The Curious Case of Kenneth Stern and his Refusal to Accept Responsibility for how the IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism Has Been Used to Chill Free Speech?
Stern’s Dissembling over the IHRA is a Result of the Contradiction Between Being a Zionist and a Diaspora Jew
Thousands of words have been spent analysing the Working Definition of Anti-Semitism [WDA], nearly all of them scathing and scornful. Yet still the WDA has been widely accepted by governments, civil society and establishment bodies. Why? Because it has become a hegemonic narrative, immune to reason but serving the interests of the ruling elites in capitalist society.
Kenneth Stern is an unlikely hero. He is the person who drafted the WDA and yet he has also spoken out strongly against its use as a weapon to silence debate on Palestine and Zionism in academia. How can we reconcile this contradiction?
I want to suggest that Stern is a classic case of cognitive dissonance, someone who holds two different philosophies or beliefs at the same time. Stern is, on the one hand, a Zionist who thinks nothing of smearing and vilifying his opponents as ‘anti-Semitic’. On the other hand he is a diaspora Jew for whom academic freedom is a value he holds in high regard.
In my Open Letter to Stern (below) I put a number of questions to him about his role in creating the WDA and the problematic nature of the definition.
It is impossible to understand why Stern thought there was a need for a new definition of anti-Semitism unless conflating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism was his main objective. Nothing Stern has said makes sense otherwise. Stern himself cast doubt on the whole exercise:
IHRA’s zealous supporters often say that to combat antisemitism, one has to define it. In my view, that simply isn’t true. Definitions are useful for data collectors, but it’s not as if people didn’t fight antisemitism before the definition was created over 16 years ago.
My dad fought Oswald Moseley’s fascists at the Battle of Cable Street in London’s East End 85 years ago despite being told to stay at home by the Board of Deputies and the Zionists. He and thousands of others, Jewish and non-Jewish, didn’t need a definition of anti-Semitism to in order to fight it.
The American Jew who was run by Israel as a spy
Stern’s commitment to freedom of speech on campus conflicted with his support for Zionism, a Jewish supremacist ideology. Stern embodies the conflict between the interests of diaspora Jewry and a Zionism which seeks to alienate Jews from their place in society.
Despite the WDA illustration holding that ‘Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel... than to the interests of their own nations’ is anti-Semitic, it is Zionism itself which demands that Jews’ first loyalty should be to Israel. That is why ‘traitor’ is an epithet flung at anti-Zionist Jews by Zionists.
BDS according to Stern is anti-Semitic
This contradiction exploded into the open in 2013 when Israel’s Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Absorption conducted a survey which asked American Jews where their loyalties would lie if there was a crisis between the two countries.
When Stern and Cary Nelson, President of the American Association of University Professors penned an open letter criticising what they termed a ‘perversion of the definition’, claiming that it ‘was not drafted to label anyone an antisemite or to limit campus speech’, they met a fierce backlash by those who believed that that was exactly why it was created!
‘American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris apologised for the open letter from Stern, calling the letter “ill-advised.” after an angry reaction from Stern’s fellow Zionists. Ctd....