Criticism of Israel Is Not Antisemitism

Eddie Whyte takes issue with the Dublin government supporting Israeli censorship via the muzzle of anti-Semitism. 

The Irish government’s support for a new definition of antisemitism which includes equating criticism of Israeli government policies with antisemitism is a real threat not only to the fight against the blight that is antisemitism but to freedom of expression and the campaign for Palestinian rights. It is definitively a step in the wrong direction and must not be allowed to become official policy and incorporated into Irish law.

Open conflict has broken out in the Jewish community in Britain with Israeli government supporters slandering fellow Jews with accusations of antisemitism. The backdrop to the bizarre conflict is a new definition of antisemitism launched by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) where the Irish government is one of the 31 member states represented.

The IHRA describes itself as an alliance to coordinate and “strengthen the moral commitment of societies and to combat growing Holocaust denial and antisemitism.” Member delegations are a mixture of government officials and academic experts on the Holocaust.

Career diplomat Martina Feeney is the head of the Irish delegation which includes several other representatives from government departments as well as academics and representatives from the Irish Jewish Museum, Holocaust Education Trust of Ireland and the Herzog Centre.

The IHRA document that has created so much unrest in the UK consists of a “new” definition of antisemitism, which is in itself relatively unproblematic. The controversial core of the conflict however is the use of so-called “contemporary examples of antisemitism” which allow for criticism of the state of Israel to be classified as antisemitism – a move which totally ostracizes the massive opposition by Jewish people both internally in Israel and worldwide to certain Israeli state policies, not least the occupation of Palestine. Attaching the blight of antisemitism to criticism of the nation state of Israel is definitively a step in the wrong direction. 

Attaching the blight of antisemitism to criticism of the nation state of Israel

Liberty – the UK human rights organization previously known as the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) – has expressed great concern, stating that the IHRA document poses a real threat to freedom of expression. At its Annual General Meeting in May this year, it warned public bodies not to adopt this definition of antisemitism “because it brings confusion to the fight against anti-Jewish prejudice as well as constituting a threat to freedom of expression.” Even attorney Kenneth Stern, a key person in IHRA’s work on the new definition, has warned that it is being used to “encourage punishment of legitimate expressions of political opinion”. 


The IHRA maintain that the formulation of a “new” definition was necessary given the differing perceptions internationally of what constitutes antisemitism and how it manifests itself. According to the organization, the so-called “examples” are separate from the definition itself, but merely provide instances of how antisemitism can easier be identified. And yet it has now become abundantly clear that the definition and the accompanying examples are being used as part of a deliberate campaign to stifle opposition to the Israeli occupation. Ireland has not yet adopted the IHRA definition into law, nor should we. Photo: Eddie Whyte

The United Kingdom was the first state to approve the IHRA document as its official definition of antisemitism and Israel followed suit a few months later. In both countries, it is currently being used to target organizations which are critical of Israel and support Palestinian rights. Israeli government supporters have, for example, urged the UK authorities to ban the annual “Israel Apartheid Week” and the Palestinian led international Boycott Divest Sanctions (BDS) campaign which they accuse of antisemitism according to the new guidelines.

The last year has seen the British Labour party under massive, sustained pressure amid repeated accusations of antisemitism brought to bear by the zealots actively quoting the IHRA to challenge Corbyn’s leadership of the party. It is no coincidence that Corbyn’s record of supporting Palestinian rights is second to none.

The Israeli government “hasbara” propaganda campaign to portray human rights organizations and pro-Palestinian supporters as antisemites has been on-going for many years. Last year, the news channel Al Jazeera documented how the Israeli Embassy in London collaborated with leading figures in both the Conservative and Labour parties to undermine their own parties from within and to “take down” elected representatives who did not follow the Israeli line regarding the occupation of Palestine. Now, the campaign against those who criticize Israel government policy has reached deep into the Jewish community in London.

The controversial Nation State Act, passed by a small number of votes in the Israeli Knesset earlier this year, was met with major demonstrations in Tel Aviv, supported by opposition parties, human rights organizations and non-Jewish minorities in the country. The law has been met with a wave of international criticism with its staunchest critics stating that the new legislation is yet another confirmation of Israel’s status as an “apartheid state” and that the law is racist.
Israel’s occupation of Palestine continues unabated Photo: Eddie Whyte

Among the more moderate critics in London is Sheila Gewolb, Vice President of the British Board of Deputies of British Jews, a respected organization that is part of the World Jewish Congress. In a rare intervention in internal Israeli politics, Gewolb declared the law a step in the wrong direction. Her concerns garnered support from others in the Jewish community in London, including the New Israel Fund, Yachad and religious leaders like Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner.

The statement led to open attacks on Gewolb, and the Jewish Chronicle recently reported a campaign to censure the vice president accusing her of “antisemitism,” with the IHRA document being quoted to justify the accusations against her. The two deputies who were pushing for a no confidence vote against Gewolb are now themselves subject to a “motion of censure” for supposedly bringing their own organization into disrepute. It is positively Orwellian.

In addition to Britain and Israel, the governments of Austria, Romania, Germany, Bulgaria and Lithuania have now all adopted the IHRA document. In June 2017, the European Parliament called on member states to do the same – without discussing or problematizing the so-called “contemporary examples” which have created such chaos in the London Jewish community.

Although it long been a part of Israeli government strategy to absurdly denounce critics of Israel’s occupation of Palestine as antisemites, it is now being done with the IHRA document in hand – and the targeting is now extended to include Jewish critics of Netanyahu’s right wing government.

Recently the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP), representing thirty unions and three million members from all over Europe, stated that there is strong evidence that the IHRA working definition is already being used in practice “to restrict, outlaw and criminalize…peaceful efforts for Israel’s respect of Palestinian human rights.” 

Three million union members say no Photo: Eddie Whyte

The IHRA, in which the Irish people are represented by several government departments including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is now being used by the Israeli government as part of a cynical policy to cower domestic and international critics into submission.

Ireland has not yet adopted the “new” document into law and nor should we. It is a damaging step in the wrong direction not only to the fight against antisemitism, freedom of speech and civil liberties at home but also the right of the Palestinian people to raise their voices in protest at the forced occupation of their homeland.

Eddie Whyte blogs @ Solidarity With The People Of Palestine.


  1. The IHRA definition does not preclude criticism of the brutality of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of the Gaza Strip, the Nation State Law or any other legitimate criticism of any Israeli government. it does class as antisemitic denial of the right to national self-determination of Jews and therein denial of the right of the State of Israel to exist.

  2. Barry, I supported Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, both Jews, for President of US. And I am all for the EU and the USA as a place for Jewish people, among others, to live, work and prosper. But I am opposed to all forms of American and European crusades (religious, military and commercial) in the Middle East and elsewhere. And I would even support carving a province from Germany for Jews as penance for the industrial genocide they committed against European Jews. But I would never have supported the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and regard it as another British cock up. And I have never supported the State of Israel's occupation (benign or brutal) of Palestine, or its repeated invasions and attacks on Syria and Lebanon, anymore than I support Britain and the US's attacks on Iraq, or Britain's occupation of Ireland, or the US occupation of Puerto Rico or Guam, etc. And I don't support theocracy anywhere be it Muslim, Christian or Jewish. And think that all theocracy should be regime changed (preferably peacefully) anywhere it exists. But me thinks I would be prosecuted by such a law not because I am antisemitic, but because I am politically opposed to the right-wing Zionism (Christian and Jewish) which sponsors such laws. So best not to outlaw any speech at all, even speech you don't like, better instead to just combat it with other more enlightened speech.

  3. Barry - that is a good reason to ignore the totalitarian views of the IHA. There can not possibly be something wrong with ethical opposition to the existence of the state of Israel on the grounds of the Nakba. In my view you should support the right to dissent and refute outright the IHA position.

  4. Barry,
    I watched both aljazeera documentaries on Israeli lobbying power. The tactics of Zionist groups, caught on camera, are remarkable similar to yours. Are you a member of said groups.?

  5. David

    No I am not and it is a slur on my character to suggest that I am.

  6. AM, Eoghan, David

    Some background to the IHRA is useful here.

    The IHRA came out of the EUMC (European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, now the Agency For Fundamental Rights[FRA] "Working Definition of Antisemitism. The definition emerged out of the split between the global antiracist movement on the one hand and Jewish-led opposition to antisemitism on the other. This split crystallised at the September 2001 Durban World Conference against Racism where there was a largely successful attempt to construct Zionism as the major manifestation of racism in the world (David Hirsch, 2018 Contemporary Left Antisemitism Routledge p.136)

    At that week long conference which consisted of a UN Intergovernmental Forum and a parallel NGO conference, there was a an organised and hostile anti-Israel fervour throughout. Some of this sentiment was expressed in legitimate antiracist language, some of it was antisemitic couched in the language of ostensible antiracism and democracy and some of it was expressed explicitly antisemitic form (Hirsch, p.142)

    One contemporary account of the NGO conference published, by ICARE, a European antiracist NGO in attendance at it describes people who protested against the hijacking of meetings on antisemitism by pro-Palestinian activists being called "Zionist pigs lovers" and "Jew lovers". It also describes slogans being carried at the big 1st September demo such as "Kill all the Jews" and "the good things Hitler did; a demo whose dominant theme was Free Palestine. (Hirsch, pp.141-42)

    Jewish NGOs then turned to European IGOs such as the OCSE and EU and helped to formulate the EUMC definition which was originally intended to be a template for police forces and antiracist campaigners for use on the streets. The UK All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism in 2005 recommended its adoption as did a number of similar initiatives around the world. The IHRA adopted a variant later and it was formally adopted by the UK government in December 2016 to be followed in its train by the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly and numerous local authorities (Hirsch, p.144)

    The IHRA definition does differentiate between legitimate and antisemitic criticisms of Israel in the following ways. Examples of the latter are 'accusing Israel of exaggerating or inventing the Holocaust' and 'accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel than to their own nations' Taking into account "the overall context" it offers the following examples of potential antisemitism:

    (1) Holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel.

    (2) Comparing contemporary Israeli govt policies to those of the Nazis.

    (3) Invoking classic antisemitic tropes and symbols (e.g. Jews as Christ-killers and blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis

    (4) Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g by claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

    However, the definition makes clear that 'criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic' (Hirsch, p.140).

    So I see nothing totalitarian with a definition of antisemitism drawn up by Jewish antiracist advocacy groups not by the Israeli govt or embassies. Tel Mama, the body which monitors anti-Muslim violence and hate speech in the UK, sees the IHRA definition of antisemitism as a useful template for definition of Islamophobia.

    Lastly, it is worth pointing out that the BDS campaign was not initiated by Palestinians but by British people who wished to boycott Israel who later became active in the setting up of the British Campaign for the Universities of Palestine and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel ([PACBI); not just settlement goods.

  7. Barry,

    Do you ever relax? And stop with the slur on your whatever nonsense. You called me a few things, then you said sorry only to have a sly dig with your "Get out of jail free card because you have a friend/relative" remark...

    Grow a pair of balls. It is the internet. Go to your fridge and open a tube of beer and listen to music and be thankful you wake up each day with more than 3/4of the world and 100%more than Palestinians have...

  8. Barry - that would make a better article than a comment.

    But it has no negative impact whatsoever on the justness of the case to oppose the existence of the state of Israel on grounds of conscientious objection because of the Nakba: much as people had every right to oppose the existence of South Africa as a white supremacist apartheid regime.

    It is totalitarian because it manufactures a position and then demands that people will conform to it or be labelled anti-Semite.

    In my view you should be supporting the democratic right to dissent rather than the totalitarian demand to acquiesce.

    The Israelis very much remind me of the Nazis in their brutal violence, their war crimes, their use of torture, their racism, their expansionism, their land grab, their lack of accountability, their destructiveness. Am I to deny what I see? Am I to be censored from expressing in a rational manner what I see or at least what I think I see and be silenced with the anti-Semitic gag? I am not anti-Semitic.

    "An anti-Semite used to be a person who disliked Jews. Now it is a person who Jews dislike." Dr. Hajo Myer. A holocaust survivor who emerged from Auschwitz - is he an anti-Semite too?

  9. AM

    I guess we will have to agree to disagree on the legitimacy of the origins of the State of Israel. The Nakba was a traumatic and transformative event for the Palestinian people. It may not have happened had the Palestinian leadership accepted the UN Partition Plan for Mandate Palestine which would have created an independent Jewish majority state and an independent Arab majority state; the two-state solution which the whole world craves for.

  10. Barry - it is not about the legitimacy of the Israeli state. It is about the anti-pluralist stance of labelling as anti-Semitic conscientious objection to the legitimacy of that state. It matters not that the war crime of the Nakba might not had happened if only ... It did happen. Hitler might not have built the gas chambers if only ... He did build them.

  11. AM

    I wonder if ethical or conscientious objection to the states of India and Pakistan as Hindu and Muslim majority states conceived after the inter-communal massacres of 1947 would be considered anti-Hindu and anti-Muslim.

    Is it anti-Muslim and and anti-Arab to ethically oppose virtually every state in the MENA on the grounds that they are dictatorships who persecute women and national minorities like the Kurds and, in the case of Syria, genocide their own people?

    My answer to all these questions is "N0"

  12. Barry,
    Explain how that's an attack or slur on yourself.

  13. Barry - there is no IHA equivalent trying to label people as Islamophobic if they do conscientiously object to the existence of Pakistan. Pakistan seceded from India - it did not go on a land grab of another people's land. Muslims from Europe did not flock into Pakistan to suppress the people living there, nor did they do likewise in 71 regarding Bangladesh.

    The bottom line is do people or do they not have the right to conscientiously dissent from the IHA demand that everybody must recognise the legitimacy of Israel without being labelled an anti-Semite? The question is not very complicated.

  14. AM

    You have the right to call into question the circumstances of Israel's birth and to call Israel a settler-colonialist/racist enterprise. I have an equal right to contest that description by asserting that both Jewish and Palestinian Arabs are have ancestral claims to historic Palestine and to explain how (without claiming to speak on their behalf) how many Jews may find opposition to the existence of the State of Israel coming from a place of antisemitism (93% of British Jews identify with the State of Israel in some form which does not equivocate to supporting everything that Israel does).

    Anthony, you are under no obligation to abide by the IHRA definition nor do I seek to impose any such on you. By virtue on my membership of the British Labour Party, I am signed up to it as our democratically elected National Executive Committee (NEC) has adopted it as Party policy (good old party democracy Jezza!). I was very happy to speak in favour of its adoption by my local Borough Council at its last full meeting which unanimously adopted it save for one abstention.


    If you can clarify exactly what you meant by saying that "my tactics are ... remarkably similar to those of [those] Zionist groups caught on camera. then I may revise my "slur" comment.

  15. Barry,

    despite my partner's son's marriage to an Israeli woman (and the grave distress experienced, by both her and I, over the mutilation of her grandson's genitalia) the politics and conflicts of the Middle-East are not something I'd claim I'm passionate about nor indeed intimately familiar with.

    Yet like David Higgins, I did watch the recent Aljazeera documentary on media manipulation of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in the US media. Several professors from mainstream American Universities credibly pointed to a coached responses by Israeli politicians and their American lobbyists. Those responses appeared deceitfully orchestrated and ironically, to my mind, blatantly Goebbelesque.

    Albeit coming from an acknowledged and somewhat less than fully informed position on these matters I remain curious as to how you reconcile your position with that formulated, proposed and unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council in Resolution 242 way back in Nov. 1967?

    Any stance which doesn't factor in Resolution 242 must, must it not, lack moral authority and hence sustainable validity?

  16. Barry, you said: “The IHRA definition does differentiate between legitimate and antisemitic criticisms of Israel in the following ways. Examples of the latter are 'accusing Israel of exaggerating or inventing the Holocaust' and 'accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel than to their own nations'”

    But the Israeli government does misuse & exploit past Jewish suffering for its own political ends. Just hear what this Jewish American Brother Nathanael says about such opinion “crimes”:

    How to Survive The Holocaust

    The 'Holocaust Denial' Debate

    And read what Norman Finklestein, child of Holocaust survivors. wrote about this:

    Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History

    The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering

    And who could forget Jonathan Pollard for putting Israel first:

    Jonathan Jay Pollard (born August 7, 1954) is a former intelligence analyst for the United States government. In 1987, as part of a plea agreement, Pollard pleaded guilty to spying for and providing top-secret classified information to Israel. He was sentenced to life in prison for violations of the Espionage Act.[1]

    Therefore, under this IHRA definition you trumpet Nathanael & Finklestein could be prosecuted for saying all this. And I could be prosecuted for merely re-publishing what they said and for mentioning Mr. Pollard here. As an atheist I say God save the British Labour Party before they jail us all.

  17. Barry - you have a right to believe what you wish. What I am asking is do you really feel you have a right to label as anti-Semitic someone who conscientiously dissents from the legitimacy of the state of Israel on the grounds of moral revulsion at the Nakba, the war crimes or the widespread and persistent persecution of the Palestinians?

  18. Henry Joy

    I totally support UN Resolution 242 and (like most of the world community) support a two-state solution based on 1967 boundaries. There is no contradiction between advocacy of the IHRA definition and calling for Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and and end to settlements in the context of a comprehensive settlement which was so nearly achieved at the end of the last millennium.


    I do not regard your dissent from the legitimacy of the State of Israel on those grounds as antisemitic. All I would say is that any discussion on the creation of the State of Israel has to factor in the transformative effect of the Holocaust on the Jewish people. Antizionism is not of itself antisemitic in the traditional and overtly racist sense of the term but too often it segues into it as the recent travails of the Labour Party on antisemitism shows.

    In any case the IHRA definition is declaratory rather than statutory in its effect so no one should fear jail if they dissent from it. But why shouldn't those groups who are directly affected by racism and prejudice be the ones to take the lead in defining it and its particular manifestations? Shouldn't people of African and Afro-Caribbean heritage be experts on racism based on skin colour on the bases of lived and historical experience?

  19. Barry - it should factor in the Holocaust but not in a compulsory sense. It should also be free to factor in the use of the Holocaust as a strategy of legitimisation against the Palestinians and criticism of the Israeli state.

    I don't think people should fear jail but they might have things to fear if such a labeling strategy was to gain sway.

    I don't subscribe to the notion of those who experience something necessarily being at the lead in describing what it is: Christians claiming persecution when people challenge their arrogance; Muslims claiming persecution because someone draws a cartoon. Let them take the lead and we quickly see where it takes us. It is like victims' justice.

    Why homogenise these groups of people and assign a single voice to them? We have seem the dangers of that within the Muslim community. And you don't have to buy into that notion when it comes to Northern nationalists. Foundational myths often come to shape a narrative of persecution.

    The experience of people is always crucial but for it to be understood better and for society to have a much more accurate grasp of it rather than a PC understanding, any claims have to engage with other arguments and evidence.

  20. AM

    I totally endorse what you say.

    But I need to say it is a choice to be a Christian, Muslim or any other faith group; therefore not# right to be offended or to police freedom of expression or internal cultural values.

    Skin colour and ethnicity are different though as one is born with those attributes. Accordingly they do have an a priori right to point pout and to be listened to about institutional racism in the Met Police, mental health system and football administratkion to name just three life domains in the UK and in the US prison system.

  21. Barry,
    The speech pattern was similar, i.e saying you're for a two state solution while supporting institutions that make such eventuality impossible. In the documentary they were far more candid about their true objectives unaware they were being recorded. I heard it and thought of you. If you're not a member, you're not a member. Revising any comment is irrelevant to me. If you're offended by a question, you're offended. I don't know what else to say.

  22. David

    I have not seen that documentary but in what way have I supported institutions that have made a two-state solution impossible?

  23. Barry - skin colour nor ethnicity gives people poll position to speak about injustice that they feel they experience. The intellectual quality of their argument and coherence of their logic is what gives people that place. Their experience cannot be understood without them having a serious input but victims logic can be on a par with victims justice. They may be the first witness for the prosecution but that does not necessarily mean the first is the best.

  24. AM

    The danger of that logic is that others can arrogate to themselves the right to speak on behalf of the marginalised group. This has been the case in the disability sphere where people with disabilities (in my case neuro-diverse conditions) sometimes resent the paternalism of medical and education professional led charities like SCOPE and the National Autistic Society. The biopic of Ian Dury really brought out this dynamic.

  25. Barry - that will only happen if there is arrogance on the part of the "expert".

    The logic suggested does not rule out the marginalised speaking, nor does it rule in the expert speaking on their behalf without their approval.

    What it does do is to recognise that experience has to be validated by the person who has undergone it but that such validation does not fully explain the totality of the experience, but only how it was experienced. And that can be highly subjective.

    In a bid to avoid marginalisation and rule by experts it is not advisable to hand the power of veto to the victim. Theirs should be the power of description.

    There are many instances where as Napoleon said among the oppressed are many who like to oppress. That element might not be forthcoming from people explaining their oppression at the hands of somebody else. It ignores the dialectic and the manner in which their own behaviour might have fed into the loop.

  26. Barry,
    In my opinion you're doing it right now. The pushing of the ihra definition. For me the ihra definition is a blatant tactic to curtail criticism of Israel. Take the comparing Israel to Nazis. Nazis have become synonymous with war crimes. if you commit war crimes you should expect comparisons with Nazis. Exempting Israel from this under the pretence of hate crimes hinders pro Palestine groups agitation campaigns. Appealing to Jewish people by drawing comparisons to their government and the Nazis should be a legitimate tactic hate crimes have nothing to do with it and such definitions in some level help justify Israeli violence

  27. David - I think that nails it concisely.

  28. David

    Nazism is synonymous with genocide which is a distinct crime in international law and which is why in the scholarship relating to genocide and related crimes against humanity Nazism is grouped alongside Rwanda, Bosnia, the Armenian genocide, the Khmer Rouge, Darfur and, in my opinion, the Royingha ethnic cleansing in Burma. Israel/Palestine does not feature in that catalogue because Israeli crimes do not hall within the parameters of the 1948 Genocide Convention.

    More appropriate comparators for Israeli actions are the conduct of US/UK forces in Iraq and in the War on Terror, conduct of the British state in NI, French in Algeria, US in Vietnam, the Indonesian occupation of the Western region of Papua New Guinea and the massacre of 40,000 people by the Sri Lankan government in its crushing of the Tamil Tigers in 2009. I will not the Saudi coalition war crimes in Yemen and Assad's brutality in Syria as neither are democracies.

  29. Barry - there are people pressing all the time against a powerful lobby to have the Israeli treatment of Palestinians considered genocide. The Center for Constitutional Rights being just one advocacy body.

    For those who genuinely feel that war criminals inhabit a genre of their own, then it is fair to draw comparison between Nazi war crimes and Israeli war crimes. Are we really going to be that picky over what war criminals are better than others? The Israeli foundational myth holds that the Jews are the world’s premier victims of war crimes. And if the Jewish state is itself a perpetrator of war crimes, the propaganda is weakened and the image sullied. The more people come to see Israel and Nazi war crimes as a litter from the same beast, the greater the pressure on Israel to desist.

    There are major differences but war crimes is what unites them.

  30. Barry- you're argument is flawed. You quote international bodies as if they're sacrosanct. You ignore the self interest of humanity. It's got to the point where debating this topic with you is pointless. You call yourself anti racist, you wouldn't know the meaning of the term. Your every comment elevates one section of society above another. Some how the contraction is lost on you.