Stephen Sedley slams IHRA (mis)definition

Distinguished retired Appeal Court Judge Sir Stephen Sedley said on 27 March at a meeting in the House of Lords

The purpose of this meeting is to draw attention to a growing concern about the misuse for political purposes of the concept of anti-semitism. The misuse in question is the conflation of criticism of Israel with hostility to Jews. Its political purpose is to prohibit or inhibit discourse or action inimical to the state of Israel.

Sir Stephen Sedley
Sir Stephen Sedley

There are two distinct backstories to the catch-all meaning of antisemitism with which this meeting is immediately concerned.

One is the longstanding, and largely successful, endeavour to segregate anti-semitism from racism. It has for a good many years been part of Zionist discourse to contend that racism is one thing –  based on concepts of genetic inferiority – and anti-semitism another, based on historical and theological as well as genetic factors. This is not the place to pursue the argument, save perhaps to note that anti-semites do not as a rule worry about whether their targets are observant, orthodox or secular Jews: their spleen is directed at members of a race.

The other backstory is the Zionist claim to represent all the world’s Jews – a claim welcomed by Islamic extremists. Nothing suits Islamic fundamentalism better than the idea that all Jews are equally implicated in the excesses of Zionism. The claim depoliticises Zionism and legitimises jihadist anti-semitism.[1]

Against this already dangerous backdrop, we are now looking at the no doubt well-intentioned but naïve adoption by our executive government of a protean definition of anti-semitism which is open to manipulation and capture by the background interests I have mentioned. In this regard I would go rather further than Hugh Tomlinson does in his careful and well-reasoned Opinion. The governing proposition that antisemitism is “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews” carries the clear implication that it may equally be expressed in other, unspecified, ways.

As Hugh Tomlinson says, this passage is vague and confusing; but I am not sure that the critique should stop there. It seems to me that its open-ended formulation has a thought-out purpose: to bring within the pale of antisemitism perceptions of Jews – possibly but not necessarily of all Jews – which fall short of hatred. While this may legitimately cover familiar antisemitic slanders about greed, clannishness and so forth, it is also capable of embracing perceptions of Zionism which are the subject of legitimate debate and disagreement.

That this is part of the intended reach is now becoming evident. One of the adopted examples is “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavour.” This passage bristles with controversial assumptions. Is there a single entity capable of being characterised as “the Jewish people”? Am I obliged to regard myself as bound by ethnicity to people like Benjamin Netanyahu? Then, assuming that there is such an ethnic entity, from where does it derive a collective right to self-determination capable of defeating the right to self-determination of other peoples, above all the Palestinian people? There have been many Jews – my father was one – who long before 1947 opposed the Zionist project on the ground that Jewish exceptionalism was exactly what antisemitism needed.

Lastly, accepting as one must that the state of Israel, whatever has been argued in the past about its right to exist, is a geopolitical ‘fact on the ground’, why are people, including many Jews, not entitled, without being branded anti-Semitic, to regard it in its present form as both a colonialist and an apartheid state? The  demand that criticism, to be legitimate, must be ‘similar to that levelled against any other country’ assumes that there are other countries which behave like Israel. There may well be, but how can this properly be a precondition of any criticism?

I will not travel over the consequential legal ground that Hugh Tomlinson so ably traverses. It is sufficient to emphasise these points:

  1. The adoption by government of the IHRA’s “working definition” does not clothe it with any legal force. At the same time, it is not neutral: it may well influence policy both domestically and internationally.
  1. No policy, however, can be adopted or used in defiance of the law. The Convention right of free expression, now part of our domestic law by virtue of the Human Rights Act, places both negative and positive obligations on the state which may be put at risk if the IHRA definition is unthinkingly followed. And s. 43 of the 1986 Education Act, while passed to deal with very different kinds of controversy, vouchsafes an individual right of free expression in all higher education institutions which cannot be cut back by governmental policies.

What is needed now is a principled retreat on the part of government from a stance which it has naively adopted in disregard of the sane advice given to it by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

[1]  For my part I am critical of the ECtHR’s judgment in CICAD v Switzerland, because it failed to recognise that the offending article, with its assertion that “when Israel is exposed … it is Judaism that is exposed at the same time” was a classic attempt to taint all Jews with Israel’s violations of human rights. Its author in my view had been rightly accused of antisemitism.

QC’s opinion: major faults with government IHRA antisemitism definition

Organisational Logos: FSOI, PSC, JfJfP, IJVEmbargoed: Not for publication before 15.00 on 27.3.2017

Press are invited to launch.  Launch takes place Monday March 27, 15:00 – 16:30, House of Lords Committee Room Three

Definition cannot be used to judge criticism of Israel as antisemitic, unless it expresses hatred towards Jews. Describing Israel as a state enacting a policy of apartheid, as practising settler colonialism or calling for policies of boycott divestment or sanctions against Israel cannot properly be characterized as antisemitic.

Full text of the opinion

  • The definition’s poor drafting means public bodies applying the definition could be at serious risk of “unlawfully restricting legitimate expressions of political opinion”.
  • Definition has already been used to close down student events at universities across the country; it is widely feared to have a ‘chilling effect’.
  • Eminent lawyers Sir Geoffrey Bindman and Sir Stephen Sedley endorse the legal opinion and will address the launch at the House of Lords.

Continue reading “QC’s opinion: major faults with government IHRA antisemitism definition”

London Labour shamelessly repeats Israeli fictions

Mike Cushman

Tony Greenstein has written an excellent post on his blog demolishing the fictions that Len Duvall repeated in his response to FSOI’s letter to the Assembly Labour Group about the GLA’s adoption of the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism. We reprint the key part of the post below.

We have posted our rebuttal of Duvall’s assertions about the nature of the IHRA definition; Tony destroys the fictions he wrote about the situation in Palestine/Israel. One of Israel’s major exports is Hasbara: the Hebrew word for what we call propaganda. It appears that Duvall is a loyal customer of the Hasbara store and retails Israeli, what we will politely call, fictions with a straight face. He may assume that people with less knowledge of the dire situations of Palestinian people in ’48 Israel, in the occupied territories and in the diaspora might be taken in by these fabrications: an increasingly dubious assumption. It is an insult to our intelligence that he expects FSOI activists and our friends to be so easily misled.

Greater London Assembly
Greater London Assembly

Tony Greenstein’s demolition of Duvall’s fictions

Dear Mr Duvall, Continue reading “London Labour shamelessly repeats Israeli fictions”

Labour Chair blocks discussion of Israeli subversion

Mike Cushman

Your Local Labour Party 101The Chair of Hampstead and Kilburn Constituency Labour Party used his position to block discussion of a properly submitted motion on the scandal disclosed by the Al Jazeera series ‘The Lobby’, at their monthly meeting on 15 March. He used the IHRA (mis)definition) of antisemitism to back his partisan ruling. He claimed that discussing Israeli subversion in Britain before discussing Russian subversion in the United States was antisemitic. He acknowledged that the movers of the motion were themselves Jewish but patronised them saying their actions were ‘inadvertent and meant in good faith’. He sided with those Jews who were distressed by discussion of unacceptable behaviour by Israel over those who were outraged by the Israeli actions.

The rules of debate meant that there could be no speeches to contest the questionable assertions of the Chair. Despite a clear majority of the meeting opposing his ruling, there was not the two-thirds majority required to force a debate.

We have been criticised as scaremongering for claiming the IHRA definition will stifle Free Speech. This is another example of the censorship regime encroaching on our legal right to freedoom of expression to put alongside the clampdown on University campuses.

Not all Labour parties have been so pusillanimous.  After a long battle to get it onto the agenda, Hackney South and Shoreditch Labour Party passed a motion calling for a campaign against the IHRA definition. Continue reading “Labour Chair blocks discussion of Israeli subversion”

GLA gets it so very wrong on antisemitism

Mike Cushman

Free Speech on Israel wrote to all Greater London Authority (GLA) members to rebuke them for their hasty unanimous adoption of the flawed IHRA definition of antisemitism. Len Duvall, leader of the GLA Labour Group replied on behalf of the Group. His response was so inadequate that I felt impelled to respond personally in advance of the collective FSOI rebuttal.

My response to Duvall’s reply

Dear Len Duvall

Thank you for your reply to the Free Speech on Israel letter about the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. FSOI will be sending you an organisational reply shortly but this is my personal response.

I fear you misunderstand our concerns about the definition and indeed about the nature of the Israeli state.

I have concerns about the definition which fall into three separate, if occasionally overlapping, categories. The definition is:

  1. Problematic legally
  2. Poorly drafted and incoherent
  3. Politically partisan and repressive

Continue reading “GLA gets it so very wrong on antisemitism”

FSOI tells European Parliament – Do not covertly adopt IHRA (mis)definition

Mike Cushman

Today Free Speech on Israel wrote to every member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) today to point out the dangers of adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism. They all received personally addressed copies of this letter and an explanatory document.

LIBE committee in session
LIBE committee in session

If your MEP is a member of this committee write them a personal letter.

fsoi letterhead

20 March 2017

Dear xxxxxxx

Re: The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Definition of Antisemitism

We have been informed that a proposal for the European Parliament to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, though not on the agenda, is likely to be put to your committee at your forthcoming meeting without the normal notice and openness. Continue reading “FSOI tells European Parliament – Do not covertly adopt IHRA (mis)definition”

On Questioning the Jewish State

Joseph Levine
Reprinted from New York Times by permission of the author

I was raised in a religious Jewish environment, and though we were not strongly Zionist, I always took it to be self-evident that “Israel has a right to exist.” Now anyone who has debated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will have encountered this phrase often. Defenders of Israeli policies routinely accuse Israel’s critics of denying her right to exist, while the critics (outside of a small group on the left, where I now find myself) bend over backward to insist that, despite their criticisms, of course they affirm it. The general mainstream consensus seems to be that to deny Israel’s right to exist is a clear indication of anti-Semitism (a charge Jews like myself are not immune to), and therefore not an option for people of conscience.

Over the years I came to question this consensus and to see that the general fealty to it has seriously constrained open debate on the issue, one of vital importance not just to the people directly involved — Israelis and Palestinians — but to the conduct of our own foreign policy and, more important, to the safety of the world at large. My view is that one really ought to question Israel’s right to exist and that doing so does not manifest anti-Semitism. The first step in questioning the principle, however, is to figure out what it means. Continue reading “On Questioning the Jewish State”

What Canadians really think about Israel/Palestine

— and what major media won’t tell you

Michael Lesher
Reprinted from Times of Israel by permission of the author
As a citizen of a democracy, wouldn’t you want to know if the policy of your government ran directly contrary to the will of its electorate?

As a news reader, wouldn’t you prefer accurate information from your newspapers and TV news broadcasts about one of the prominent issues of the day?

As a law-abiding person, wouldn’t you want your government to allow its citizens to pursue peaceful means to promote worldwide adherence to the basic norms of international law?

If you’ve answered “yes” to these questions – and you’re Canadian – get ready to be angry. Because you’ve been had.

Three times over.
Continue reading “What Canadians really think about Israel/Palestine”

Israeli Apartheid Week held at 30 UK universities, despite repression

Michael Deas. Reprinted from Electronic Intifada 10 March 2017

Israeli Apartheid Week took place on more than 30 university campuses across the UK last week despite a massive government backed campaign of repression.

Students at the University of Cambridge and five other campuses erected mock apartheid walls during Israeli Apartheid Week.
Students at the University of Cambridge and five other campuses erected mock apartheid walls during Israeli Apartheid Week.

The week saw some events cancelled, with unprecedented and bizarre restrictions imposed on organizers.

Israeli Apartheid Week is an annual series of events that last year took place in more than 225 cities across the world to raise awareness about how Israel meets the UN definition of apartheid and to build support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Thousands of students and academics attended events as part of what was one of the biggest Israeli Apartheid Weeks in the UK to date.

This was doubly impressive given the unprecedented campaign of repression launched against Israeli Apartheid Week by the UK government, universities and the pro-Israel lobby. The campaign came in the context of broader attacks on Palestine organizing in the UK and across the world.

Government interference

On 13 February, UK universities minister Jo Johnson wrote a letter, seen by The Electronic Intifada, titled “Tackling Anti-semitism on campus” to Nicola Dandridge, the head of Universities UK, the representative organization for universities.

Apparently signalling that universities should seek to subject Israeli Apartheid Week events to special scrutiny, Johnson wrote that events which “might take place under the banner of ‘Israel Apartheid’ events” must be “properly handled by higher education institutions to ensure that our values, expectations and laws are not violated.”

Johnson’s letter was passed on to the head of each of the UK’s universities.

South African anti-apartheid activist and academic Farid Esack spokes to more than 170 at an Israeli Apartheid Week event at the University of Sussex. Photo credit Tamara Lasheras
South African anti-apartheid activist and academic Farid Esack spokes to more than 170 at an Israeli Apartheid Week event at the University of Sussex. Tamara Lasheras

British university staff are also being told to “manage” pro-Palestine events on campus as part of the government’s controversial Prevent anti-extremism strategy, Middle East Eye reported.

In addition, pro-Israel organizations lobbied universities directly, urging them to cancel Israeli Apartheid Week events and organized mass letter writing campaigns. According to an email newsletter it sent out, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, a pro-Israel organization, met with several universities to call for the cancellation of events.

Apparently urged on by pro-Israel groups, the Charity Commission, the regulating body for UK charities, sent intimidating emails to student unions at many of the universities where Israeli Apartheid Week was taking place.

Having spoken to different student organizers and student union officers, it is clear the commission asked unions a series of questions about Israeli Apartheid Week. This included insisting that unions reconsider the “suitability of invited speakers” and urging them to take extra measures to ensure that Israeli Apartheid Week events were lawful.

As part of my organizing on Israeli Apartheid Week, I’ve been speaking to members of the Israeli Apartheid Week UK committee and to organizers on campuses across the country. The way in which universities and some student unions reacted to this external pressure were often dangerously repressive and outright bizarre. They included the following:

  • Management at the University of Central Lancashire revoked permission for a speaker panel, forcing organizers to hold the event off campus. Management falsely claimed the event violated the government’s controversial new guidelines on anti-Semitism.
  • At University College London, management forbade a planned street theatre event on the grounds that risk assessment forms had not been filled in on time.
  • At Kings College London, there was a heavy presence of university security officials inside an event and, in a highly unusual move, the speakers were given a lengthy “security briefing.”
  • Student organizers at Leeds were told by their student union that they were not allowed to show any documentary produced by Al-Jazeera or any that featured “emotive music.”
  • The director of the University of Sussex, Adam Tickell, emailed a statement to all students which said, “we will not tolerate intimidation of anyone for their religious or political opinions about the politics of the Middle East” and claimed that “the language” surrounding Israeli Apartheid Week was “deeply upsetting.” Students I talked to believed this was an attempt to intimidate them for their political opinions about the Middle East.
  • Several universities sent official observers to events or organized their own recording of events for monitoring purposes.

Yet despite all this, Israeli Apartheid Week events still took place at more than 30 campuses.

International speakers

US spoken word artist and organizer Aja Monet and South African anti-apartheid veteran and academic Farid Esack spoke to hundreds of people at events at Kings College London, the University of Manchester and the University of Sussex.

More than 170 people heard from US spoken word artist and organiser Aja Monet at an Israeli Apartheid Week event at the University of Sussex.
More than 170 people heard from US spoken word artist and organiser Aja Monet at an Israeli Apartheid Week event at the University of Sussex. Photo credit Tamara Lasheras

Monet also performed at a packed out cultural event in London alongside Palestinian spoken word artist and organizer Rafeef Ziadah and Moroccan band N3rdistan.

Abed Salayma from Hebron-based group Youth Against Settlements spoke out against Israeli apartheid at Portsmouth, University College London, Goldsmiths, Brunel and several Scottish universities.

At the University of Oxford, talks were given by Palme d’Or winning director Ken Loach and Professor Avi Shlaim.

The Israel lobby had clearly set its sights on the complete cancellation of Israeli Apartheid Week in the UK.

Indeed, the Board of Deputies of British Jews sent out an email claiming credit for some of the cancellations of events and other repressive measures enacted by universities.

The fact that inspiring, impressive and well attended events still took place across the country is down to the way in which students, as well as many student unions, stood up to university management and firmly pushed back against the repression.

Organising against repression

Explaining how Israel meets the UN definition of apartheid and that Palestinians are entitled to the same human rights as everyone else is part of a global anti-racist struggle – despite whatever the Israel lobby claims.

It’s also significant that academics across the country wrote emails to management and brought up concerns about repression in their departmental meetings. More than 250 academics signed an open letter published in The Guardian denouncing the campaign of repression.

Prominent anti-Palestinian activist David Collier appeared disappointed that the campaign of repression largely failed, writing “despite one or two cancellations, the government, the university, and elements of our own leadership are letting us down.”

It’s clear that attempts to repress Palestine solidarity organizing won’t stop students standing up for Palestinian rights.

In a statement, the Israeli Apartheid Week UK organizing committee said that although the restrictions “created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation on university campuses” attempts to silence the Palestine solidarity movement would fail.

“Freedom of expression is at stake here not only for campaigning around Palestinian rights, but social justice campaigning more broadly,” the committee said. “The attacks on Palestine campaigning must be situated within today’s overall current political context which facilitates discrimination towards marginalised groups.”

The committee insisted that “no amount of external meddling to shut down or censor IAW events will work – we will continue to uphold the right to campaign on university campuses and advocate for justice and freedom.”

See also Government and Zionists combine to disrupt Israeli Apartheid Week

‘BDS is a terrorist movement’ – exposing David Collier

Jonathan Ofir
Reprinted from Mondoweiss by permission of the author

British blogger David Collier recently boasted in an op-ed posted on the religious-nationalist outlet Israel National News:

“I have just concluded an in-depth investigation into anti-Semitism inside the [UK, ed.] Palestine Solidarity Campaign that has spanned months but drew on several years of underlying research.”

Sounds quite ominous. The Times of Israel also picked up the news immediately.

Continue reading “‘BDS is a terrorist movement’ – exposing David Collier”

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