Is anti-Semitism really on the rise?
To prove this, the good folks at B’nai Brith of Canada League for Human Rights have gone out of their way to catalogue, in broad swaths, what they call ‘incidents’ perpetrated by rag-tag bunch of ne’er-do-wells, political activists, and likely a few mentally unstable delinquents.
From graffiti on property and spicy memes to anti-Zionist demonstrations and verbal assault, much ado is made of harassment and vandalism, but not much by way of physical violence. In fact, B’nai Brith states that violent incidents – which exclude ‘online hate – rose from nine in 2020 to 75 in 2021. Sixty-three of these incidents took place in May 2021 during the tumultuous Israeli-Palestinian crisis which generated much protest in the West. So, excluding the demonstrations wherein protesters clashed with one another, we see that anti-Semitic violent attacks increased from seven to twelve.
In response to this apparent swell of anti-Semitism crashing upon our shores, a strategy has been proposed: that jurisdictions – from federal, provincial, to municipal – adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) ‘Working Definition of Anti-Semitism’.
Since being developed in 2004, the IHRA definition has been adopted by 33 countries, the European Union, and the United Nations, as well as hundreds local governments and institutions around the world. It has also been accepted by Canada, federally, as well as several of its provinces and cities.
Its goal: to provide a clear definition of anti-Semitism to guide governments, organisations, and individuals in their efforts to identify and combat it.
The definition reads:
Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.
This is rather vague, and since one of its stated goals is to provide clarity, the IHRA has tripped over the first hurdle. Nonetheless, it tries to pick itself up, dust itself off, and soldier on by providing eleven illustrative examples of what would constitute anti-Semitism under its rubric.
Some examples are uncontroversial such as:
Example 1: Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
As well as,
Example 3: Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
But other examples are far more debatable. For instance:
Example 4: Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
The problem with this example is that its scope isn’t clearly demarcated, and as such, it could very well de-legitimise an entire field of historical inquiry.
Though denying the existence and purpose of the ‘gas chambers’ is generally unacceptable, the disjunction in Example 4 includes a far less controversial position: the intentionality of the Holocaust.
There is an ongoing historical debate about how much of the Holocaust was an intentional top-down plan by Hitler and his top officials, or whether it arose from the functioning of the lower ranks of Nazi state bureaucracy. If taking the latter side in this debate is evidence of ‘denying the intentionality of the Holocaust’ then numerous respected historians would be tarnished as anti-Semites for their structuralist assumptions and historical methodologies. That is beyond unacceptable.
Another debatable case is Example 10: Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
A major problem with this example is that it equates criticism – or at least a form of criticism – of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism by conflating the state of Israel with Jewish people.
While this example restricts itself to Israeli policy – supposedly Israeli policy towards the Palestinians – it seems that the COVID-19 pandemic had widened the scope of applicable comparisons and thus applicable condemnations. For example, anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine mandate protests have offered up some rather silly and misguided theatrics whereby some protestors would make various analogies between Jewish mistreatment under the Nazi regime and COVID-19 restrictions and mandates.
These Holocaust comparisons are misguided, but they are hardly anti-Semitic. In fact, they are well-intentioned attempts by politically naïve people to find and express a common cause they think they in the suffering of the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust.
Additionally, why are Holocaust terms off limits in this case when such terms were used and abused liberally for four years under the Trump administration or the Bush administration prior?
The comparisons of ‘kids in cages’ with literal Nazi concentration camps, Trump being like Hitler, etc., were hurled non-stop by frenzied progressives – including numerous Jewish commentators – and yet they were accepted as informative analogies through which we could understand our time and caution us against slipping into barbarism; not as cynical attempts to weaponise history for political gain… right?
All of this having been said, even if Example 10 is strictly contained to Israeli policy, it is particularly bizarre since it seems to clash with another example the IHRA offers:
Example 8: Applying double standards by requiring of [the State of Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
If Israel is to be held to the same standards of any other nation (as per Example: 8), and, if like any other nation, Israel could fall into dictatorship and/or racism, then why is it anti-Semitic when such comparisons are applied to Israel alone? Surely other democratic nations are held to standards that proscribe racism, genocide, violent targeting of civilians, expanding territory through war, and the like – and so Israel should be held to such standards and criticised for transgressing them when it does. If not, as it seems the IHRA definition contends, then the IHRA is allowing the Jewish State of Israel to be an unjustified exemption from the principles it proports to be subject to.
In fact, the reality of the double standard issue is an inverse of what is actually going on dialectically. It is not the case that other democratic nations are unscrupulously holding Israel to standards that they don’t apply to themselves. Rather it is that Israel who demands that other democratic nations accept its own unscrupulous standards as an exemption from criticism. (Given the recent tumult in Israel, perhaps it could be argued that Israel isn’t a democratic country, and thus needn’t heed the standards of the democratic states that judge it.)
Overall, the IHRA definition, as stated, is unclear, and the attempts to clarify it through its eleven examples offer up not insignificant problems of special pleading and scope creep. Since it is unclear, it fails in its mission to accurately identify anti-Semitic instances, and this lack of clarity will likely lead to abuses of power by the law enforcement the IHRA wishes to inform.
Perhaps this is a price the IHRA and its allies are willing to pay since the cost of a rising anti-Semitic threat would be far worse than over-policing those who cross the IHRA’s arbitrary lines. But such a mentality seems to be an inversion of the famed William Blackstone’s ratio: it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer. Behold the IHRA ratio: it is better that ten suspected anti-Semites be captured than that one bona fide anti-Semite evades it.
It seems, therefore, that the use of the IHRA’s definition is meant to expand the range of acts that can be deemed ‘anti-Semitic’ and thus increase the range of what constitutes a hate crime so as to aggrandise the amount of hate-based criminality in Canada and abroad.
So, they’re stuck in a hard place: the IHRA either uses this definition and, as a result, get a bunch of false positives giving the appearance that the supply of anti-Semites is meeting the demand – which may, in turn, generate suspicion and hostility; or tighten up the definition that excludes the special pleading and relinquishes some of its applications. So, it either includes more than it should, or excludes more than it wants.
Personally, I think that that IHRA definition should be scrapped, and efforts to implement it be challenged. But since it is likely here to stay, it should be resisted as it poses a nothing but danger to intellectual freedom, speech, and liberty, as well as the essential character of the West.