Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Apartheid and “Abhorrent” Discourse

On Monday the 11th of February, blogger David Collier addressed around fifty people in Bush House in a talk entitled “Is anti-Zionism the same as anti-Semitism?”

In direct response to the question, Mr Collier replied: “I think the question is self-defeating and self-harming: the answer is no. Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are different things… it’s all about defining the terms.”

Despite this conclusion, he shared the opinion of Israel Society co-President, Simon Moos, who said: “there is a close link between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.”

Mr Collier asserted that: “if you accept the fact that Israel exists: you are a Zionist.” He justified this by defining Zionism as “the idea that Jews constitute a people and they have a right to self-determination in their homeland… historic Israel.”

Where Mr Collier linked anti-Semitism to anti-Zionism was in the practical manifestations of anti-Israel protest.

By going undercover in a keffiyeh, the checkered scarf associated with Palestinian nationalism, Mr Collier measured the prevalence of anti-Semitic tropes at demonstrations.

According to his data, 40% of anti-Israel demonstrators in London and half in Glasgow and Edinburgh believed and propagated major racist canards.

These included holocaust denial and conspiracy theories of both Rothschild financial domination and Israeli/Jewish plots to rule the world through acts like the assassination of President Kennedy.

A critique of the BDS movement

Mr Collier addressed the Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement and claimed: “everything about it is for the destruction of Israel” and the problem with it is that “Israel’s guilt is assumed.”

Discussing an event at Goldsmiths, Mr Collier described the event as so one-sided and ahistorical it was “Narnia stuff”.

When asked about how to approach those opposing Israel’s right to exist, Mr Collier offered a resigned response characteristic of such polarising issues.

“All you can do is tactically improve the way you respond to the accusations,” Mr Collier said.

“If you run into a serious BDS activist… don’t even bother engaging with them. How can you change their mind?”

The speaker argued that anti-Zionism is also often anti-Semitic in practice because Israel is criticised so singularly compared to other nations with worse human rights records.

He evidenced his claim by citing statistics from the UN’s Human Rights Council that condemned Israel 62 times from 2006 to 2015.

On the other hand, there was not one condemnation of Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, Egypt or Venezuela in these years.

In his understanding, it is “unarguable [that] Israel is the most free nation in the Middle East”.

He claimed that Israel is only “the most picked-on” because “it works: the alliances and groups will form”.

University engagement with the issues of Israel and anti-Semitism 

This debate has come at a time when discourse around the Israel/Palestine issue and its linguistic limits at universities is reaching a fever pitch.

On the 21st of January, UCLSU voted to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.

This definition, also not entirely accepted by the Labour Party until September 2018, includes “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” and “requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

Adversely, KCL Action Palestine advocates BDS and seeks “to end our own institution’s complicity in the illegal occupation of Palestine” in pursuit of “freedom, justice, equality and an end to apartheid.”

King’s Principle Ed Byrne recently claimed he “abhorred” the existence of Israel Apartheid week.

He celebrated the “positive relationship” the College has with “Israeli universities and Israel generally,” and claimed that “academic relationships with Israel are essential and non-negotiable; they’re part of our DNA at King’s, and I believe they should be part of every university’s DNA”.

In response to his stance, anonymous memes personally attacking the Principal have been printed and pinned across the College.

The apartheid question

The term ‘apartheid’ and its applicability regarding Israel is a fiercely debated topic.

According to a report from the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley: “Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.”

Many reject this accusation, such as journalist Benjamin Pogrund, who spent decades writing on South African apartheid.

Similarly, Canadian political scientist Anne Bayefsky opposed the apartheid analogy and claimed it has been used to internationally delegitimise Israel.

A UN-sponsored report found Israeli policy regarding Palestinians to be commensurate with apartheid and colonialism, yet the IHRA definition deems both of these accusations to be anti-Semitic.

It is crucial that the College clarifies its position about the language used to discuss this issue.

If the IHRA definition is to be followed to the letter, then any accusation against Israel of apartheid or colonialism is anti-Semitic and must be investigated.

If the College finds that these accusations are not inherently anti-Semitic, this rejection of the IHRA definition must be officially expressed.

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