What makes an anti-Semite?

By Dina Porat

Haaretz

Shvat 10, 5767

In January 2005, an international working definition of anti-Semitism was accepted for the first time since the term was coined in the late 19th century. This definition, approved in June 2005 at a conference in Cordoba, Spain, is the result of a joint effort on the part of two institutions - a center established in Vienna by the European Union to monitor racism and xenophobia, and a center set up in Warsaw by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to strengthen the institutions of democracy and human rights among its 55 member countries.

And this is the essence of the international working definition of anti-Semitism: "Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities." However, why was a new, international, practical definition needed, and why did non-Jewish organizations invest ongoing efforts in discussions on its formulation? After all, there has been no shortage of different definitions of anti-Semitism ever since the term was first coined 125 years ago in Germany and they can be found in encyclopedia and lexica, reflecting both temporal and geographic circumstances.

A long list of personalities and institutions sought to define the anti-Semite and the Jew he so hates: Jean-Paul Sartre, who sarcastically defined an anti-Semite, blaming the Jews for every tragedy, as a man who fears not Jews, but himself and the need to accept his responsibility; Encyclopedia Britannica, which as early as 1966 defined opposition to Zionism as anti-Semitism, but whose dictionary still features to "Jew Down" as a verb meaning to insist on haggling and deception; the Jewish Encyclopedia, published in the United States about one hundred years ago, includes a description of Jews as being perceived by others as greedy people, who are tribal in nature, devoid of tact and patriotism, and evade hard work; or the definition of Prof. Jacob Toury, of Tel Aviv University, who in the 1970s described anti-Semitism as a manipulation of sentiments directed against an unrealistic figure for political purposes.

However, our focus here is not on the definitions of learned people, but on international bodies and their perception of anti-Semitism as a problem that needs fixing. It is hard to believe, but even the United Nations, for example, did not define anti-Semitism or racism after World War II; no international organization mentioned these two basic terms in the basic conventions that were formulated and signed after that war, even though racism and anti-Semitism were among the primary causes of its outbreak.

Various international conventions mention tolerance and minority rights in very general terms, indicating a desire to forget the past and not to blame a specific person or regime. When the Cold War began, U.S. efforts were directed at the Soviet Union and in this undertaking, even the contribution of former Nazis was welcomed. Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who headed the group that in the late 1940s formulated the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, several years later wrote the preface to the first edition of "The Diary of Anne Frank" in English. In her introduction, she makes no mention at all of the fact that Anne was Jewish or that she was forced to hide from German persecutions.

For almost 50 years, from the end of the Second World War until the early 1990s, anti-Semitism is not mentioned and is certainly not defined in the documents, conventions or summaries of European and international conferences. Since 1990, with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the reunification of Germany and the waves of immigrants who started flooding the industrialized countries, new questions regarding definition and legislation in all matters relating to foreign labor, political asylum seekers, immigrants, their offspring and their rights made it onto the agenda.

At the same time, expressions of anti-Semitism were clearly voiced by the extreme right, which blamed the Jews for bringing in foreigners and profiting from their labor; and by the left, which accused the Jews of being behind the spread of globalization because of their being owners of giant corporations and international banks; and by the immigrants, primarily Muslims, who were not absorbed by their host countries and occasionally vented their frustration on the veteran Jewish communities.

Therefore, the 1990s were filled with conferences and initiatives whose goal was to strengthen human rights and to promote the fight against racism. At a huge conference (numbering 5,000 participants) organized by the UN in Vienna in 1993, a decision in principle was adopted and approved several months later, stating that anti-Semitism should be considered as a form of racism. This resolution was described as "historic" and considered a great accomplishment by UN institutions, as if this fact had not been obvious. In the same manner, xenophobia, fear of foreigners, Negrophobia (fear of Blacks) and Islamophobia (fear of Muslims) were also defined as racism. Yet racism and anti-Semitism itself were not defined at that conference.

Even the August 2001 Durban conference in South Africa, which the UN's bodies had prepared for more than two years and which was supposed to have been the world conference with a capital "W" against racism, strayed from its set agenda and turned into a forum for anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism. The conference did not resolve a single one of the many problems and tensions experienced by immigrants. Violent anti-Semitism continued to increase, at first parallel to the second intifada but later, especially in Western Europe, also without any connection to the Middle East. The definition approved some two years ago indeed reflects the need to ease tensions and reach a form of coexistence for the European host society, the immigrants and the Jewish communities. It tries to be a clear and practical tool that is not academic or theoretical, does not discuss the motives of anti-Semites, and does not try to portray the traits and images of a Jew or the gap between these and reality.

The definition presents a list of acts and statements that are anti-Semitic because they are directed against Jews, harm them, or incite against them, and therefore their perpetrators can be tried and punished. Laws prohibiting anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial already exist in a dozen countries and if anti-Semitism is a form of racism, it is also possible to punish perpetrators under laws prohibiting racism.

One may argue with the approach behind the definition, which disconnects the motive from the action and focuses solely on the action and the statement. Even the boundary between freedom of speech and incitement needs to be refined and it will be difficult to find or enact a single, uniform law that will address all components. However, this does mark a courageous step and an effort to find ways to deal with acts of anti-Semitism. Whether the definition will truly be able to serve as a solid foundation that remains relevant in the face of an intensification of anti-Semitism, and as the elements included in it become the bon ton, only time will tell.

Prof. Dina Porat is the head of Tel Aviv University's School of Jewish Studies.

The working definition of anti-Semitism

The purpose of this document is to provide a practical guide for identifying incidents, collecting data, and supporting the implementation and enforcement of legislation dealing with anti-Semitism. The practical definition of the phenomenon: "Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."

In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collective.

Anti-Semitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for "why things go wrong." It is expressed in speech, writing, in visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of anti-Semitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

* Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion

* Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or about the power of Jews as a collective - including, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a global Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions

* Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoings committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews

* 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 during World War II (Holocaust denial)

* Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust

* Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations. Examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel include:

* Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor

* Applying double standards by requiring Israel to behave in a manner not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation

* Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis

* Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis

* Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel

However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.

Anti-Semitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of anti-Semitic materials in some countries). Criminal acts are anti-Semitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property - such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries - are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews. Anti-Semitic discrimination means denying Jews the opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.