Following a request by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the European Council accepted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. But the definition itself is vague and problematic.

European Council has adopted a pro-Israeli position by endorsing the anti-Semitism definition of International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The Council President Donald Tusk attends a news conference in Brussels, Belgium on November 25, 2018.
European Council has adopted a pro-Israeli position by endorsing the anti-Semitism definition of International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The Council President Donald Tusk attends a news conference in Brussels, Belgium on November 25, 2018. (Yves Herman / Reuters)

The Israeli foreign ministry has hailed the European Union's decision to define criticism of the Israeli state as anti-Semitism following the guidelines of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

Though much of the Israeli media and the foreign ministry projected the European Council's decision as a win for both the Zionist state and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the liberal Tel Aviv-based newspaper Haaretz released a report with the headline: "Despite Netanyahu's Pressure, EU Doesn't Link anti-Semitism to anti-Zionism". 

The report, however, did not mention where in the EU's decision on anti-Zionism is separate from its view on anti-Semitism. Despite repeated interview requests, the European Council, which announced the decision on December 6, did not return TRT World's calls. 

The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism has been criticised for its broad scope and ambiguity. According to the organisation, “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” is defined as anti-Semitism.  

Ignoring Israel's human rights record and despite vague justification on conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism, the European Council still “calls on the member states that have not done so yet to endorse the non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism employed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) as a useful guidance tool”. The definition would be used in various areas from education to law enforcement “to identify and investigate anti-Semitic attacks more efficiently and effectively”. 

For a long time, Netanyahu had been trying to convince the world that anti-Zionism is a “new form of anti-Semitism,” even asking the EU to accept the IHRA definition.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long lobbied for the EU endorsement of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. He delivers a statement to the media at the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv, Israel on December 4, 2018.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long lobbied for the EU endorsement of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. He delivers a statement to the media at the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv, Israel on December 4, 2018. (Ammar Awad / Reuters)

With the rise of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which fiercely advocates the “end [of] international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians,” the relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism has become a hot debate topic. Pro-Zionist thinkers and their supporters have often accused the BDS leadership of being anti-Semitic, a charge it denies.   

Referring to Rashida Tlaib, a newly elected Michigan Democrat - one of the two female Muslim politicians in the American Congress - and her support of the BDS, a recent New York Times op-ed argued that anti-Zionism should not be confused with anti-Semitism. 

“The conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is a bit of rhetorical sleight-of-hand that depends on treating Israel as the embodiment of the Jewish people everywhere,” Michelle Goldberg wrote. 

Goldberg also underlined the paradox of the current Israeli government developing strong ties with far-right European movements, which have neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic roots. 

Many experts have long argued that Europe’s anti-Semitic legacy is one of the reasons for the establishment of Israel. 

The European Council’s decision has been heavily and incongruously lobbied by Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the rotating President of the Council, whose coalition partner, the Freedom Party, has its roots in a movement founded by anti-Semitic neo-Nazis.  

The European Jewish Congress (EJC), one of the most powerful Jewish lobbying organisations, has also embraced the recent EU declaration as “unprecedented” in the fight against anti-Semitism. 

“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,” is considered anti-Semitism, according to the IHRA’s working definition. 

Israel was established in Palestinian territory and the people of Palestine have called the State of Israel an occupying entity from the very beginning of its existence. In response, Israel has constantly denied the UN-approved Palestinian right to self determination, laying claim to the land by citing biblical texts

“Contrary to the self-determination and contrary to the historical trend against colonialism, Israel was established as a settler-colonial state at the very top when colonialism in the world context was collapsing and losing war after war,” said Richard Falk, a prominent American international law professor, during an interview with TRT World in December 2017. 

Palestinians and other nations also charge Israel with many discriminatory policies and actions in the occupied territories. 

“What Israel has done now in this period is to establish an apartheid structure where the Jews rule over Palestinians and exploit them in different ways: as a minority within Israel, as an occupied people within West Bank and Gaza, as a refugee population in the Arab world, and as involuntary exiles in the other parts of the world,” Falk told TRT World. 

Source: TRT World