Labour and the Definition of Anti-Semitism

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I think there is a problem with anti-semitism in Labour, and the leadership was too slow to deal with it. However, I’m not convinced that they’re wrong on what has become the central issue: the IHRA definition of anti-semitism. Some people think that a state should not be defined on ethnic lines, and these people have a problem with Israel being defined as a state primarily for people of Jewish ethnicity. Here’s Joe Levine arguing for this. I’m not sure I agree with this view, but it’s clearly within the boundaries of acceptable political disagreement and not something we should dismiss as racist as the IHRA definition arguably does.

Many commentators are saying that it should be up to Jewish people to define what is or is not anti-semitic. Labour did concede that they should have consulted Jewish groups more. However, there are two ethnic groups relevant to this question. Some Palestinian citizens of Israel share Levine’s view that defining Israel as a Jewish state is racist towards them. Again, I’m not sure I agree, but I don’t think they should be dismissed as racist simply for stating this view.

I’ve been astonished by the lack of neutrality in media discussion of this. The BBC are always so concerned about balance. Why have there been no debates on the BBC about this question, with one side expressing something like the above view? Why have there been no Guardian articles defending the Levine-type position?

Having said all this, you have to pick your battles in politics, and I’m not sure this fight has been worth the cost…

The Author

I am a philosopher and consciousness researcher at Durham University, UK. My research focuses on how to integrate consciousness into our scientific worldview.

1 Comment

  1. Berel Dov Lerner says

    I’ve got plenty of opinions regarding Israel but I’m not completely clear about what’s going on in the UK and you don’t seem all that sure about either, so I’m writing here to ask you about something you know about (I understand you recently moved to a new university and I’m not sure what email you use). So here’s the question: when I teach about panpsychism, I use an analogy to magnetism: an iron bar which lacks any obvious magnetic properties is made of exactly the same atoms as is a bar magnet. The difference between the two is that the magnetic fieds of the individual iron atoms in magnets are sufficiently alligned to produce a noticeable macro-phenomenon of magnetism, while those of the plain iron bar are unalligned and counter each other. Similarly, in pansychism each atom (for instance) possesses some primitive kind of consciousness, but a macro-phenomenon of consciousness only arises when those atoms are properly arranged in a biological organism. I amuse my students with the suggestion that just as a magnet is weakened when the allignment of its atoms is disrupted through heating, a person’s consciousness can be disrupted by cooking them in a microwave. My question: I can’t remember if I made up this analogy myself or if I have forgotten that I read it somewhere. Does it ring a bell?

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