Liberty Warns against IHRA Definition of Antisemitism
Resolution passed by civil liberties body says government-adopted definition risks undermining the fight against antisemitism
- Liberty reiterates abhorrence of antisemitism as “repellent undercurrent which persists across the social and political spectrum.”
- Definition conflating antisemitism with criticism of Israel is “threat to freedom of expression.”
- Public bodies urged not to adopt IHRA definition.
The Annual General Meeting of Liberty, Britain’s leading organisation concerned with civil liberties and human rights, has warned public bodies not to adopt a government-backed definition of antisemitism because it brings confusion to the fight against anti-Jewish prejudice as well as constituting a threat to freedom of expression.
This refers to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance “Working Definition of Antisemitism” adopted by the UK government in December 2016, widely promoted as a tool for opposing hostility towards Jews, including within the Labour Party.
A resolution passed with overwhelming support at Liberty’s Members’ Conference and Annual General Meeting on May 19 said that the IHRA definition blurred “the previously clear understanding of the nature of antisemitism,” risked “undermining the defences against it” and threatened freedom of expression by “conflating antisemitism with criticism of Israel and legitimate defence of the rights of Palestinians.”
The resolution [see note 1 below] reiterated Liberty’s “abhorrence of antisemitism as a repellent undercurrent which persists across the social and political spectrum.”
Moved by Prof Jonathan Rosenhead, [see note 2 below] it cites a legal opinion from Hugh Tomlinson QC stating that the IHRA definition is “unclear and confusing” and “has no legal status or effect.”
Rosenhead quoted retired Appeal Court judge Sir Stephen Sedley who has called the IHRA document “a protean definition of antisemitism which is open to manipulation and capture”. It has been cited in many cases where public authorities, including universities, have refused to host speakers, cancelled room bookings and called off academic conferences.
Rosenhead noted that whenever Israel assaults Gaza, as in recent weeks, there is a spike in antisemitic incidents in the UK. This happens because people conflate Israel with Jews. “An official definition should not make the same error,” he said.
This AGM reiterates:
its abhorrence of antisemitism as a repellent undercurrent which persists across the social and political spectrum; and Liberty’s support for effective measures to combat antisemitism and all other forms of racism;
the legal Opinion of Hugh Tomlinson QC which states that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance ‘Working Definition of Antisemitism’, adopted by the UK government in December 2016, is “unclear and confusing” and “has no legal status or effect”; and that the overriding legal duty of public authorities is to preserve freedom of expression; that the guidance that is attached to the definition conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism, that the definition is being interpreted as saying that to describe Israel as a state practising apartheid, or to call for Boycott or Sanctions to be applied in defence of Palestinian rights, is an inherently antisemitic act that should be prohibited; that the definition is being cited in attempts to deter, obstruct or prevent events that are critical of Israel, or support the legitimate rights of Palestinians;
that by blurring the previously clear understanding of the nature of antisemitism, the IHRA definition risks undermining the defences against it; and that the definition’s conflation of antisemitism with criticism of Israel and legitimate defence of the rights of Palestinians is a threat to freedom of expression. It regrets that some local authorities have already adopted it, calls on those that have done so to apply it with extreme caution, and calls on other public bodies not to adopt the definition