Tell your council not to adopt the IHRA (mis)definition

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This is a copy of a letter sent by Jewish Voice for Labour to a council considering adopting the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism. We hope it may be of use to you if your local council is thinking of proceeding down this misguided path.

Dear councillor

As Jewish members of the Labour Party, and of the new Labour group, Jewish Voice for Labour, we are opposed to adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism due to be tabled before the council on Monday September 18.

We believe the IHRA document sows confusion in the fight against antisemitism and racism, which must be a key priority at this time of rising right-wing hate-mongering against ethnic and religious minorities. We also believe it poses a threat to freedom of expression, which it is a key duty of local authorities to protect.

We understand that councillors may feel obliged to endorse the motion out of a commendable desire to support and defend Jewish constituents, but in our opinion this would be misguided. The short definition of antisemitism contained in the proposed motion is, in our view, poorly worded and indefinite, but it is the rest of the document that seriously concerns us. The greater part of it is made up mainly of examples which do not relate to Jews at all, either individually or collectively. They relate to attitudes to the State of Israel.

We urge you to read the assessment by our friends in the Jewish Socialists’ Group, which can be found here. There is also a full assessment of the legal implications of the definition from Hugh Tomlinson QC here, as well as a scathing critique from (Jewish) former Appeal Court judge Sir Stephen Sedley in the London Review of Books here.

Antisemitism may sometimes be masked by a critical attitude to the State of Israel, that is true. The IHRA definition, though, seems designed not so much to catch speech or actions clearly motivated by hatred of Jews, as to defend the State of Israel against criticism of its violations of human rights, and to justify aspects of its foundation and constitution opposed by many Jews, both within and outside Israel. We know of many disturbing cases of the IHRA document being used to limit criticism of Israel and restrict campaigns in support of justice for Palestinians. The legal opinion from Hugh Tomlinson QC makes clear that public bodies using it in this way, including against the boycott movement, would be open to legal challenge for breaching their duty under the Human Rights Act to defend freedom of expression.

Councillors should be aware that the Labour Party has only adopted the short definition of antisemitism, which was included in the Race and Faith Manifesto during the 2017 general election. We are pleased that the party has not adopted the list of examples which follow the definition in the IHRA document. Nor should your council.

We appeal to you not to allow yourselves to be bounced into an ill-considered decision which will do nothing to oppose real antisemitism, and is likely to have negative consequences for the perception of the Council by many anti-racists and supporters of the rights of Palestinians.

We look forward to the opportunity to engage in productive discussion with council members about these important issues.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
on behalf of
Jewish Voice for Labour

 

Back Hastings & Rye Labour Party rule change

There are two radically different rule changes on the agenda for Labour Party Conference later in September dealing with alleged antisemitism in the Party. One from the Jewish Labour Movement and one from Hastings and Rye Labour Party.

Hastings once stood solid behind a shield wall. Let’s keep solid and ensure we are not defeated this time around

In early 2016 the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) tabled an amendment to Labour’s rulebook to make an undefined antisemitism, as perceived by an accuser and including unspoken “thought crime”, a matter for expulsion. That summer also saw dozens of people, and whole CLPs, suspended in a wholesale purge that included many unsubstantiated allegations of antisemitism.

The JLM last year tried to drum up a moral panic to force a rushed move to fast-forward their Rule Change to be taken in 2016. They failed in their attempt to jump procedure but now it is due for debate in Brighton this year.

Hastings and Rye Labour Party have proposed an alternative rule change which allows sensible consideration of alleged antisemitic and racist activity through due process rather than rush to judgement. Continue reading “Back Hastings & Rye Labour Party rule change”

How I stopped ignoring NGO Monitor and started fighting back

Michael Sfard

This article is republished from +972 Magazine and is reprinted by permission of the author

For years I have remained silent as Gerald Steinberg and NGO Monitor have harassed anti-occupation groups in Israel-Palestine, spreading falsehoods about us in order to shut us down. Now is the time to speak out. 

Around a decade ago, a new Israeli organization appeared out of nowhere. It had a name that sounded like a piece of medical equipment: NGO Monitor. The organization was founded by a Bar Ilan professor named Gerald Steinberg, as part of a right-wing think tank led by Netanyahu confidant Dore Gold. Since its establishment, Steinberg and NGO Monitor have been working tirelessly to dry out the funding of Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights and peace groups.

Professor Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, seen  at a conference organized by NGO Monitor, entitled "15 years of the Durban conference", held at the Israeli parliament, on June 20, 2016. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90
Professor Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, seen at a conference organized by NGO Monitor, entitled “15 years of the Durban conference”, held at the Israeli parliament, on June 20, 2016. (Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Like a pesky fly, the Monitor sticks to anti-occupation civil society organizations, following their activity and their fundraising efforts and exerting great efforts to harm their ability to raise money. In order to realize this goal, NGO Monitor has created an industry of articles, data sheets, and posts which circularly cite one another and slander these organizations. It then systematically repeats and recycles those papers so many times that had they been academic papers, they would have been the hit of Google Scholar. Continue reading “How I stopped ignoring NGO Monitor and started fighting back”

FSOI rejects antisemitism smears against artists boycotting Pop-Kultur

As so often occurs, allegations of antisemitism are being leveled at artists who have taken a principled decision not to participate in a cultural event which receives sponsorship from the Israeli state.

The 6th artist to withdraw from Berlin’s Pop-Kultur festival on August 23-25, Annie Goh, issued a statement via Facebook on August 20 explaining the reasons for her cancellation, criticising misinformation put out by Pop-Kultur’s organisers regarding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and describing as ‘despicable’ smears against four Arab artists who withdrew from the festival.

Goh is the second UK Pop-Kultur participant to pull out following a call from Artists for Palestine UK, supported by Brian Eno and Roger Waters, to respect the Palestinian boycott call. Israeli citizens have also lent support to the boycott call.

Continue reading “FSOI rejects antisemitism smears against artists boycotting Pop-Kultur”

A Question of Academic Freedom

Nick Riemer

This article first appeared in Jacobin Magazine and is reproduced by permission of the author

BDS opponents are wrong — boycotts are well within the bounds of academic conduct.

Many academics have objected to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel on the grounds that it violates academic freedom — an accusation that has been remarkably successful in gaining traction.

Zionists denounce those who would disrespect the “free flow of ideas within the international scholarly community,” as Russell A. Berman puts it, but refuse to recognize that, in Palestine, ideas (not to mention people) face severe restrictions. The apparatuses of settler-colonial violence — which BDS’s opponents typically show little interest in dismantling — brutally contain thought in Palestine. This self-evident truth hasn’t yet exposed the academic-freedom argument for the hypocrisy it is.
The claim gets much of its force from the false notion that boycotts represent an exception to the academy’s normal functioning. Opponents don’t just want liberals to see BDS as an attack on a fundamental principle of scholarly exchange — they also want to shock them with the scandalous breach of academic politesse that BDS supposedly represents.But this vision of academic life is a chimera: a closer examination reveals that restricting the flow of ideas constitutes much of the daily conduct of research and teaching, and indeed, of the working life of universities in general. Academic exchange is not intrinsically bound up with the free exchange of ideas, but rather, with their regulation. That’s perhaps why many of the boycott’s fiercest opponents themselves regularly try — illegitimately — to restrict ideas they disagree with.
Continue reading “A Question of Academic Freedom”

How Not to Fight Antisemitism

On Monday 24 June Haringey Council gave a masterclass in how not to fight antisemitism. And indeed how to give local democracy a bad name.

On 15 June the agenda for the Council’s meeting was published. One item was the proposal of a motion, by the Council Leader on behalf of the Labour Group, for Haringey to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘definition’ of antisemitism. (Those blissfully unaware of what is wrong with this sorry document can catch up here.)

Professor Haim Bresheeth addresses the protest outside the Council Meeting, in front of the FSOI banner
Professor Haim Bresheeth addresses the protest outside the Council Meeting, in front of the FSOI banner

A slow-motion car crash in action

Continue reading “How Not to Fight Antisemitism”

PalExpo organisers resist hate campaign

Richard Kuper

Palestine Expo 2017 is the largest social, cultural and entertainment event on Palestine ever to take place in Europe. It runs on 8th and 9th July at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London. Food, live entertainment, academic discussion, shopping, photographic exhibitions and much, much more are on offer.

PalExpo leaflets
PalExpo leaflets

Too much, it seems for some. A hate campaign has been launched on social media maliciously accusing the organisers of having terrorist links in an effort to stop the celebration/exhibition in its tracks. Unjustified legal action, lawfare, has been launched by RHF Solicitors in Manchester representing Jewish Human Rights Watch (JHRW). They are trying to pressure the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre into cancelling the event. They have manufactured accusations against two of the organisers of PalExpo, Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA) and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), claiming they have clear terrorist links and support

Lawfare letter from RHF solicitors
Lawfare letter from RHF solicitors attacking PalExpo

“Jew Hate across the UK”. The solicitor’s letter alleges that “the recurring anti-Semitic themes promoted by the above groups is deliberately intended to intimidate and discriminate against Jews.” It continues: “Our client is certain that this event is a front for Jew hate and that the main groups (Friends of Alaqsa & Palestine Solidarity Campaign) are organisations promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in relation to Israel, a known anti-Semitic movement.”

Both FOA and PSC have robustly rejected these absurd allegations. In an appeal for support, FOA has said in a statement on 2nd June:

“FOA and our Chairman, Ismail Patel, have been slandered and defamed by JHRW who accuse us of spreading  ‘Jew hate’ because we support Boycott Divestment and Sanction of Israel. The promotion of BDS is supporting freedom of Palestinians and has nothing to do with being anti-Semitic!

They have also outrageously claimed that Palestine Expo should not be allowed to take place so close to Westminster, in a disgraceful attempt to exploit the recent horrific Westminster incident for their own gain. The malicious attack is a tactic to deter supporters of Palestine from attending.”

PSC Director Ben Jamal, cited in an article by Yvonne Ridley, called the allegations “false and disturbing” and explained:

“Palestine Expo will be a celebration of the rich Palestinian culture, with traditional dancing, food, artisan goods, art exhibits, and children’s entertainment alongside talks on the current political situation… We are sure that reasonable people have no issue with any national group celebrating their heritage.”

The two organisations are seeking legal redress against these slanders. They urge everyone to show their support for PalExpo by going along on 8th or 9th July! You can book tickets in advance here.

Further reading:

Ben White, “Israel and friends battle the boycott in Britain” Middle East Monitor, 1 March 2016

Yvonne Ridley, “An online hate campaign is trying to get a Palestinian cultural festival cancelled”,  Middle East Monitor, 26 May 2017

Far-right Islamophobes unite with pro-Israel lobbyists in European Parliament antisemitism debate

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

A debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday (May 31) exposed pro-Israel lobbyists as the natural allies of far-right Islamophobes supporting a definition of antisemitism designed to defend the state of Israel.

Ostensibly about a motion on “Combating Antisemitism”, the discussion in fact revolved around one clause calling for institutions of the EU and all member states to adopt the controversial “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism.”

This document, based on an earlier “working definition” abandoned by the now defunct EU monitoring centre on racism and xenophobia (EUMC), broadens the widely understood concept of antisemitism as hostility towards Jews, to include criticism of Israel.

In Thursday’s vote, 101 MEPs voted against its inclusion in the motion, but 479 voted in favour while 47 abstained. The motion including the contentious clause was passed.

Continue reading “Far-right Islamophobes unite with pro-Israel lobbyists in European Parliament antisemitism debate”

UCU Congress rejects “confusing” definition of antisemitism

Press Release from Free Speech on Israel and BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine)

for immediate release – 29th May 2017

UCU Congress rejects “confusing” definition of antisemitism

Support for Palestinian professor denied entry to Israel

Free Speech on Israel, a Jewish-led organisation which defends the right to criticise Israel, and the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, which campaigns for academic and cultural boycott of Israel, today welcomed the vote by the University and College Union (UCU) to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

Motion 57, submitted by UCU branches at the University of Leeds, Goldsmiths, and the University of Brighton, along with two strengthening amendments from Queen’s University Belfast and London Retired Members Branch, was carried overwhelmingly in the closing minutes of UCU’s annual Congress in Brighton.  Only one delegate spoke against the motion.

UCU Congress delegates standing up to racism
UCU Congress delegates standing up to racism

UCU had previously, in 2011, rejected the “Working Definition of Antisemitism” of the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).  The IHRA definition strongly resembles the EUMC version.  Today’s vote strengthens UCU’s existing policy. Continue reading “UCU Congress rejects “confusing” definition of antisemitism”

If you thought the IHRA (mis)definition was bad enough…

… the version that Luke Akehurst is peddling is even worse

Mike Cushman

Luke Akehurst of ‘We Believe in Israel’ has been circulating an amended version of the IHRA definition of antisemitism to Local Authorities and encouraging them to adopt it. A letter sent by Akehurst, former Labour Leader of Hackney Council and failed NEC candidate, has been urging councils to pass a motion that subtly, but significantly, toughens the suppression of pro-Palestinian voices. Worse it tries to pass off this new version as the same as the original. The letter has been circulated in the name of a previously unknown front organisation ‘Local Government Friends of Israel’.

The IHRA definition is in two parts: a flawed core definition and a series of exemplars that link the definition to criticism of Israel. The IHRA definition describes the exemplars as:

“Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:”

Akehurst's motion to intensify the IHRA definition
Akehurst’s motion to intensify the IHRA definition

Akehurst’s model motion amends this to:

“The guidelines highlight manifestations of antisemitism as including:”

This makes criticism of Israel such as “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.” an absolute offence; regardless of whether there is any evidence of antisemitic intent.

Continue reading “If you thought the IHRA (mis)definition was bad enough…”