by Martin Odoni

Former Labour MP Chris Williamson has written a piece for The Morning Star, in which he criticises Keir Starmer, AKA The greyest political leader since John Major, for taking an unequivocal and unashamed stance of pro-Zionism. Well worth a read.

One detail Chris points to that I think is worth dwelling on is this one; –

‘UN resolution 3379, that was passed in 1975, holds that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”

Which is perfectly true. (Before I go any further, I must emphasise that the resolution was rescinded after the Gulf War in 1991, which does rather void its relevance, but that was only because Israel was refusing to attend a peace conference as long as the resolution remained in place. And as no explanatory text was included in the withdrawal resolution, it is open to question whether the repeal really holds water.)

This got me thinking about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of “antisemitism”. For reasons I have gone over many times, the definition the IHRA offer is both badly flawed, and grossly misinterpreted by the media and many other organisations. But, for better or worse, there is a large body of opinion that insists that everyone should go along with it, even though the IHRA has no authority to go around giving definitions to words. (Last I heard, that was the job of the Oxford English Dictionary. And even that is sometimes contradicted by other dictionaries without sanction.)

One of the notorious ‘examples’ offered with the IHRA definition, one that is a serious bone of contention, suggests that anti-Semitism could (could, please note, not definitely will) be the motivation for anyone

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.

Now this is awkward, is it not? Are those people who insist that the IHRA definition must be set in stone therefore saying that the United Nations is outranked by the IHRA on judging International Law? That would be a little like a Christian saying, “God seeks permission from Christian Aid.”

Do the IHRA outrank the UN?

The IHRA’s position on anti-Semitism is being held up as more important than that of the United Nations.

Given resolution 3379 has been repealed, it can always be argued that the IHRA are not flouting any legal restrictions. But this is part only of a broader point I wish to raise. This is that I am often somewhat uneasy about the grounds the IHRA tend to step upon more generally, given they describe their own mandate as being, “to focus solely on Holocaust-related issues”. They do seem to tread into other areas, including matters of Israeli politics, rather too far and too frequently to avoid exceeding this mandate.

Indeed, just offering their own definition of anti-Semitism sounds like a bit of a reach, given, as I have already stated, it is a task already assigned to scholars of dictionaries to decide the meanings of words.

Moreover, there is no clear reason why an exception should be made specifically for defining the name of one particular form of racism, nor why that assignment should be handed to an organisation that is there to preserve the memory of one crime – no matter how enormous and sustained that crime undoubtedly was. The IHRA task is to oversee and preserve the physical records and evidence of the Holocaust, and to make sure that the lessons of that unimaginable series of atrocities against humanity are learned and never forgotten. Policing discussions of modern Israel really does not fit into that assignment at all.

And why is there not, by the same measure, a Rastafarian inter-governmental organisation offering a definition of anti-black racism? Surely two centuries of enslavement of black Africans and shipment to the Americas counts as as much of a, if not a greater, crime against humanity? How about a Roma inter-governmental organisation offering a definition of antizyganism? Or an Oriental inter-governmental organisation… oh, you get the idea.

The reason why is simple. There is no need to develop such convoluted and elaborate definitions for the name of any form of racism, because they have already been clearly defined.

Anti-Semitism is a prejudicial hatred or fear of Jews for no reason other than that they are Jews.

Anti-black racism is a prejudicial hatred or fear of black people for no reason other than that they are black.

Antizyganism is a prejudicial hatred or fear of Roma for no reason other than that they are Roma.

And so on. We do not need any greater elaboration than that when merely trying to define a word, and certainly not the sort of page-length, over-reaching deconstruction of it that exists on the IHRA website. One is therefore given to wonder precisely why the IHRA feel anti-Semitism needs to be treated differently, why they feel it is within their purview to create a definition of their own, and why so many political organisations seem determined that their definition should be taken as authoritative.