The launch on Monday of Hugh Tomlinson QC’s devastating legal opinion on the so-called IHRA definition of antisemitism marks a watershed moment in resisting Israeli-backed attempts to gag pro-Palestinian advocacy.
The definition, deliberately equating criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews, was adopted in December 2016 by the UK government and has since been vigorously promoted by pro-Israel lobbyists to local authorities, universities, Labour movement organisations and other public bodies. Its rollout has coincided with an increase in bannings and restrictions imposed on pro-Palestinian activities, especially on campus.
As explained by eminent legal figures speaking at the launch, the Opinion drives a coach and horses through the definition, exposing it as:
- badly drafted, confusing and not legally binding, i.e. public bodies are under no legal obligation to adopt or apply it
- putting public bodies that use it at risk of “unlawfully restricting legitimate expressions of political opinion”
- making public bodies liable to being sued if they curtail criticism of Israel that does not express hatred towards Jews.
Therefore pro-Palestinian campaigners who, for example, describe Israel as a settler-colonialist state enacting a policy of apartheid, or call for policies of boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel, cannot properly be characterised as antisemitic.