘an Israeli’.

Second, it is a very difficult – and in most cases an impossible – task to look into peoples’ heads and grasp their thinking and their “real” intentions behind launching hostile activities against Jews.

Third, those physical or verbal attacks on Jews, which are based not on antisemitic stereotyping but on the (false) generalisation of Jews as ‘Israelis’, are to be regarded, in the words of the EUMC, as “attitudes and social behaviours that constitute a serious threat to basic European values and democracy”.

What should not be considered as antisemitic and therefore does not have to be monitored under the heading of ‘antisemitism’, is hostility towards Israel as ‘Israel’, i.e. as a country that is criticised for its concrete policies. Hostility towards Israel as ‘Israel’ (as opposed to criticism of Israel as representative of the stereotypical ‘Jew’) should only then become a matter of general public concern, when there is explicit evidence that criticism of Israel as ‘Israel’ produces attacks on Jews as either ‘the Jew’ or ‘Israeli’. If there is no such evidence, the case of criticism and hostility towards Israel as ‘Israel’ should not be part of monitoring activities under the heading of ‘antisemitism’.

One crucial problem, however, is that of clearly identifying whether, for example, an attack on Israel in the press is aimed at Israel as ‘the Jew’ or Israel as ‘Israel’ . We will be confronted with cases, where no clear analytical distinction can be made, but some of the suggestions and guidelines provided by those who have already dealt with the problem of developing analytical tools and finding markers, indicating that Israel is attacked as ‘the Jew’ and not as ‘Israel’, may help us in distinguishing these two cases. What is in any case indispensable in order to be able to draw any valid conclusions about the character of texts that criticise Israel, is the need for a thorough and systematic analysis of these texts, pointing out to different possible interpretations, accounting for their context of production as well as their context of reception, and making systematic use of methodological tools as provided by different social scientific disciplines.

[1  Footnote 1 refers to something earlier in the text. This definition appears on pp.12-14 of the text]

2 Helen Fein: Dimensions of Antisemitism: Attitudes, Collective Accusations and Actions. In: Helen Fein (ed.): The Persisting Question. Sociological Perspectives and Social Contexts of Modern Antisemitism. (Current Research on antisemitism, vol. 1, ed. by Herbert A. Strauss and Werner Bergmann). Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 1987, p. 67.

3 Martin Luther King Jr.: “Letter to an anti-Zionist friend”. Saturday Review, 47, August 1967, p. 76. Reprinted in M. L. King Jr., This I Believe: Selections from the Writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (New York, 1971), pp. 234-235.

4 See UK RAXEN 4 Racial Violence Report, 2003 (unpublished – forthcoming).

5 See Alexander Pollak and Nina Eger: Antisemitismus mit Anspielungscharakter. In: Anton Pelinka, Ruth Wodak (ed.): Politik der Ausgrenzung. Vienna: Czernin, 2002, pp. 187-210.

6 The myth of “the Jew” as “(bloodthirsty) Christ Killer” has been perpetuated to the present through the myth of Jewish ritual murder. See Marvin Perry and Frederick M. Schweitzer: Antisemitism: Myth and Hate from Antiquity to the Present. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, pp. 2ff.

7 Brian Klug: The collective Jew: Israel and the new antisemitism. In: Patterns of Prejudice, Vol. 37, No. 2, June 2003, Routledge, pp. 122ff.

8 The antisemitic view of Israel as being representative for the (stereotypical) “Jew” is not to be confused with the view of Israel as a Jewish state, which is, in fact, the way, Israel defines itself.


The report referenced in this piece is available in full here.

Richard Kuper is a former chair of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, an organisation of more than 1,600 Jews in Britain. He grew up in apartheid South Africa and has been a political and social activist, publisher, trade-unionist and university lecturer.

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