The definition of anti-Semitism

muzzledIsrael-Gaza conflict: ‘There’s nothing new about conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism’

By Mira Bar-Hillel, Friday 25 July 2014


I have arrived! On Tuesday morning at 7.55am, live on Radio 4, I said something so horrible that the usually mild-mannered husband of a fellow hack stood up and left his breakfast table in disgust.

Fortunately his wife, Emma Barnett, happens to be the women’s editor of The Daily Telegraph, so by the next morning her diatribe against me duly appeared prominently in that august publication. It’s only the second time in a career spanning 50 years I’ve been so honoured.

The day before, I had been contacted by the Today programme which wanted me to come on and discuss how British Jews feel about the events in Gaza. When I mentioned I was actually Israeli as well as British, the researcher said that was fine.

I climbed into the radio car which had been kindly sent around and Sarah Montague introduced Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner and myself. We were on air for around eight minutes.

To her credit, although the rabbi and I represented opposing views, Ms Barnett was equally rude and patronising about both of us. I was, she decided, speaking for “self-loathing Israelis”. The nice lady rabbi was “worried-sounding” and “wringing her hands”. There were no fisticuffs, no shouting, nobody died and nobody won. Scandalous.

I repeated what I had written in The Independent around three days and 800 deaths earlier, when I first mentioned the possibility of burning my Israeli passport: the callous killing of women, children and babies in Gaza is Not In My Name. Barnett decided it was said “in a breathy, mock-dramatic tone”.

Because the situation is not dramatic enough, Emma? And I don’t really care?

I was speaking about Jewish colleagues who were silent on the Gaza issue. Some, I had been told, felt they could not speak up, as to oppose Israel would incur the wrath of the Jewish community within which they live.

I hurriedly explained (time was running out) that Jewish communities have massive control over their constituents in all matters involving family life and education. Upsetting them could be devastating, and I could well understand why people with strong community links and children in school would feel unwilling to expose themselves to this. I suggested that this power was being used to gag people.

This was the “breath-taking accusation” which caused Mr Barnett to rise from the table and his wife to condemn me for stating that I was not a member of the Jewish community.

Ms Barnett insists that, up and down this island, Jews are arguing, debating, crying and worrying about what’s going on in “an even smaller country across the ocean”.

I trust she means Israel, although the “ocean” thing made me wonder. Worse still, she said, British Jews are scared. No, not about being ostracised by their community but because of a rising tide of anti-Semitism, which she seemed to suggest I was causing.

Now this is a subject I know well, not least because centuries of genuine anti-Semitism allowed the Nazis to take so many of my family members away to their deaths.

Yet I have been labelled anti-Semitic so many times over the past few weeks that I’m beginning to think that perhaps I am. The most persistent has been (surprise, surprise!) ex-MP Louise Mensch. Having abandoned her parliamentary seat, the trollmeistress now lives in New York, from where she still lectures us (via her Sun column) and the Americans too.

Ms Mensch insisted I admit to being anti-Semitic. Her Twitter profile says: “War is always a defeat for humanity – St John Paul II.”

But not, it seems, when waged by Israel, in which case it is a fine and noble thing. But hating Ms Mensch does not, alas, qualify as anti-Semitism as she is a Catholic, although her second husband is Jewish. And when I asked her whether the definition of anti-Semitism had been extended to include anyone who dares criticise Israel, she went uncharacteristically quiet.

And there’s the rub. Because, while my trolls are among many members of the Jewish community who would dearly love it to be so, it isn’t. Not legally, anyway.

Last year I wrote in this newspaper about a tribunal case in March 2013 brought against the University and College Union (UCU) by a lecturer represented by Anthony Julius, Princess Diana’s divorce lawyer. Mr Julius has a second career as a professional anti-anti-Semite, seeking to equate it with criticism of Israel. He has written a massive tome and gives frequent talks on the subject all over the world.

The case was that this lecturer’s speeches at the UCU annual congress, in a debate over boycotting Israel, were not applauded (!) because of anti-Semitism on the part of fellow delegates. All 10 of his claims were thrown out by the tribunal. Its judgment said: “We greatly regret that the case was ever brought. At heart it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means”.

Had Mr Julius won, open discussion of Israeli policies would have become virtually impossible, especially as sections of the Jewish community now openly use litigation to put people off criticising Israel – or them.

In spite of all this, and the viciousness of my trolls, a YouGov poll this week found that only 15 per cent of Britons support Israel’s actions in Gaza. The credit for that goes to brilliant, brave reporters who have brought graphic images of the Gaza atrocities to our newspapers and television screens.

Jews with a sense of humour joke (among themselves, natch) that anti-Semitism is “hating Jews more than is absolutely necessary”. I believe that, not only is the tide turning against Israel’s unrepentant aggression, but that the country has totally exhausted the sympathy it has enjoyed since the Holocaust and will be judged by all – apart from the US– on the basis of its sins in Gaza rather than the sins of the Nazis 80 years ago.

And finally … a word about my passport. My trolls have become fixated on it, offering me matches and suggesting I might like to put my “lardy arse” on the pyre to help it burn longer.

The answer is that, whatever I choose to do with my passport is irrelevant. What I will say is this: I will never go to Israel again while this regime is in place – and I cannot see that happening in my lifetime. I say this in great sorrow – but mainly in much, much anger.

And if that makes you choke on your cornflakes, so be it. or

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