Lambeth Council misled on antisemitism definition; threatening free speech

  • Lambeth Council amends IHRA definition on antisemitism but do not tell anyone
  • Leader Lib Peck insists that definition must be adopted unamended
  • Peck denies that definition threatens free speech but strips out all free speech protection

On Wednesday 10 October Labour led Lambeth Council adopted the IHRA definition on antisemitism without debate. They ignored pleas from a deputation of local Jews who addressed the Council about their concerns that the definition would undermine free speech on Palestine and Israel. They requested the Council to adopt a free speech declaration alongside the definition.

Lib Peck, Labour leader of Lambeth Couuncil
Lib Peck, Labour leader of Lambeth Couuncil

Council Leader Lib Peck insisted that free speech was protected because the definition allowed ‘criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country’.

Deputation leader Mike Cushman said, “We told the Council that leading QCs specialising in human rights had warned against the threats to free speech posed by the definition and that use of it could breach Human Rights law. We even told the Council that the original lead author of the definition had told the US Congress about how the definition had been used to supress debate. We are beyond furious that while insisting the definition allowed debate on Palestine and Israel she was, without telling anyone, stripping out even the limited protection guaranteed by the definition’s authors”.

Peck insisted that the definition must be adopted in the form agreed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. She did not say that her proposal, in fact, removed the reference to criticism of Israel being allowed, and also deleted wording referring to the context in which potentially antisemitic behaviour occurred. Both omissions represent significant threats to freedom of expression for Palestinians and their supporters.

Another Jewish deputation member Glyn Secker said, “The Council is taking an enormous legal risk. If they use their version of the definition to refuse use of Council premises for meetings on Palestine and Israel, they will likely find themselves in court for breach of the Human Rights Act’s guarantees of free speech and free assembly. Their bad faith in the way they agreed the definition will tell against them in court.”

The deputation followed earlier attempts to raise concerns with Lib Peck in email exchanges and an offer to meet her which she refused.

 

For more information contact

Mike Cushman

Glyn Secker

Notes to editors:

  1. The IHRA definition has this introductory text to the contentious examples:To guide IHRA in its work, the following examples may serve as illustrations:Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.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:

The Lambeth motion replaces all this text, which constrains the use of the examples with a far less restrictive phrasing:

The guidelines highlight manifestations of antisemitism as including:

  1. The suggested Free Speech Declaration to accompany the IHRA definition was:

Lambeth is committed to both challenging antisemitism and defending free speech.

We state it is not antisemitic, unless there is additional evidence to suggest anti-Jewish prejudice, to:

  • criticise the Government of Israel;
  • criticise Zionism as a political ideology;
  • describe any policy or law or practices of the state of Israel as racist, including acts leading to Palestinian dispossession as part of the establishment of the state;
  • describe Israel as an apartheid state;
  • advocate boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

We will interpret the IHRA definition in the light of these principles

  1. The correspondence between Mike Cushman and Lib Peck can be viewed at:
  1. The IHRA definition
  2. Legal opinion of Hugh Tomlinson QC
  3. Legal opinion of Geoffrey Robertson QC
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