Tory cabinet member ‘breaches antisemitism code’ while accusing Labour of being antisemitic

Michael Gove and Jeremy Corbyn
Kerry-anne Mendoza

Conservative cabinet minister Michael Gove appeared to breach the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism during a late-night Twitter spat at the weekend. Gove began peppering left-wing accounts with tweets about antisemitism on Sunday, following a Sunday Telegraph front page on the issue. However, Gove himself breached the IHRA definition of antisemitism in at least one of the tweets, by conflating Jewish people with Israel.

But those affected by the tweet can’t hold Gove to the IHRA standard. Because, despite intense pressure for Labour to adopt the widely-criticised definition of antisemitism, the Conservative Party has so far refused. And that’s what makes this Twitter war all the more bizarre.

Twitter Gove

The Sunday Telegraph ran with Tory chair James Cleverly’s claim that, in the event of a Corbyn government, Jewish families were ready to flee the country. This follows a string of such stories from Britain’s almost-universally conservative press. Just the other day it was the “super rich” ready to flee. Now Jews. Perhaps tomorrow it’ll be stamp collectors. Who knows?

But many British Jews are sick and tired of having their ethnic and / or religious identity weaponised for political purposes.

But rather than address these concerns, Gove took it upon himself to launch a bizarre Twitter war against left-wing accounts. First of all, he shared an antisemitic tweet, claiming it came from a Corbyn supporter. But on closer inspection, it appeared this might not be the case.

The account had just 180 followers, and the tweets are now protected. Gove himself promoted the tweet for political leverage. And claiming any bona fide connection to Corbyn, or the Labour movement more widely, is clearly ridiculous. It’s tantamount to claiming a drunk bloke ranting at a passersby in the high street is speaking for Labour because he happens to be wearing a red t-shirt.

When people began to point this out, Gove went on a Twitter spree.

First, to Ash Sarkar of Novara Media:

Then to Momentum chief Laura Parker:

It was in a tweet to Aaron Bastani of Novara Media that Gove came unstuck.

In this tweet, Michael Gove conflates British Jews and Israel. Not one, but two examples of antisemitism in the IHRA code focus on this issue.

The IHRA

If Gove was in the shadow cabinet, he’d likely already be on the way to suspension. Labour MP Chris Williamson was suspended for far less. And herein lies the issue. Not only is Labour being held to a double standard, but the standard itself is arbitrary and pointless.

The UK government hasn’t adopted the IHRA in full. But you know who did? The antisemitic prime minister of Hungary; a man embraced by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. What could possibly connect the prime minister of Israel with one of the most vociferously antisemitic governments in Europe? Well, racism.

In fact, on 31 October, Netanyahu’s son Yair spoke in Hungary to endorse publicly a government-promoted antisemitic conspiracy theory. Namely, that Jewish billionaire George Soros (allied with the European Union) is out to “destroy” Israel and Hungary from within on behalf of “globalist elites”. Yair Netanyahu went on to argue that Soros and his cabal want to destroy the national identities of European countries and the US too. So antisemites in Hungary, racists in the US, and anti-Palestinians in Israel should unite to tackle the issue.

This also breaches the IHRA definition, one of the examples of which clearly states:

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

In short, Yair Netanyahu is rubber-stamping one of the most insidious antisemitic conspiracy theories in history, to weaponise it against left-wing, anti-zionist Jews. Not only is the IHRA failing to prevent this, but through its creation of a ‘new antisemitism’ definition to deter criticism of Israel, it’s actually helping the process along.

A bad definition, by any definition

For a fuller critique of the IHRA, David Rosenberg’s piece for Open Democracy is a pretty great entry point. But in summary, the definition provides 11 examples of antisemitism, six of which mention Israel, while one refers to “it” meaning the State of Israel. As Rosenberg states, this is with the main purpose of:

defending the Israeli government’s increasingly indefensible policies from attack by supporters of human rights, by anti-racists, and by growing numbers of dissident Jews in Europe, America, South Africa, and also in Israel. If you can label such critics as anti-Semites, you can hope to nullify their impact among the wider population and on political actors who might challenge the continued oppression of the Palestinians.

This has seen a rise in commentators and politicians alike wilfully conflating Jewishness with Israel in order to dismiss criticism of the latter as antisemitic. In doing so, they demean very real and toxic antisemitism, while shielding perpetrators of racism and antisemitism from proper scrutiny.

This definition is an absurdity, weaponised by racists in the pursuit of Apartheid. And no amount of tweets by Michael Gove will convince sensible people otherwise.

Featured image via Wikimedia – Chris McAndrew / Wikimedia – Sophie J. Brown

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  • Show Comments
    1. Utter trivia like this are best ignored. Supporters of Labour, including publications sympathetic to Labour’s cause, ought not allow themselves to be drawn into giving response to empty accusations of antisemitism. Let malicious people speak only unto each other by not giving them credence in fora like Twitter. They will tire when accusations of ‘antisemitism’ no longer trigger denials and justifications.

      Antisemitism, as properly understood, is a nasty strand in human society along with several more directed toward other peoples. The term, by adoption as a weasel word for stifling discussion and distracting attention from real issues by presenting seeming obligation on the accused to explain or apologise, is rendered vacuous.

      Labour dug itself into a pit by responding in such craven and foolish manner when accusations of antisemitism were levelled by mischief makers against Mr Corbyn and some others. The party hierarchy indulged in laughable machinations and adopted a daft formal stance over the matter of antisemitism. Most ludicrous was accepting the IHRA definition. That body has no jurisdiction, other than that it arrogated, over English language usage. Not even the Complete OED dare claim that but at least the OED is an authoritative scholarly source of information on etymology and trends in usage.

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