CST Discourse Report: What is Antisemitism?

This is a cross post from Mark Gardner at CST Blog

(This is the 2nd in a series of sections and summaries from CST’s recently released report, Antisemitic Discourse in Britain in 2009. The full pdf can be accessed here. 58 pages, including graphics.)

Pages 10, 11 and 12 are entitled What is Antisemitism? Definition, Impact, Historical Background. (They can be accessed here.) 

This vast subject is then summed up as

In essence, antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice or hostility against Jews.

Antisemitism is also used to describe all forms of discrimination, prejudice or hostility towards Jews throughout history.

Antisemitism focuses upon ‘the Jew’ of the antisemitic imagination, rather than the reality of Jews or Jewish life.

It is not necessarily antisemitic to criticise Israel or Zionism, even if the criticism is harsh or unfair. The antisemitic aspect largely depends upon:

• The motivation for the criticism: to what extent is the critic driven by the Jewish nature of Israel and/or Zionism?

• The form of the criticism: does it use antisemitic or otherwise racist themes and motifs? The more deliberate and/or inaccurate the usage, the more antisemitic the criticism.

• Who is the target for the criticism: are local Jews being singled out as recipients for criticism or bias that ostensibly derives from anti-Israel or anti-Zionist hostility?

 The report then explains Brian Klug’s notion of ‘The Jew’ of the antisemitic imagination, including

Thinking that Jews are really ‘Jews’ is precisely the core of antisemitism.

…Loyal only to their own, wherever they go they form a state within a state, preying upon the societies in whose midst they dwell. Their hidden hand controls the banks, the markets, and the media. And when revolutions occur  or nations go to war, it is the Jews – cohesive, powerful, clever and stubborn – who invariably pull the strings and reap the rewards.  

Next, the report explains Antisemitic impacts, noting

Antisemitic impacts may arise from entirely legitimate situations that have no antisemitic intention.

It explains that hate crime attacks can be sparked by legitimate media coverage or political comment, and that people

can feel vulnerable due to public debate on matters that they perceive as being closely related to them.

Then, a short section on Antisemitism: historical background. This includes

Antisemitism is an important warning sign of division and extremism within society as a whole. It is a subject that should be of concern not only to Jews, but to all of society.

The near destruction of European Jewry in the Holocaust rendered open antisemitism taboo in public life, but led many to wrongly regard antisemitism as an exclusively Far Right phenomenon that is essentially frozen in time.

…Antisemitism repeatedly adapts to contemporary circumstances and historically has taken many forms…Jews have been blamed for many phenomena, including the death of Jesus; the Black Death; the advent of liberalism, democracy, communism, capitalism; and for inciting numerous revolutions and wars.

A dominant antisemitic theme is the allegation that Jews are powerful and cunning manipulators, set against the rest of society for their evil and timeless purpose…[this] distinguishes antisemitism from other types of racism, which often depict their targets as ignorant and primitive.

The report states the worrying situation around both antisemitic race hate levels and terrorist threats against Jews, before quoting the late Steve Cohen on the ideological component of antisemitism

The peculiar and defining feature of anti-semitism is that is exists as an ideology. It provides its adherents with a universal and generalised interpretation of the world. This is the theory of the Jewish conspiracy, which depicts Jews as historically controlling and determining nature and human destiny. Anti-semitism is an ideology which has influenced millions of people precisely because it presents an explanation of the world by attributing such extreme powers to its motive force – the Jews.

 This section of the report concludes with Antisemitism: legal definitions, Race Relations Act, and Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. It begins

The 2005-2006 All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism summarised antisemitism by reference to the Race Relations Act 1976 as follows:

Broadly…any remark, insult or act the purpose or effect of which is to violate a Jewish person’s dignity or create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him is antisemitic…This definition can be applied to individuals and to the Jewish community as a whole.

It ends with

The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry definition of a racist incident has significantly influenced societal interpretations of what does and does not constitute racism, with the victim’s perception assuming paramount importance.

CST, however, ultimately defines incidents against Jews as being antisemitic only where it can be objectively shown to be the case…CST takes a similar approach to the highly complex issue of antisemitic discourse, and notes the multiplicity of opinions within and beyond the Jewish community concerning this controversial subject.

(Next, CST Blog will summarise the sections that follow the above, entitled British Jews: Relationship with Israel and Zionism; and Anti-Zionism: A Unifying Language for Different Politcial Extremists.)