Liberty AGM warns of dangers of IHRA ‘definition of antisemitism’

Liberty LogoLiberty, Britain’s leading human rights charity, agreed a resolution deploring use of the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism at its AGM on 19 May.

Media Notice from Free Speech on Israel

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.

The Resolution

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

Continue reading “Liberty AGM warns of dangers of IHRA ‘definition of antisemitism’”

Venturing into the lion’s den: the case against IPSO

Jonathan Coulter describes the weaponisation process, the targeting of the Labour Party and his own experience in challenging media distortions.   He seeks to explain why this is happening, and goes on to suggest how pro-Palestinian rights activists can push back, in alliance with other groups.

Britain’s acquiescence with the weaponisation of antisemitism; can we really be so daft?

I recently launched a Judicial Review of the press regulator IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation) for failing to heed a group complaint about two Murdoch newspapers which had grossly misreporIPSO logoted a House of Lords meeting to launch the campaign for Britain to apologise for the impact on the native Palestinian people of the Balfour Declaration of 1917.   Between them, the newspapers had smeared a whole meeting of Palestine sympathisers as ‘antisemitic’ and, by implication anybody who spoke at or attended similar meetings.

In this endeavour I worked closely with the Hacked Off Campaign.  Hacked Off has no position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but supported me as it considers IPSO to be a ‘sham regulator’ that the press barons established to protect their own interests, and not those of the public, and because it felt that my specific complaints had merit and were important.

As I explained in my letter to supporters, we achieved much in getting a judge to accept the case ‘on the papers’.  However another judge who heard the case on April 17th took a very different tack, raising a question over the court’s jurisdiction, and ruling against me on the grounds I had raised.   The judge in effect declared that IPSO’s rules, written by the press industry, gave IPSO discretion to do exactly as it wanted within those rules.

Notwithstanding this setback, the issues are very much alive, and another person has made a related complaint to IPSO, this time about scurrilous articles in the Jewish Chronicle.

The context – a battle on British soil

When, about a decade ago, I started researching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I soon concluded that it was being fought out at least as much in Western countries as in the Middle East.   This had been the case from the beginning, because Zionist doctrines originated in 19th Century Europe and it was Britain that issued the famous Balfour Declaration during World War I.  In accordance with the colonial thinking of the time, Europeans (gentiles and Jews alike) tended to see Palestine rather like a blank canvas on which they could carry out their own designs.

Since World War Two, first Zionists and then the state of Israel tirelessly and successfully used spin and PR to bring the western nations behind Israel.   Israel was presented variously as ‘a plucky David facing the Arab Goliath’, ‘a tolerant and democratic country in a tough neighbourhood’, and, as always ‘responding to Arab/Palestinian aggression’ rather than as an aggressor in its own right.  However, as the decades of occupation drew on, western perceptions as to the identity of David and Goliath became confused or often reversed, and so the ‘hasbara’ wore thin.

It is in this context of declining credibility that Israel and its western advocates have truly weaponised the concept of ‘antisemitism’ in Western countries, and particularly in the UK, the country with one of the strongest Palestine Solidarity movements.   There have been two major features of this:

  • Their repeated, and often successful, attempts to get western Governments and public institutions to adopt bogus or dodgy definitions of the term ‘antisemitism’ that conflate it with legitimate criticism of Israel and its supporters, and to force this on public institutions such as universities and local governments.
  • A powerful media campaign smearing as ‘antisemitic’ those who are critical of Israel.

As soon as it became known that Jeremy Corbyn, a known supporter of Palestinian rights, was likely to become leader of the Labour Party (and potentially Prime Minister), the Labour Party, and particularly Corbyn supporters, became leading targets of these denunciations.  The campaign has been unremitting, reaching peaks before the local elections of 2016 and 2018 and at the time of Labour’s Autumn Conference in Blackpool. My case against IPSO was closely related to this, as I along with 29 co-complainants had witnessed the press smearing people involved in the Balfour apology campaign.

The process of weaponisation has been amply exposed on the pages of ‘Free Speech of Israel’ and elsewhere.  Suffice it for me to say that the strategy has been crude and obvious, and the reasoning full of holes.   Hugh Tomlinson’s legal opinion laid bare the inadequacy of the IHRA Definition of antisemitism which the British government had ‘adopted’.   As for antisemitism within the Labour Party, I have seen no body of evidence demonstrating that the party has a special problem that would justify singling it out from other sections of British society and parroting denunciations across the media.  Indeed statistical evidence shows that antipathy towards Jews across UK society is minor compared to that felt towards some other religious and ethnic groups, and that it is strongest on the far right.

Why is this happening?

This is the question that really intrigues me.  Why is British society and the political establishment allowing this noxious campaign to proceed?  And how can it happen in a country like the UK, that has a track record in standing up to the threats and abuse of foreign powers?  I get a sense of cognitive dissonance about public morality; on the one hand, I see British people doing a vast amount of more-or-less selfless voluntary work for an array of different causes, while at the same time they seem spineless in the face of political manipulation.  Are we a fickle people, or is something else going on?

I have sounded out a variety of politicians and public figures, and have spoken to others who have made similar soundings, and can identify five explanatory factors:

  • The sheer intensity of campaigning and the extent of the lobby’s reach, from right to left. Other lobbying groups, e.g. militant Brexiteers, manage to get fiercely propagandistic and pejorative lines adopted in certain newspapers, notably The Mail and The Telegraph.  However, Israel appears to have greater reach and as it can get favourable coverage across the board, including outlets such as the Guardian and the BBC.  Here it is worth noting a comment by the journalist Nick Davies in his ground-breaking book, ‘Flat-Earth News’ (p122-125);  he refers to the Israel lobby as an ‘electric fence’ of which journalists seek to steer clear for fear of getting powerful electric shocks, including a phone that never stops ringing.
  • The poor performance of the media. Some of this must be put down to anti-left and pro-Israel biases among the media barons, but at least as much can be attributed to mechanistic failings within the press.   Here Nick Davies shows that the media lack the journalistic resources to research and check most of their stories, for which reason they have increasingly relied on a burgeoning PR industry to deliver stories ‘on a plate with a sprig of parsley on top’.  Israel and its supporters are well equipped to provide this in in timely fashion.  He also points to a range of ‘rules of production’ including ‘avoiding the electric fence’ (see above), selecting ‘safe ideas’, going ‘with the moral panic (see below)’, and the ‘Ninja turtle syndrome’, all of which tend to bias journalists away from arguments that upset powerful lobbies and established ideas (see p109-153).
  • The fear factor: faced with potential media smears, British politicians and public figures prefer to keep their heads below the parapet for self-preservation or so that they can fight other political battles.  This is understandable if, as stated by Jackie Walker, accusations of antisemitism are as damaging to one’s reputation as being called a pedophile or a murderer.   However, legitimate fear can morph into cowardice.  At present in Britain, after all, opposing Israel can’t cost you your life, unlike the situation in my wife’s country in Central America, where standing up for human rights can result in a ‘sicario’ on a motorbike putting a bullet in your head.
  • Political opportunism. The weaponisation of antisemitism against Corbyn has proved useful to his opponents on the Labour right and to other parties.   A host of politicians have jumped on this band-waggon without looking closely at the evidence and forgetting that they have a duty to protect British citizens (whether political allies or foes) against the intrigues of a foreign power.
  • Moral panic. Stan Cohen advanced this concept in his study ‘Folk Devils and Moral Panics’ (1972) to explain a media storm and other events after a clash between ‘mods and rockers’ on a beach in 1964. He described a process whereby: (a) the ‘folk devil’ is symbolised in an oversimplified narrative; (b) facts are exaggerated and distorted, fuelling a ‘moral crusade’, and; (c) further immoral actions on the part of the folk devil are anticipated.   We can see a similar, but much more damaging, pattern in the history of witch-hunts against minorities including: the Roman persecution of Christians, blamed for military reverses; medieval targeting of Jews for dark, murderous practices; 16th and 17th century witch-craft trials in protestant Europe and North America; the McCarthyist anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s, and; the current campaign about Labour antisemites.   Witch-hunts can put public figures under massive pressure to conform to the moral crusade, and can cause doubters or opponents to ‘bend in the wind’ so as to limit the political damage.  I find this in President Eisenhower’s failure to act promptly against Senator Joseph McCarthy, and in Jeremy Corbyn and some other public figures’ unwillingness to call out the role of pro-Israel lobbyists in the campaign against the Labour Party.
It’s time to build a truly national campaign

This problem could be tackled were a group of leading public figures and politicians to join hands and mount a national campaign to expose the reality about antisemitism smears, but fears and opportunism presently combine to prevent this.   So it is up to pro-Palestinian rights activists to develop a strategy that can attract the necessary support.   Here are some ideas.

A high percentage of these activists are on the left, which I find unsurprising; I first noted the left’s tendency to speak up vigorously on international injustices when the Vietnam War was raging.   As we see above, the Labour left needs to defend itself against pro-Israeli smears, but this means reaching out to other parts of the political spectrum, beyond its own echo-chambers.  It takes a little thought to realise that the cause of Free Speech on Israel has enormous unexploited potential in the centre of British politics and even right of centre.

If we look at the centre, one of the leading political causes is currently the reform of press regulation.  This is being led by the Hacked Off Campaign where we see an alliance of Labour figures like Ed Milliband and Tom Watson, Lib Dems, and rebel Tories like Lord Attlee and Kenneth Clark; it also enjoys strong support in the House of Lords.  The present Government has managed to narrowly block proposed amendments to the Data Protection Bill which would have put the second part of the Leveson Inquiry back on track.  However, a change in Government or voter arithmetic will put it straight back on the parliamentary agenda.

I tend to see the cause of ‘Free Speech on Israel’ as a subset of the Hacked Off Campaign.   Both causes seek remedies to media abuse and inaccuracies, while both struggle with politicians’ acute fear of the media, a point that both Ed Milliband and Kenneth Clark hammered home in the 9th May Commons debate on the Data Protection Bill.

Excerpts from the 9th May House of Commons Debate on the Data Protection Bill

Edward Milliband:  Now I will answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Wellingborough. I set out the reasons adduced by the press and, indeed, the Government for the cancellation of this inquiry, but let us be absolutely honest: there is one overriding reason for the Government’s decision to abandon it, and that needs to be discussed. It is quite simple. It is fear: fear about the wrath of the press. That is why the Government have made this decision. The press do not want the inquiry to go ahead, and the Government fear attacks on them by the press. That is why the last Labour Government did not take action against the press: they too feared the consequences. But what did we also say after 2011? We said, ‘Never again will we succumb to fear and make the wrong decisions, which are not in the public interest.’

Kenneth ClarkeIn the present mad climate of political debate, I think that quite a lot of people—for one reason or another, as has always been the case in politics—are currying favour with the proprietors and editors of newspapers, or are fearful of those proprietors and editors. It is difficult to deny that that may have played a part in the sudden decision that we do not want to know any more about matters such as relationships between the police and the press.

Source:  Hansard

To date much of Hacked Off’s campaigning has been about press abuse of individuals and families, both with or without police complicity.  The names of victims such as Dowler, McCann, Hollins and Grant come to mind.  However the Campaign is even larger than this, and is concerned with the press repeatedly smearing large groups of people, like Muslims or immigrants, something that tends to silence dissenting voices and prevent the country from debating topics in a rational manner.   It is therefore hardly surprising that the Campaign worked with me on my complaint against IPSO.

We need to build on this bridge, with a view to achieving two key aims:

  • to make the press answerable for individual abuses, and patterns of abuse (something that will require a regulator with investigative powers), and;
  • to drastically reduce the cost to ordinary people of securing redress from the press (Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 could provide for this through low-cost arbitration).

For those to the ‘right of centre’ of British politics, the most compelling cause of recent years has been Brexit, which is popularly represented as ‘getting our country back’ from an encroaching European Union – in my view deeply erroneous and sometimes disingenuous argument that ignores the voice that the EU has given Britain in international affairs.  Another topic on which we hear every day is the Russian threat to our external and internal security – this time I believe with some justification.

But while the European Union and Russia win the titles of ‘top bogeymen’,  we should simultaneously consider the threats posed by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel, all of them countries that Britain often goes out of its way to please despite their acting against our best interests.   Israel has interfered egregiously and with impunity in our internal affairs on multiple occasions, including the move to ‘take down’ our Deputy Foreign Secretary.  Defending national sovereignty is a legitimate aim, but rather than simply focusing on the bogeymen, we need to search for rational ways to maximise it overall, given threats we face on different sides.

In conclusion

We British should first unambiguously acknowledge we have allowed ourselves to be manipulated in a way that has undermined our freedom of expression in matters that affect Israel.  The aggressive weaponisation of antisemitism follows a series of propaganda initiatives since the 1940s, and has brought out some of our worst characteristics, notably a widespread willingness to constantly appease and hope things will blow over.  But this only whets the Lobby’s appetite and results in further bullying and manipulation.   We only have ourselves to blame for this, so it is time to say enough is enough, and work together to reclaim liberties for which our forebears struggled.

If we can create the necessary space for free speech and rational debate, we can contribute much to the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it will have positive knock-on effects on our relationships with Arabs and Muslims generally.  In order to accomplish this, we should in particular get behind the Hacked-Off Campaign that seeks to hold the media accountable for what it publishes on a wide range of topics, ranging from intrusive reporting into the affairs of vulnerable people to the smearing of entire categories of people.

Jonathan Coulter is 69, retired, and has spent his career in overseas development, in jobs which have involved much travel.  It has made him a passionate advocate for foreign policies that are just and coherent, and for accurate reporting.   He is currently Newsletter Editor for Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (

Freedom of Speech in Universities

FSOI presented evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights enquiry on Freedom of Speech in Universities about the threat posed by far right and Zionist disruption of events supportive of Palestinian rights. This evidence was presented in January 2018 but not published here through an administrative oversight.

Submission by Free Speech on Israel to the Inquiry by the Joint Committee on Human Rights


Antisemitism in the UK is not epidemic, and is low by comparative standards.

Externally generated pressures based on an enlarged definition of antisemitism are encroaching on the freedom to hold campus events supportive of Palestine and therefore critical of Israel.

The UK government has adopted a contentious definition of antisemitism (now found not to have been agreed by its supposed promoting body), and has promoted it to all UK universities, as well as to local authorities.

The dissemination of this definition was followed by an upsurge, still ongoing, in university managements’ obstructions of campus meetings thought likely to adopt a critical stance on Israel.

Such action has frequently been triggered by complaints from external groups supportive of Israel.

There is a growing campaign of aggressive disruption of such meetings by far-right and Zionist activists.

We make recommendations for Government, universities and Universities UK to defend legally entrenched free speech. Continue reading “Freedom of Speech in Universities”

Tell us what you mean when you say antisemitism

Brian Robinson describes how much discourse about antisemitism is unhelpful because issues around Israel keep intruding and even Jews find themselves silenced. We must confront an epidemic of hysteria if we are to have a sensible conversation

The problem with almost all discussions on television, radio, print media, and also recent street demonstrations, with respect to antisemitism is that the participants never seem to define the word, but everyone assumes, and leaves the reader, listener, viewer, observer to assume that we’re all talking about the same thing. Antisemitism was classically always about discrimination against, or hatred of, or exclusion of Jews as Jews, simply for being Jews, regardless of anything they did or didn’t do. Various refinements of that definition include adding phrases to include the notion of stereotypical projections, where Jews are perceived in prejudicial ways to be something they are not. The Oxford philosopher Brian Klug, for instance, uses scare quotes, as in for example, ‘Hatred of Jews as “Jews”’. Continue reading “Tell us what you mean when you say antisemitism”

Labour smears Israel’s critics as antisemites

Free Speech on Israel is supporting the Labour against the Witch-hunt’s

Lobby of the Labour Party NEC

Tuesday 23 January
11.00 a.m.-1.00 p.m.

Southside, 105 Victoria Street London SW1E 6QT

1. A moratorium on any new NCC witch-hunt cases
2. The withdrawal of all outstanding NCC witch-hunt cases
3. The immediate implementation of the Chakrabarti report recommendations on Labour’s disciplinary procedures in respect of natural justice and due process

Labour activist and co-founder of Britain’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign Tony Greenstein will shortly undergo a Labour Party disciplinary hearing over accusations of alleged antisemitic comments made online. Greenstein was suspended from Labour back in 2016 when the remarks first came to light. Greenstein has maintained the content was legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, and not derogatory statements about Jews. 

Moshé Machover, a British-Israeli activist and member of the UK’s Labour Party, has prepared the following testimony in defence of Greenstein. Machover was also the founder of the Israeli socialist political party Matzpen.  Continue reading “Labour smears Israel’s critics as antisemites”

If the Office for Students is all about freedom of speech, the policy must be consistent

Jo Johnson’s support for free expression unravels when it comes to Palestine, says Jonathan Rosenhead

This article first appeared in the Times Higher on  11 January 2018

Jo Johnson MP, former Minister for Universities

In a tangle of mixed messages, Jo Johnson – who until last week was the UK’s universities minister – has launched a sadly misshapen new body, the Office for Students (OfS), into a turbulent sea. This was supposed to be, in the minister’s own words, a “classic marketing regulator”. So: ensuring quality standards, promoting a balance between supply and demand, value for money – like the water companies’ regulator Ofwat maybe? Well, no. In his 26 December speech heralding the OfS’ opening for business, all this was as good as forgotten. Now, it seems, it is all about freedom of speech. What is going on? Continue reading “If the Office for Students is all about freedom of speech, the policy must be consistent”

Theresa May’s antisemitism fraud

Mike Cushman

Theresa May misled the British public by pretending that the IHRA definition of antisemitism included the examples linking antisemitism to criticism of Israel and urging all public bodies to collude in this chilling of free speech.

A year ago, Theresa May urged all UK public bodies to adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) document on antisemitism. The document contained a 39 word definition:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities

It also lists 11 illustrative examples of antisemitism, seven of them relating to Israel.

It has always seemed strange that the IHRA website contained no details of the document’s adoption and the only record of it is a press release from the Romanian chair. ECCP (European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine) has pressed hard to discover what lay behind this strange lack of documentation and has finally obtained confirmation from the IHRA secretariat that, while the 39 word definition was adopted, the examples were not. Continue reading “Theresa May’s antisemitism fraud”

Jo Johnson – Free Speech on everything except Israel

Jonathan Rosenhead

This letter appeared in the Guardian on 29 December 2017

Jo Johnson has decided to grasp the nettle of free speech at universities (Students attack no-platform threat, 27 December). It’s a prickly subject.

The minister seems to have “no-platforming” by student unions in his sights. However, there is a major free-speech failure by the universities themselves that is easier to fix. For some years now universities, not the student unions, have been routinely obstructing campus events that focus on Palestinian rights and their denial by Israel. The government’s own adoption of the discredited IHRA definition of antisemitism a year ago has fuelled this, with play-safe administrations seemingly unclear about the difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. It was Jo Johnson himself who instructed Universities UK to send this definition round to all universities – with a pointed suggestion that they adopt it for internal use. No single act in recent years has been less helpful to free speech in universities. Continue reading “Jo Johnson – Free Speech on everything except Israel”

Selected Cases of Interference with Free Expression, 2017

Free Speech on Israel
Palestine Solidarity Campaign

This dossier records some of the more prominent cases of restriction of freedom of speech or assembly related to criticisms of the state of Israel that occurred during 2017. In some cases the document produced in May 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) as a definition of antisemitism, and adopted by the UK government in December of that year, is explicitly cited in support of the action taken. In all cases the awareness of that government action has provided the pervasive atmosphere, chilling to free speech on Israel/Palestine, in which these decisions were taken.
The IHRA definition has been used to press for and achieve the cancellation of events denouncing Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and violations of human rights. The use of the IHRA definition in such instances is commonly framed around the following narrative: “These events typically apply double standards towards Israel that are not applied to other countries and effectively deny Israel any right to exist by treating it as an inherently racist endeavour. As such, they conflict with the IHRA definition.” (quote from spokesman for UK Lawyers for Israel – UKLFI).
In the UK, student events organised on campuses have been particularly targeted, following a letter sent by the Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson to UK universities in February 2017 to outline the government’s concerns about antisemitism on campuses, especially around Israel Apartheid Week due to take place that month, and asking for the IHRA definition to be disseminated throughout the academic system.

Continue reading “Selected Cases of Interference with Free Expression, 2017”

Ofcom dismisses claims of antisemitism against Al Jazeera

Mike Cushman

Predictably, when Al Jazeera broadcast The Lobby in January detailing Israeli subversion of British politics, the Zionist attack machine was fired up. They submitted five separate complaints to the media watchdog, Ofcom, alleging antisemitism, bias and invasion of privacy.

Cover of Ofcom report on 'The Lobby'
Cover of Ofcom report on ‘The Lobby’

Ofcom undertook a detailed examination of the claims and published their 60 page findings on 9 October. On every aspect of each claim they found that Al Jazeera had conducted themselves with professional rigour and had breached neither broadcasting rules nor the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism. Each and every item of the lengthy allegations was rejected.

Broadcast Standards case

For the first time, the IHRA definition has been tested by a British quasi-judicial tribunal: it determined not to classify criticism of Israeli activity as antisemitic.

The guidance published with the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism includes the following as a contemporary example (amongst others) of what could constitute anti- Semitism in public life and the media, taking into account the overall context: “Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions”.

The guidance also suggests that manifestations of anti-Semitism might include the targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collective. There was therefore the possibility that a programme, such as The Lobby, which focused on the actions of the State of Israel and alleged that individuals associated with it were attempting to inappropriately influence British democracy, may be considered by some to be anti-Semitic.

Importantly however, the IHRA guidance makes clear that criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.

We considered that the allegations in the programme were not made on the grounds that any of the particular individuals concerned were Jewish and noted that no claims were made relating to their faith. We did not consider that the programme portrayed any negative stereotypes of Jewish people as controlling or seeking to control the media or governments. Rather, it was our view that these individuals featured in the programme in the context of its investigation into the alleged activities of a foreign state (the State of Israel acting through its UK Embassy) and their association with it. We also noted that a number of the organisations featured in the programme, such as Labour Friends of Israel and Conservative Friends of Israel, are not defined by any adherence to Judaism or having a predominantly Jewish membership.

As per the IHRA guidance, Ofcom did not consider that such a critical analysis of the actions of a foreign state constituted anti-Semitism, particularly as the overall focus of the programme was to examine whether the State of Israel was acting in a manner that would be expected of other democratic nations.

For these reasons, our Decision is that there was no breach of Rule 2.3.  [This requires that material which may cause offence must be justified by the context. Under “meaning of context” the Code lists a number of factors including the editorial content of the programme and the service on which it was broadcast.]

This attempt to extend antisemitism to cover criticism of the actions of the Israeli Government failed miserably, to the chagrin of the self-described Campaign Against Antisemitism. This failure echoes the failure of the Fraser case against the University and College Union to similarly extend the meaning of antisemitism.

Shai Masot & Jeremy Newmark with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev speaking at an event at Labour party conference in 2016 (Al Jazeera)
Shai Masot and JLC Chair Jeremy Newmark with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev speaking at an event at Labour party conference in 2016 (Al Jazeera)

This second failure does not mean that we can relax about the threat posed by the IHRA definition. Israel’s apologists will continue to try to use it to suppress exposure of Israel’s actions until we can persuade this Government, or a future Labour Government, to accept that the eleven exemplars do not help in any way to identify antisemitic incidents. By sowing confusion, they obscure real antisemitic threats.

Fairness and Privacy cases

  • ‘Ofcom has not upheld this complaint made by Ms Ella Rose of unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy’.
  • ‘Ofcom has not upheld this complaint of unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy made by Kingsley Napley LLP (“Kingsley Napley”) on behalf of Mr Russell Langer.’
  • ‘Ofcom has not upheld this complaint of unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy made by Kingsley Napley LLP (“Kingsley Napley”) on behalf of Mr Luke Akehurst.’
JLM Director Ella Rose boasts how she can 'take' Jackie Walker
JLM Director Ella Rose boasts how she can ‘take’ Jackie Walker

The report goes into considerable detail about Ella Rose’s complaint but it can be summarised as saying she was very upset about being found out. She believes that her abuse of Jackie Walker and her smooth translation from Israeli Embassy employee to Director of the Jewish Labour Movement were of no public interest. The report states, ‘Ms Rose said that her personal religious faith which involves attachment to Israel should not make her “a target for infringement of privacy”’. This claim of impunity on the basis that Israel is part of her religion is radical restatement of the repeated assertion that any critique of Zionism is antisemitic. At no point does Ella Rose claim she was misrepresented, her distress is that she was represented all too accurately. She seems to believe that she has the right to stay in the shadows despite taking on the role of Director of an organisation seeking to influence Labour Party policy and therefore British political life.

Russell Langer is former Campaigns Director at the Union of Jewish Students and the current Public Affairs Manager with the Jewish Leadership Council. As well as working with Israeli Embassy operative Shai Masot, Mr Langer seems to have had an irony bypass. Part of his complaint was that he was surreptitiously filmed preparing to surreptitiously film a meeting of Labour Friends of Palestine.

The report shows considerable scepticism of the veracity of at least parts of Russell Langer’s claim and gives details of the content of some unused footage which shows his involvement with Masot which he tried to deny. The footage showed that:

Mr Langer had complained about the excessive involvement of the Israeli Embassy in events organised by British Jewish organisations. Mr Langer also confirmed that he has relations with the Israeli Government.

Langer’s lawyers claimed that ‘contrary to the impression created in the programme, Mr Langer hardly knew Mr Masot and had only ever been introduced to him, but had never worked with him.’ But Ofcom found, ‘Mr Masot had some sort of relationship with the JLC and that he knew Mr Langer’

Luke Akehurst, a former Labour Councillor and Director of We Believe in Israel, is a well-known and vocal pro-Israel activist. Again, he was upset that his views had been all too accurately reported. He claimed that:

the footage of Mr Masot speaking with the undercover reporter had been “heavily edited” so it would have been unclear to viewers what the undercover reporter should liaise with Mr Akehurst about.

But on the contrary Ofcom found:

From reviewing the unedited footage, it appeared to Ofcom that the conversation between Mr Masot and the undercover reporter had been edited in the programme as broadcast. However, it was our view that the extent of the editing was very limited and the conversation included in the programme was an accurate reflection of what was said about Mr Akehurst and the manner in which it was said in the unedited footage. Further, it was our view that the programme as broadcast would have made clear to viewers that Mr Masot wanted the undercover reporter to set up the youth wing of the LFI and that to do so, he should liaise with heads of other pro-Israel movements, such as Mr Akehurst. Therefore, we considered that the conversation had not been heavily or unfairly edited.

It was Al Jazeera’s scrupulous accuracy that was so upsetting to Israel’s friends in this aspect as in many others.

Claims of bias, unfairness and antisemitism made repeatedly against Israel’s critics are usually bounced around an echo chamber of like-minded groups. They gain a claimed authority with each repetition and endorsement. The lesson from this report is that when these claims are subjected to scrutiny they fall apart. We must insist that judgements of claims are made by panels that are not dominated by people who have already declared they see antisemitism everywhere and in every defence of Palestinian rights. Neither should they be judged by partisans for Palestine, as a finding of innocence would not be convincing to outside observers. They must be judged in impartial forums, when they are, in this case just as in Fraser v UCU, the claims of antisemitism are demonstrated to be protection of Israel not defence of Jews.