What is the connection between Brexit and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism? There is one, of course. In short, it is the equivalence between the concepts of ‘sovereignty’ and self-determination. The words are synonymous. In this context, consider a couple of the contentious ’examples’ attached to the IHRA definition: ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour’ and ‘Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.’
Of the first of these examples, I think one would be permitted to assert that any people should have a right to self-determination, this cannot be a right exclusively reserved for just one ethnic or religious group—that would be a racist endeavour. So although the IHRA example here appears to establish a right for Jewish people exclusively (which in a historical context has been seen as reasonably justifiable) the example nevertheless must be posited on a universal principle in order not to be considered racist. The challenge that arises from this use of this example is what defines a body of people who may claim a right to self-determination? Since most democracies are predicated on the simple (if naive) principle of one person one vote, that implies no regard—or weighting—should be given to any other characteristic of the elector. The wholly sufficient attribute of such an elector must be that they are a citizen of the state in which they live. That state would naturally be described as a nation state, but as history shows, right up to relatively recent times with e.g. Balkanisation, the creation of Bangladesh or South Sudan, the pre-existing nation state wasn’t always made to last.
The Brexit vote is just another kind of expression of self-determination, a yearning for sovereignty. We want to be in charge of our own destiny. Just us, nobody else. Now, as we ponder the ‘deal’ with the EU on what exactly that means we are finding that whatever sovereignty means, it will necessarily entail co-operation and compromise with ‘the other.’ The most vocal of Brexiteers, UK fishing communities are finding that out at that their cost and the word ‘betrayal’ follows naturally. But we have clearly, by a slim margin of voters chosen this path—to leave an international, legal arrangement of one sort to enter into another. If this is acceptable, then it follows that it is entirely consistent for Scotland if it so wishes to terminate its current legal arrangement with England and the rest of the UK. The Scottish people's right to self-determination is no less than the right of citizens of Israel to self-determination (whilst regrettably acknowledging that the Arab fifth of Israel’s population is treated differently, by law).
This brings me to the second example taken from the IHRA list of examples— ‘Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.’ This is precisely the point. This example stands only if that behaviour is expected of every other democratic nation. It would be a double standard if we demanded a quality in Israel that we didn’t demand in say Scotland. The quality, that is, of self-determination. The IHRA examples should not blind us to our own democratic deficit, and so one can understand a term like ‘double standards’ in this context. Every true democrat should hold each other to precisely the same standard. Sadly, along with so many other governments, that of Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t seem to have grasped the point.