Peter Hallward is a political philosopher best known for his work on Alain Badiou and Gilles Deleuze. He has also published works on post-colonialism and contemporary Haiti. Hallward is a member of the editorial collective of Radical Philosophy and a contributing editor to Angelaki: Journal of Theoretical Humanities.
Jeremy Corbyn is being urged on all sides to adopt the ‘internationally accepted’ definition of antisemitism proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Just accept the definition in full, he’s told, and the whole ugly row about Labour being a ‘class enemy’ of the Jewish people will go away. What could be simpler?
So what does this IHRA definition involve? Would its adoption actually help make it easier to identify and condemn expressions of antisemitism? Or are key parts of it worded in such a way as to invite further confusion, and to make it harder to criticise some ongoing and far-reaching injustices?
....Perhaps the most important and most debatable assertion of the document, however, is the claim that ‘manifestations [of antisemitism] might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.’ This is the point worth pondering.
It’s not entirely clear what ‘targeting’ involves, as the term is again vague enough to evoke anything from hostile criticism to mere designation or reference. Targeting can’t simply be reducible to criticism, though, since the document adds an immediate caveat to that effect: ‘criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.’ That means, I assume, that it wouldn’t be antisemitic to grumble about the fact that in Israel, as in some other places, taxes might be too high, or the delivery of public services too poor. It would only be antisemitic to target, criticise or refer to Israel as a state acting specifically like a Jewish collectivity.
Now it’s no secret that the Israeli state regularly pursues policies that favour Jewish over non-Jewish members of the population it controls. Jewish people, for instance, enjoy a ‘right of return’ that is denied to Palestinian refugees whose homes were destroyed when Israel was created. Israel’s long-running colonisation of West Bank lands would also be quite hard to describe, let alone criticise, without making some reference to the way its settlements distinguish between Jewish and Arab collectivities.
This puts would-be critics of Israeli colonialism in a bit of a bind. Presumably it’s ok to object to colonial projects in general, projects of the sort that might be undertaken by ‘any other country’. But it isn’t easy to criticise settlement programmes specifically designed to replace Palestinian inhabitants with Jewish ones without referring to the state promoting them as a ‘Jewish collectivity’. Is criticism of Israeli settlements thus antisemitic by definition? If not why not, according to the IHRA’s formulation?