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EU body disowns antisemitism ‘definition’ endorsed at NUS conference

April 21, 2016 at 3:32 pm

A European Union body has disowned a ‘definition’ of antisemitism credited to it at the National Union of Students (NUS) conference yesterday.

Motion 404, proposed by student representatives from Oxford University and adopted at NUS national conference in Brighton, urges the student body to do more to combat “anti-Semitism on campus.”

In a key section on the meaning of antisemitism, the motion claimed that “anti-Semitism is best defined by the ‘Working Definition of Anti-Semitism’ adopted by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency in 2005.”

Speaking today, however, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) categorically denied this, stating that the ‘working definition of antisemitism’ in question “is not an official EU definition and has not been adopted by FRA.”

In fact, the definition referred to in the motion was developed by the FRA’s predecessor, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), and published as part of a paper in 2005.

The text, drafted with the help of pro-Israel groups, proved highly controversial for its muddled – some argued intentionally so – conflation of genuine anti-Jewish racism, and criticism of or opposition to the State of Israel.

With the replacement of the EUMC by the FRA in 2007, all non-official documents were removed from the FRA’s website – including the working definition.

The FRA spokesperson clarified that “creating definitions” is not even “part of its mandate”, which instead pertains to providing “evidence-based advice on a wide range of fundamental rights, including anti-Semitism.”

This is not the first time that the FRA has clarified the status of the working definition; it has previously done so on a number of occasions between 2010 and 2013.

It is unclear how, or why, the Oxford students behind the motion came to include the definition, but it is worth noting that Eric Pickles MP recently published on the government website a ‘definition’ of antisemitism that cites a portion of the College of Policing’s hate crime manual.

That section of the manual also quotes from the abandoned working definition, recently prompting a complaint from Richard Kuper, spokesperson of Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

According to Kuper, the police guidance “was guilty of severe misrepresentation about the provenance of and authority of a so-called EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism.”

In another fresh development today, the Institute of Race Relations has expressed strong criticism of the “conflation of anti-Israelism with anti-Semitism” contained within the definition published on the government’s website by Eric Pickles.

The FRA’s statement, coming 24 hours after the motion was passed, will be a cause for concern, especially as the inclusion of a discredited, politicised definition can only hamper students’ efforts to, in the words of the motion, formulate “clearer policies” with regards to antisemitism.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.