In praise of the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism


In 2005, following several years which saw a disturbing rise in antisemitic violence across Europe, the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) reached a Working Definition of Antisemitism.  

Steve Bell 16.12.2012

Cartoon by Steve Bell in 2012 which was denounced by the Guardian Readers’ Editor as ‘echoing antisemitic imagery’ relating to ‘Jewish power’

Later in the year, the Working Definition of Antisemitism was prominently referenced at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Cordoba Conference.  And, since then, many other bodies have advocated its usage. The one-page Working Definition of Antisemitism (below) evolved as a result of the efforts of a large number of European institutions and human rights experts. 

The stated goal of the Working Definition of Antisemitism was to provide a guide (to EU members states) for identifying incidents, collecting data and supporting the implementation and enforcement of legislation dealing with antisemitism.

Here it is:

Recently, a commentator who has expressed sympathy for antisemites, and routinely calls for the end of the Jewish state, used his platform at a site notable for endorsing terrorism and equating Zionism to Nazism, to falsely characterize the Working Definition of Antisemitism as “an abandoned draft text.”

Whilst it is narrowly true that the website of Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the successor to the EUMC, doesn’t include the text of the Working Definition of Antisemitism – due to the fact that its mandate differs from EUMC – here are the facts:

  • The State Department report on Global Antisemitism in 2008 included the following:  The EUMC’s working definition provides a useful framework for identifying and understanding the problem and is adopted for the purposes of this report
  • The Working Definition of Antisemitism was cited by the US State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in testimony given to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (in Helsinki) in 2011, and is currently endorsed on the State Department’s ‘Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism’ page.
  • In 2010, the UK All-Party Inquiry into antisemitism recommended that the Working Definition of Antisemitism should be adopted and promoted by the Government and law enforcement agencies.
  • An official document published by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) recommends the Working Definition of Antisemitism as a valuable hate crime data collection tool for law enforcement agencies, and for educators.

Though most manifestations of antisemitism included in the Working Definition of Antisemitism shouldn’t even need to be pointed out (such as ‘calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion’), many who oppose it do so for the following reasons:

1) It defines as antisemitic the equating of Zionism with Nazism.

2) It defines as antisemitic calls for the end of the Jewish state.

It is of course no coincidence that this recent attack on the Working Definition of Antisemitism was leveled by a commentator who continually promotes the second charge at a site which has endorsed the first.

Yet, despite the protests from a few marginal, extremist voices, the Working Definition continues to represent a widely respected, useful tool for understanding modern manifestations of antisemitism, and this blog will continue to use it in our continuing fight against such racism at the Guardian and ‘Comment is Free’. 

34 comments on “In praise of the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism

  1. One problem with the working definition is the phrase “could include”, which is open to two interpretations, i.e. either typically include or might – but not necessarily – include.

    • I agree that any attempt to define antisemitism will be problematic as rhetoric which evokes classic antisemitic themes will always need to be properly contextualized. But, I think that the EUMC definition, when used properly, is effective at introducing the most relevant antisemitic tropes and narratives.

    • Some might say that is the definition’s advantage. Yet even allowing for that possibility proved too much for its detractors.

  2. 2) It defines as antisemitic calls for the end of the Jewish state.

    . Essentially saying that holding a political view is anti semitic. So is asking for the Jewish state to abide by 242 …is that anti semitic ??? …because you are calling for a ending of the Jewish state where the vast majority of the world says it has no right to be.

    Also I know Pretzelberg will hate me for agreeing with him…but he is right ” could include ” is an elastic and extremely unhelpful concept.

    • “So is asking for the Jewish state to abide by 242 …is that anti semitic ???”

      In a way, yes, for it is asking with the implied suggestion that 242 is somehow not being abided by, and that abiding by it is in some way mandatory. It’s like counting the UN Resolutions against Israel and imagining that the higher the number the more errant it is, when in fact the opposite is the case, the UN indicting itself by
      hosting the worst of Nations and allowing them to disgrace it.

      • You mean of course, the res which calls for:

        “Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every STATE in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force”.

        We’re still waiting for our neighbors to abide by this call for an end to their belligerency towards us.

    • The vast majority of which world would this be exactly?

      You write as if you are familair with and to this website. Are you a previously banned troll?

    • [Also I know Pretzelberg will hate me for agreeing with him…but he is right ” could include ” is an elastic and extremely unhelpful concept]

      Only to someone who doesn’t wish to be helped or who thinks such help could never be necessary.

      However clearly such a possibility as that suggested by the definition exists, the vast majority of antisemites today also calling themselves anti-Zionist.

      I do not know in what field of human endeavour, other than Mathematics and some of science and philosophy, or religion, of course, there is no such thing as a fuzzy or blurred border. Your religion seems to be that antisemitism can never be anti-Zionism or vice versa, in any circumstances, as of those who objected to the EUMC definition in the first place.

  3. Of course Ben White wants to discredit the EUMC definition. If adopted, he wouldn’t be able to publish much would he?

  4. “2) It defines as antisemitic calls for the end of the Jewish state.”

    The problem with the EU definition is not its status (or not) as EU policy, or how many bodies can be listed as supporting it, but simply that it seeks to make an offence out of a political opinion. The justification for the creation of Israel, that state’s persistance and its continuing territorial aggrandisement have been disputed by many (including many Jews) who are clearly not antisemitic. One might as well make it an offence to disagree with Scottish independence or the creation of an independent Kurdish state.

    • One of the most disgusting face of antisemitism is the attempt by antisemites like you sencar to define what is antisemitism and what is not. That for you the call for the elimination of the Jewish state (and the obvious subsequent annihilation of its Jewish population) is simply a “political opinion” is nothing but natural.

      • [The problem with the EU definition is not its status (or not) as EU policy, or how many bodies can be listed as supporting it, but simply that it seeks to make an offence out of a political opinion.]

        But it doesn’t. It merely says such views, depending on terms and context of expression +could+ be so construed. But even that proved too much for such as you.

        Clearly such a possibility exists, the vast majority of antisemites today also calling themselves anti-Zionist.

    • The definition of antisemitism that Sencar approves of is one that says that antisemitism isn’t antisemitism, so that antisemites can’t be called antisemites. Right sencar?

  5. “One might as well make it an offence to disagree with Scottish independence or the creation of an independent Kurdish state.”

    Brian/sencar you go tomorrow and stand in the main square in Ankara and call for the creation of a Kurdish state and I’ll come and bail you out, if there is anything of you left to bail out, after I’ve finished a few jobs e.g. repointing the Great Wall of China single-handedly.

  6. Ben White is an expert on antisemitism having once famously declared that while ‘ he does not consider himself antisemitic , he understands those who maybe . Here he is on the EUMC definition of antisemitism

    http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ben-white/discredited-definition-anti-semitism-no-longer-use-says-bbc

    White links to one Mark Elf of Jews San Frontiere an ‘ As a Jew ‘ who has penned a screed to the BBC seeking the removal of the EUMC definition of antisemitism from its website . Here is the letter and reply

    http://jewssansfrontieres.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/bbc-trust-promotes-then-demotes-almost.html?m=1

    It would appear that Jews alone among all ethnic minorities are denied the right to identify racism and outright antisemitism . Imagine a black person being lectured on what may be deemed racism by a white person . To compound this outrage , we have the unedifying spectacle of ‘ non antisemites ‘ such as Ben White adding their two penny’s worth . Utterly repugnant ! But it’s not the end of the story yet .

  7. An excellent article about anti-semitism in Europe.

    In the UN anti-semitism simply doesn’t exist:

    Anti-Semitism in the UN might not be a well-known fact, it has never been denounced as such, not since the Holocaust: in 1964, the word “anti-Semitism” was not admitted as reference in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination because, it was said, it was a problem of religious tolerance. It was not included as a form of religious intolerance because it was a racial problem. The UN’s resolutions make no provisions for the effects or consequences for anti-Semites, because such people don’t exist.

  8. “Anti-Semitism in the UN might not be a well-known fact, it has never been denounced as such”

    The Secretary-General addressed the fiftieth Anniversary of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in New York on 15 October, 1913; his message was clear:

    “My position is unequivocal: anti-Semitism has no place in the twenty-first century. Too much is at stake to allow such discrimination to persist.”

    http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2013/sgsm15397.doc.htm

  9. The Secretary-General addressed the fiftieth Anniversary of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in New York on 15 October, 1913; his message was clear:

    You badly failed sencar maybe try again something else. It didn’t happen in the UN but in a Jewish conference. Anyway you should have paid some attention to the well known fact that the Secretary General has a tendency of lying about the subject.

  10. Of course Europeans have a 1,000 year history of talking nonsense about brotherly love while exterminating the Jews too. And can you imagine them taking EIGHT years to pull a working definition of “Racism” “Wife Beating” or “Child Rape” out of their butts?

  11. [It defines as antisemitic calls for the end of the Jewish state.]

    It doesn’t, actually. In some ways, Adam, you’re as bad as Ben White, just in the opposite direction.

    The definition merely says

    “antisemitism…+could+ [my stress] 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”

    “could”, not “always” or “invariably”. It depends on “overall context”.

    The definition is in fact highly nuanced, and allows for blurred boundaries and shades of grey, as human political and social issues always are.

  12. I meant to write

    The definition is in fact highly nuanced, and allows for blurred boundaries and shades of grey, as human political and social issues OFTEN are.

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