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

JVL logo

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”

How to be ‘antisemitic’, on a porcelain plate,…

Mike Cushman

… without mentioning Jew, Israel, Zionism or any accepted or abusive synonym for any of these. Difficult, you might think, but according to Gillian Merron, the chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, leading Palestinian film maker Larissa Sansour has achieved this.

You can view her film until 1 September at https://vimeo.com/222682204 password porcelain.

Still from ‘In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain’
Still from Sansour’s film

Sansour’s film, co-created with Danish author, Søren Lind, In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain is showing in the Barbican season ‘Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction’.

Merron has demanded that the Barbican remove the film from the exhibition. Among Merron’s discomforts is that the dialogue is in Arabic. The film is about the creation of false narratives, a recurring theme in historiography and political theory and one dealt with in a literary form by George Orwell in 1984. In this case it is Merron who is reproducing the character of Winston Smith and trying to excise that which does not fit with her preferred representation. Continue reading “How to be ‘antisemitic’, on a porcelain plate,…”

Charlottesville Through a Glass Darkly

Richard Falk
Reprinted from MWC News by permission of the author

I suggest that Zionists fond of smearing critics of Israel as ‘antisemites’ take a sobering look at the VICE news clip of the white nationalist torch march through the campus of the University of Virginia the night before the lethal riot in Charlottesville.

Trump's allies on the march in in Charlottesville chanting 'Jews will not replace us'
Trump’s allies on the march in in Charlottesville

In this central regard, antisemitism, and its links to Nazism and Fascism, and now to Trumpism, are genuinely menacing, and should encourage rational minds to reconsider any willingness to being manipulated for polemic purposes by ultra-Zionists. We can also only wonder about the moral, legal, and political compass of ardent Zionists who so irresponsibly label Israel’s critics and activist opponents as anti-Semites, and thus confuse and bewilder the public as to the true nature of anti-Semitism as racial hatred directed at Jews. Continue reading “Charlottesville Through a Glass Darkly”

Trump support for racists forces Israeli leaders to take sides, but which side will they choose?

Jonathan Ofir
Reprinted from Mondoweiss by permission of the author

President Trump’s initial statement on the Charlottesville violence, where he said “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides, on many sides”, has taken on a life of its own. Equating the Nazis and white supremacists with their victims has become a national (as well as international) sport, and the promulgators of this “many sides” narrative are getting so excited with the prospect of it, that they are even going further, to regard the leftists as worse than Nazis. Continue reading “Trump support for racists forces Israeli leaders to take sides, but which side will they choose?”

I’m a British Jew, and I Don’t Fear a Corbyn Victory I’d Welcome It

Ha’aretz published two articles that totally misrepresented Jeremy Corbyn as an enemy of Jews and a poor choice for Prime Minister. Jonathan Rosenhead, vice-chair of FSOI responds.

This article originally appeared in Ha’aretz and is reprinted by permission of the author

The caricature of Jeremy Corbyn as a tool of Trotskyites, a lover of dictators and a shill of anti-Semites is unhinged and wrong

There is indeed a Jewish angle to Thursday’s UK general election. Come to that, there is a Jewish angle to most things of interest. But it is far from the most interesting feature of the election campaign. In their accounts of the election Colin Shindler (Can British Jews Still Vote Labour?) and Anshel Pfeffer (British Jewish Voters’ Choice: Anti-Semitism Today, or Tomorrow) manage both to mislead and confuse, and also to miss the big picture almost entirely.

Their portrayals are consistent – a caricature of the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn as a lover of dictators, leading a team of ex-communists and fellow travellers, at the head of a party engulfed by hard-left entryists

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn

and infiltrators. His followers have an anti-Semitic reflex, which Corbyn doesn’t ‘get’ as an issue.

All of which raises a big mystery – how is it that the more the British public gets to see Jeremy Corbyn relatively unmediated by the media and its commentators, the more they seem to like him? Continue reading “I’m a British Jew, and I Don’t Fear a Corbyn Victory I’d Welcome It”

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”

Lib Dem leader Farron ducks questions over sacking of David Ward

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi.

Farron ducks questions as David Ward fights to clear his name

On April 26, Liberal Democrat party leader Tim Farron caved into McCarthy-style pressure to dump one of his own parliamentary candidates, former Bradford East MP David Ward, who had been unjustly accused of antisemitism.

Ward is fighting to clear his name and has said he will stand as an independent candidate in the forthcoming general election.

The day after the sacking, I emailed Mr Farron offering to introduce him to Jews who could explain the widespread misuse of politically motivated antisemitism allegations. His reply, received on May 2, made no reference to any of my discussion points and was in fact a carbon copy of the reply he sent to others who had protested at the sacking of Mr Ward.

In a follow-up email, I challenged Mr Farron to justify the vacuous arguments in his message point by point. Having received no response, I am publishing our correspondence for the edification of students of the political art of evasion.

To tim.farron@libdems.org.uk

April 27, 2017

Dear Mr Farron,

I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked (when people discover that I am Jewish) questions along the lines of: “How is it possible that the Jews, who suffered such terrible persecution during the Holocaust, could go on to commit atrocities against Palestinians in the state of Israel, and continue to do so in the West Bank and Gaza?”

I recognise these questions for what they are – regretful expressions of bafflement at a seemingly inexplicable state of affairs. They are questions which usually lead to a discussion about the history of Israel and Palestine, during which I invariably have the opportunity to explain that despite the claims of the state of Israel to represent “the Jews”, actually many of us do not identify with Israel and resent the assumption that we all share its ideology.

If the people making comments like the one in my first paragraph above, which is almost word for word what David Ward wrote on his website in 2013, express any hostility to Jewish people or give any hint of harbouring hateful feelings against us, I have no hesitation in chastising them for their antisemitism. But there is nothing in such comments of themselves that even hints at hatred of Jews – which is what antisemitism is. Nor is it antisemitic to refer to Israel as an apartheid state. It’s controversial, yes, and it makes some people very cross, but it is decidedly not an expression of hatred of Jews.

I am, quite frankly, horrified that you have bowed to pressure from apologists for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, such as Eric Pickles, in blocking David Ward’s candidacy.

If you have been influenced by the government’s enthusiasm for a new definition of antisemitism which deliberately conflates it with criticism of Israel and Zionism, then I recommend reading a piece on the subject by Sir Stephen Sedley, a distinguished judge, himself Jewish, in the latest London Review of Books. Sir Stephen gives short shrift to the definition so ardently embraced by Pickles and Theresa May, warning that attempting to act upon it could result in legal suits for denial of free speech.

Once you’ve read it perhaps we could meet and you could explain to me why you have departed from Nick Clegg’s view that what David Ward said was neither racist or antisemitic.

Seriously, I would like to propose a discussion between you and other parliamentary colleagues, and some of my many Jewish friends who share Sedley’s understanding. We are on dangerous ground when we allow proponents of a partisan political (in this case pro-Israeli) stance to determine what may and may not be spoken about. Freedom of expression is seriously at risk here and you, as a Liberal Democrat, should be defending it, not conniving in its demise.

I look forward with interest to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

 

From: tim.farron.mp@parliament.uk

Tuesday, May 2, 2017 4:02 PM

Subject: RE: David Ward and antisemitism

Dear Ms Wimborne-Idrissi,

Recently David Ward was removed as the Liberal Democrat candidate in Bradford East.

Despite assurances to the contrary, David has consistently made remarks and statements which have been considered as inflammatory by people on both sides of this contentious debate.

I have been clear that I believe in a politics that is open, tolerant and united.

I am also clear that this is part of a pattern of behaviour that is not consistent with those values, and therefore David has lost the right to seek to represent our party in Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Farron, MP

Leader of the Liberal Democrats

 

To: tim.farron@libdems.org.uk

Date: 4 May 2017 at 00:17:19 BST

Subject: David Ward and antisemitism – your disappointing response to my detailed concerns

Dear Mr Farron,

I am deeply disappointed with your formulaic response to my detailed and personal concerns about the removal of David Ward as a candidate.

I addressed you sincerely as a Jewish human rights activist who is increasingly alarmed at the alacrity with which people in positions of authority, such as yourself, cave in to demands to deny freedom of expression to supporters of justice for Palestine. You sent me in return the same letter that I have seen on social media, posted by other people who wrote you entirely different messages.

I ask you now to do me the courtesy of responding specifically to my questions.

1.You talk about Mr Ward “consistently” making certain remarks and statements. But the abuse hurled at him is based almost exclusively on deliberate distortions (as I explained in my letter) of two comments made in 2013, neither of which deserve to be labeled antisemitic. Can you explain why you believe those remarks to justify exclusion from your party’s list of parliamentary candidates? And I do not mean why you believe these remarks are upsetting to a certain politically motivated group in society. I mean – what is fundamentally wrong with the things that he said? On what grounds do you discount the arguments that I put to you about this?

2.You assert that his remarks “have been considered as inflammatory by people on both sides of this contentious debate.” I am at a loss to understand what you mean by this. Those who have publicly denounced him are all very clearly on one side of the Palestine/Israel issue. For those of us on the other side, who are struggling to defend our right to speak in support of the Palestinians, it is the arguments of those who denounce us as antisemites that are inflammatory. It is they, not David Ward, whose views are “considered as inflammatory” by us. On what grounds do you suggest that David Ward has inflamed opinion “on both sides?” Who, apart from those who wish to defend Israel from criticism, has been “inflamed” by David Ward’s words?

3.You assert your belief in “a politics that is open, tolerant and united” and allege that David Ward’s behaviour is inconsistent with those values. Can you show me any evidence of your openness and tolerance towards people campaigning for human rights of Palestinians? In what way does forcing out a candidate supported by his local party, solely because of his views on one contentious area of politics, serve to bring about unity?

I reiterate my offer to introduce you to other Jews who can help you and your colleagues understand the complexities of this issue, explained in depth at the launch on March 27 in the House of Lords of an authoritative legal opinion about the definition of antisemitism mistakenly adopted by the government and some other bodies.

I have so far kept this correspondence private but I will feel obliged to make it public if you are unable to satisfy me on the above points. I look forward to hearing from you in the coming week.

Sincerely,

Naomi Wimborne Idrissi