Statement of Principles:


The Definition of Antisemitism

JVL Note, 19 May, 08.30

We have had many interesting and thought-provoking comments on our work on the definition of antisemitism, especially on the accompanying notes. We welcome this engagement. We have temporarily removed the definition whilst we review these inputs; it will reappear shortly.


26 comments to The Definition of Antisemitism

  • Michael Westcombe

    Thank you so much for this. It has long been needed.

  • Sue Blackwell

    Very good! But please change “verbal or written statements” to “oral or written statements”/ “spoken or written statements”. All statements are verbal if they are made using words! Sorry to be pedantic but I am a linguist by profession ….

  • Robert Macaulay

    What leaves me confused is that you open your statement with “Antisemitism is a form of racism.” What is the Semitic ‘race’? As I understand things, being jewish is a religious choice. No one talks of the baptist race, or the hindu race. All religions all a belief in a deity, so where is the cross over to race?
    This is a genuine enquiry as I do not know if I am missing something.

    • Mike Scott

      Yes, you are missing something! When the Nazis were deciding who to murder, they didn’t stop to ask if the person was religious, it was enough that they weere ethnically Jewish – or indeed, had one ethnically Jewish grandparent. that’s why Jews who had converted to Christianity were also murdered.

      • Andree Ryan

        So you agree with the Nazis that Judaism is a race? or an ethnicity?

        “An ethnic group, or an ethnicity, is a category of people who identify with each other based on similarities such as common ancestry, language, history, society, culture or nation.” my family who are Arab Jews have not the same ethnicity than an Ashkenazi jew from Russia

        i think we must differentiate between religion and race/ethnicity

  • Gill McCall

    I like it, thank you

  • Anthony Grove

    I agree with and welcome what you have produced here, thank you.

  • Martin Davidson

    The concept of the “Jewish race” is basically a Zionist myth. For much more information, read Schlomo Sand’s “The Invention of the Jewish People”. (Unfortunately, this is not an easy book to read – it needs some drastic editing – but as far as I know, it is the best collection of facts debunking the race myth.)

  • Dr Brian Robinson

    Excellent statement. Good point from Sue Blackwell 😉

  • Jed Bland

    It is pretty clear now that what is portrayed as antisemitism in the UK Labour Party is in fact good British Socialists being pissed off with the Israelis using unarmed Palestinians for target practice.

  • There is a confusion here: The opening statement ‘Antisemitism is a form of racism: hatred, hostility, discrimination or prejudice against Jews because they are Jews.’ is the definition. The rest is how this racism manifests itself. I prefer Brian Klug’s neater definition that:

    ‘antisemitism is a form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are.’

  • Michael John Miller

    Thank you for this but I have one question I would very much appreciate you addressing. That is the question of being the chosen race. I find this inherently racist if it were a white supremacist group I would feel free to oppose them but when I raise this with some Jewish groups I am accused of antisemitism? Please can you address this matter?

  • Rachel Lever

    Good work, but I’d much prefer to see in No.4 “actions of the Israeli State”, as that has permanence and continuity whereas governments are changing, especially Israeli coalition governments. Even the word “actions” sidesteps certain fundamental aspects of the Israeli state and what it accepts as a constitution, and I’d rather it was not there.

  • Brian Warshaw

    This certainly has my support.

  • Shimin Wong

    Hi, how would you counter some of the arguments made against Bds?

  • Dave

    I agree with others who take issue with the use of ‘racism’ and would just say:

    Antisemitism is hatred, hostility, discrimination or prejudice against Jews because they are Jews.

    The Brian Klug definition is great, as Tony G says, but you really need to read Klug’s lecture:


    As Klug says:
    “Today, in its usual, everyday employment, ‘antisemitism’ covers a broad spectrum of attitudes and actions that target Jews, whether those actions and attitudes are based in biological racism or not.”

  • A large part of the problem that people like us, on the left, are having in discussing antisemitism is because there is no generally accepted understanding of what antisemitism is, and an assumption that it’s a form of racism and that, therefore, the anti-racist left cannot possibly be antisemitic.

    But apart from a few crackpots (although a surprising number of them do seem to have emerged of late), left-wing antisemites are in the main, not racist. But there was antisemitism before there was 20th century anti-Jewish racism. And there is still antisemitism of different sorts, long after disgust with Nazi-style racism, and overt racism of any sort, became part of the mental and emotional furniture of all half-way decent people, and especially of left-wing people.

    For centuries, antisemitism was a Christian phenomenon: the Jews killed Christ (so the story went) and, as a result, Jews ever since have endorsed the rejection of the Saviour and the guilt of their forebears.

    “Who condemned Jesus Christ to death? Pontius Pilate did it as the desire of the Jews” — that response only recently ceased to be part of the catechism taught to Catholic children. The basic idea, and spinoffs from it, are still there.

    But we’re not racists! We love the Jews! All they have to do in order to be accepted by Christian society is to reject their faith and convert to Christianity! It was not about race, eugenics, or (as Hitler would put it in the twentieth century), “blood”: contemporary left antisemites mainly recoil from Nazi-style anti-Jewish racism, but they do recycle earlier Christian antisemitism, in secular, ideological form: all the Jews of today have to do in order to be accepted is renounce and denounce Zionism and Israel. Once they’ve done that, they’re welcome into the fold of the left. The cry goes out, “We’re not being anti-Jewish when we denounce Israel, but anti-Zionist”. And sometimes, at this point, you get the addition: “By the way, I am myself Jewish”.

    The militant anti-racist (and non-Zionist) Jew, Steve Cohen, in his pamphlet (that I strongly recommend) That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti Semitic expressed his disgust at this “disloyalty test” set by the left (in this particular case, by the union NATFHE – forerunner of the UCU) for Jews, comparing it to the McCarthy “loyalty test”:

    The question of course was whether [Ring Lardner] was or had ever been a member of the Communist Party. To which he replied “I could answer the question exactly the way you want , but if I did I would hate myself in the morning”.

    I am sure Lardner, whatever his position on Zionism (if he had one) would have responded in exactly the same way to the resolution passed at the NATFHE conference which calls for a “a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from” Israeli governmental policies towards Palestinians. It is this imposition of a loyalty test which is so reminiscent of McCarthyism. And of course Lardner did not stand alone. The playwright Lillian Hellman famously said “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions”. The fact that this year’s fashion – support for the Palestinians – is to be supported whereas old fashioned anti-communism is to be condemned – is irrelevant. The issue here is loyalty tests. It is being forced into making an open and public political statement not out of principle but out of blackmail.

    Loyalty tests have a particular significance when forced on Jews. The significance is the assumption of collective responsibility, of collective guilt. Intrinsic to this is the requirement to grovel. Groveling, the humiliation of Jews, is fundamental to all anti-semitism. Degradation ceremonies are central to Jew-hatred. Remember those shocking images of Nazi Berlin where rabbis were forced to scrub pavements. Likewise it was central to McCarthyism.

    I should add that this criticism applies (in my opinion) to “leftist” and “anti-Zionist” Jewish organisations like Jewish Voice for Labour and the Jewish Socialist Group (of which Steve Cohen was a somewhat dissident member), whose zeal in upholding the traditions of the Bund against Zionism often seems to blind them to real instances of antisemitism. It also seems to create a strange mindset in which these comrades seem to think that there’s something particularly sinister and/or outrageous when the Tories of the Jewish Board of Deputies act like any other Tories, or the Labour Zionists of the Jewish Labour Movement, act like Labour Zionists.

  • Naomi Wayne

    Sorry to be much less enthusiastic, but considerably more work is needed.

    Tony Greenstein is right – Sentence 1 is the definition, while sentence 2 is how the phenomenon which Sentence 1 is supposed to be defining manifests itself.

    But then, within Sentence 1, you use different types of concept. Thus, of your list of four – hatred, hostility, discrimination and prejudice – the third is qualitatively different. The others are about attitudes, while discrimination itself has a definition of ‘less favourable treatment’, which may or may not arise out of hatred etc.

    Sentence 2 is to some degree tautologous – it’s supposed to be about how antisemitism manifests itself, but uses one of the categories contained in the first sentence viz ‘discrimination’. This produces the result that ‘discrimination’ manifests itself as ‘discrimination.

    Also in the second sentence, there is some legalism – ‘direct, indirect or institutional discrimination’ – which needs unpacking. Direct discrimination means treating someone less favourably – ‘N0 JEWS HERE’. Indirect discrimination means applying a condition which disproportionately adversely impacts on a category of people and cannot be justified: ‘SATURDAY WORKING IS COMPULSORY’ is likely to be indirectly discriminatory against some Jews at least. Institutional discrimination is a term generally used by non lawyers instead of indirect discrimination, though it is used more loosely very often and is therefore less precise.

    Again in the second sentence, the manifestations are on different levels. Violence involves physical or verbal assault; denial of rights may be relate to moral rights, legal rights, individual rights, collective rights, and itself includes a concept – rights – which needs unpacking; discrimination I have already dealt with; ‘prejudiced-based behaviour, is again, tautologous as prejudice turns up both as the phenomenon and the way it manifests itself; and finally ‘verbal or written statements’ is simply about categories.

    And the final sentence which says that ‘Such manifestations draw on stereotypes’ is plainly irrelevant to indirect discrimination, where the less favourable treatment may be extremely damaging but born of ignorance or is unconscious, not drawing on stereotypes at all. Nor do verbal or written statements draw on stereotypes unless they draw on stereotypes, which not all verbal or written statements do.

    Too tired to go through the notes in the same way, but, anyway, I think the definition needs some rethinking first.

  • Gill Brown

    Nice one I can work with this.

  • Gren Gaskell

    Can’t see the right getting bogged down in semantics. The truth needs to be simple and clear and that should not be too difficult in this situation. The conservatives in Britain have always been better at telling lies than the left is at telling the truth and the lie travels a long way before the truth gets its trousers on.

  • Charli Langford

    Gren – it’s true that the right don’t get bogged down in semantics, but that doesn’t mean we should take the same attitude. The whole basis of right-wing behaviour is that the stronger should dominate, and arguments about what anti-semitism is don’t matter to them; such discussions are an ideological justification attempt of them simply asserting their power. We believe fundamentally in equality and in justifications of views on a moral/ethical basis, so the semantics matter. I appreciate some of the problems raised in these comments, but I think the definition is a very useful starting place and can – as it stands – be used to combat the assertions and accusations of the Labour right and others

  • Naomi Wayne

    It wasnt semantics when a barrister commissioned by JJP, IJV, FSOI and PSC comprehensively dismantled the IHRA so-called definition of antisemitism. And it isn’t semantics to point out that while there is much valuable in the draft definition above, it has conflated and confused some very different concepts. If JVL wants to secure the high ground with a workable definition of antisemitism that is resistant to criticism far more profound than semantics, and that it can persuade a broad spectrum of people and organisations to adopt, then more thinking is needed. I am not suggesting throwing out what has been achieved so far, just recognising it is still very much a work in progress.

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