FSOI protests against abusive use of IHRA definition by GMB

Free Speech on Israel has sent Peter Gregson, a GMB union shop steward,  a letter of support. Peter is being unfairly disciplined by his union for allegedly antisemitic statements on the basis of an inaccurate interpretation of the IHRA definition.

To whom it may concern

Re GMB complaint against Peter Gregson

We have been forwarded copies of the letters sent by Gary Smith, GMB Scotland Secretary to Peter Gregson on 6 November and 20 November 2018.

Peter Gregson
Peter Gregson

Free Speech on Israel is a Jewish led and largely Jewish group concerned that antisemitic incidents are identified accurately and dealt with but that inaccurate accusations are not used to silence needed discussion of events concerning Israel and Palestine

Free Speech on Israel has explained at length elsewhere how the IHRA definition of antisemitism is unsuitable and does not assist us in identifying antisemitism and challenging it. Leading human rights lawyers have shown how it is poorly worded, ambiguous and use of it could breach an individual’s rights under both UK and European human rights law. Hugh Tomlinson QC, Geoffrey Robertson QC, Sir Stephen Sedley and Sir Geoffrey Bindman have all clearly identified the serious flaws in the document.

Even Kenneth Stern who drew up the definition and the examples has publicly stated that it is not a fit basis for legislation and was intended as a monitoring tool and not a disciplinary code.

Fierce criticism of the conflation in the document of ‘Israel’ and ‘Jewish’ can also be read in the mainstream Israeli press

Even if the IHRA definition is to be used, despite the risk that the Union may be laying itself open to legal challenge under human rights law, we are concerned that the charges in these letters rest upon a seriously flawed interpretation of the definition. The IHRA document consists of three elements.

  1. A 38 word definition, which is the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
  2. Eleven illustrative examples of actions or statements that may demonstrate antisemitism.
  3. Between these, clarificatory text which informs readers how the examples are to be interpreted

It is clear from the construction of the document that allegations of antisemitism must not be a simple matching exercise of a statement to the text in an example. Any use of the examples must be an interpretation that abides by two important elements in the clarificatory text, namely:

  • criticism of Israel similar to that leveled (sic) against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic
  • could, taking into account the overall context, include,

Nowhere in the two letters is there any case explaining how anything Peter Gregson said or wrote is antisemitic, just assertion which does not acknowledge either clarification. Indeed, the letters themselves do something that Peter Gregson never does: the letters equate the state of Israel with Jews and themselves present a prima facia case of antisemitism. All the quotes cited in the letter refer to the actions of the State of Israel, not of Jews, it is the charge letters that confuse the two. The criticisms that Gregson make clearly fall within the category of “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled (sic) against any other country”. They are allegations of gross human rights abuses which should clearly be condemned regardless of the perpetrator.

The charges critically misquote the text of the example they claim to rely on. The letter correctly states that Gregson promoted a petition that declares “the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” and that this breaches the Definition’s example of “by claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavour.” The IHRA example, in fact, states “by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor (sic).”

This may seem a small difference, the definite or the indefinite article, but the distinction is crucial. The IHRA example refers to denying the existence of any state of Israel, at any time or any place. Gregson’s petition refers to the actually existing State of Israel that has a clearly demonstrated record of organising itself on the basis of differential rights and privileges for its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens even without consideration of its actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories: the very definition of a racist endeavour. These actions are widely reported and discussed; for example in the Falk and Tilley report ‘Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid’ for the United Nations.

I am not familiar with the GMB rule book but I must assume that rule 43.3 refers to a stewards activities as a steward representing their members. A rule that purports to enforce a general prohibition on members opposing a decision of the union would be a totalitarian breach of fundamental human rights. FSOI is appalled that a union could contemplate attempting to abuse rights to free speech of its members in such a fashion.

The second letter of 20 November repeats the grievous errors of the first letter. At no point has Union made any effort to explain how Gregson’s actions are antisemitic given the clarificatory text of the IHRA document.

We believe that the charges against Gregson are oppressive and in breach of his rights to free speech and free association and, by pursuing these actions, the Union Officials bringing them are damaging the good standing of the Union and breaching its duty to promote informed political discussion.

Accordingly, we must press for the proceedings against Peter Gregson to be discontinued forthwith and he be reinstated and given a full apology for the damaging and unwarranted accusations of antisemitism.

Mike Cushman

Chair FSOI

 

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