Ben White: Israel lobby uses discredited anti-Semitism definition to muzzle debate
Top administrators at the University of California are considering what action to take against speech and activities alleged to be anti-Semitic. As part of their discussions, the university may endorse a seven-year-old document, which — despite not having an official status — is often called the European Union’s “working definition” of anti-Semitism.
Although the administrators have indicated that their motive is to protect Jewish students, a careful examination of the definition indicates that the real agenda may be to stifle Palestine solidarity activism and criticism of Israel in the classroom.
In early July, a report commissioned by the University of California’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion was published (“U. of Calif. Weighs Banning ‘Hate’ Speech,” Forward, 2 August 2012).
The council has been co-directed by Richard Barton, national education chairman of the Anti-Defamation League — one of the most powerful groups in America’s pro-Israel lobby. Its report claims that Palestine solidarity activities were “undermining Jewish students’ sense of belonging” and creating a hostile environment.
The report’s recommendations include the adoption by the administration of a definition of anti-Semitism that could be used to “identify contemporary incidents” which would then “be sanctioned by University non-discrimination or anti-harassment policies.”
Specifically, the report mentions “a working definition of anti-Semitism” developed by “the European Union,” a reference to the 2005 draft working definition of anti-Semitism published by the European Union’s Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. Based in Vienna, the center has subsequently been renamed the Fundamental Rights Agency.
One of the Zionist groups to enthusiastically welcome the findings was StandWithUs, whose chief executive Roz Rothstein called the idea of a definition of anti-Semitism “one of [the report’s] most important recommendations” (“StandWithUs Welcomes UC Report On Campus Climate For Jewish Students,” 23 July 2012).
Rothstein noted the reference to “the EU’s working definition,” which she claimed “recognizes that anti-Israel extremism is a form of what is called the ‘new anti-Semitism.’”
The month after the publication of the report, at the end of August, California’s assembly passed a non-binding resolution “urging California colleges and universities to squelch nascent anti-Semitism … [and] to crack down on demonstrations against Israel” (“Calif lawmakers denounce anti-Semitism in colleges,” Associated Press, 29 August 2012).
Like the University of California report, this resolution calls on the university administration to “utilize” the EU agency’s “working definition of anti-Semitism.”