We have met the disgraceful David Feldman in my blogs before. Here, here, here and here. (The title is a reference to Howard Jacobson’s wonderful book The Finkler Question).
He’s the Director of the UK’s leading academic Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, funded by the Pears Foundation. But – thanks to him – the Institute is not part of the solution to antisemitism. It’s part of the problem:
- He was Vice Chair of Labour’s whitewash antisemitism inquiry (the Chakrabarti Report);
- He was silent about Corbyn’s antisemitism and continues silent about antisemitic incidents at Universities;
- He gave a Lecture slanting the results of polls on antisemitism, presumably in order to ‘prove’ his case against the IHRA definition of antisemitism;
- He gives a platform to boycotters and to Israel traducers such as Jacqueline Rose who makes antisemitic comparisons between Jews and Nazis;
- He uses the Livingstone Formulation to smear supporters of Israel.
Only 23 of the UK’s 133 Higher Education Institutions[i] have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism in full. In October the government rightly threatened the funding of universities that fail to adopt by Christmas.
Appallingly Feldman had an Op-Ed in the Guardian yesterday telling universities why they should NOT adopt the IHRA definition. He has three arguments:
#1. Adoption of IHRA gives Jews privilege over other minorities;
#2. The IHRA definition is too opaque and anyway unnecessary as antisemitism can be dealt with via the Equality Act, vide the EHRC report on Labour;
#3. It is unclear whether BDS is antisemitic according to the IHRA definition.
David Hirsh was quick to take up the cudgels. He points out the nauseating craven obscenity of Feldman’s claim that Jews are searching for privilege by merely spelling out what is offensive to them (#1). It is perfectly open to other minorities to similarly define what offends them.
Moving to #2, the IHRA is perfectly clear. If you call for the end of the State of Israel, it’s antisemitic. Similarly if you claim that Jews control the media or the Federal Reserve Board; if you blame all Jews for the actions of a few; if you claim that Israel is racist; if you attack Israel for something but fail to attack other countries for the same thing; if you use Nazi language about Israel. It really isn’t complicated. As for the Equality Act, while being Jewish is regarded by the Courts as a ‘Protected Characteristic’, the flipside – namely, supporting the existence of the world’s only Jewish state – should be, but thus far isn’t. And why should Jewish students have to go to Court to defend themselves from antisemites?
On #3, Feldman is thoroughly disingenuous. To evidence his claim, he cites two publications of the Antisemitism Policy Trust. From the first he quotes the statement that ‘Boycotts are not covered by IHRA’. But he interprets the second as saying the opposite. To fisk this is candy from a baby. The two publications serve different purposes!
The first (March 2020, bottom right) is simply a short (7 page) description of the IHRA definition and its origins. It briefly examines some criticisms and responses. It is NOT an ‘operational’ document. And no, the definition does not explicitly mention boycotts. The second publication (also 2020, top centre), however, IS operational. It’s much longer (19 pages) and goes through each of the 11 IHRA examples in turn, giving case studies for each. Under the ‘applying double standards’ example, it points out that calling for a boycott of Israeli goods when you ignore genuine violations of human rights eg by Turkey (occupation of part of Cyprus) or Morocco (occupation of Western Sahara) or China (persecution of the Uighur) or Iran (numerous violations) is antisemitic. Plus BDS is often combined with other forms of antisemitism eg comparing the IDF with Nazis or depriving Jews of kosher food.
Feldman exhibits all the manifestations of Howard Jacobson’s ASHamed Jew. He’s ashamed of Israel. Here’s what he said in his 2017 lecture: “Israel is widely seen to encompass expropriation, occupation and discrimination”. That is why he doesn’t like the IHRA definition.
When Jewish 17 year olds make their University choices, uppermost in their minds is not the course content or the academics who will teach them. It’s the extent of antisemitism. It’s the extent of the gauntlet they will have to run during the obscenely antisemitic ‘Israel Apartheid Week’. It’s their assessment of the likelihood that they will be abused if they say anything positive about Israel. It’s the extent of the Jewbaiting.
For the Director of the Institute for the Study of Antisemitism to write an Op-Ed telling Universities NOT to do something which might help those 17 year olds is obscene. Either he should stick to arcane historical subjects or he should be obliged to make way for someone (like David Hirsh) who DOES care passionately about antisemitism.
[i] Birmingham, Buckinghamshire New, Bolton, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Institute of Education, U. of London (part of UCL), Kings London, Lancaster, Manchester Met, Nottingham, Nottingham Trent, Plymouth, Plymouth Marjon, Queen Mary, Surrey, UCL, Warwick, York, York St John. UJS have identified 19 more on the basis of FOIs and research by J Socs. However at least one of these (LSE) has not adopted the Definition in full and in three others (Essex, Lincoln, Liverpool) the published data is not conclusive. Leeds only say they will ‘take the definition into account’. For the rest, UJS have not provided links to relevant University Board meetings – so I am unable to include them. I will try to submit FOIs to the ones that are unclear, requesting documentation and an assurance that the Definition has been adopted in full (Arts, Bath Spa, Chester, Coventry, Edge Hill, Essex, Glasgow, Gloucestershire, Imperial, Leeds, Lincoln, Liverpool, London Hygiene, London Met, Manchester, Newcastle, Royal College of Music, Sussex, Worcester).
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Postscript: David Collier has set the Feldman Op-Ed in the context of a number of related recent attacks in the Guardian on the IHRA definition and on the EHRC.