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.
[Editor’s note. These are extracts from Don’t Go to the Doctor by Karma Nabulsi published in the London Review of Books and reprinted by permission. We are republishing it not just because of its intrinsic interest but because of the link between the IHRA definition of antisemitism and the Prevent programme. We are finding that allegations of IHRA antisemitism, no matter how wild and unfounded, are producing referrals to the Prevent programme; these referrals are being used as a pretext to raise concerns of threats to public order or campus security and justification for cancellation of the event. In this way spurious claims of antisemitism are effective in halting discussion of Israel without any scrutiny of the validity of the allegations. A link is being made between unacceptable and deplorable acts of violence and free expression of of areas of legitimate public concern. The war on ‘terror’ segues into a war on free speech. Mike Cushman]
A colleague of mine at Oxford was asked to see an undergraduate who was falling behind in her work. The student – a Muslim – explained that she had been suffering from depression and was being treated for it by her GP. My colleague believed the student’s explanation placed her under an obligation to ask the student whether she was being radicalised.
A librarian was asked for a reference by another university: ‘Are you completely satisfied,’ they wanted to know, ‘that the applicant is not involved in “extremism” (being vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs)?’
Out of the blue, a college head refused the usual joint arrangements with a university centre for a lecture by a very distinguished European academic, whose work is on the politics of Islam. Special Branch had informed the college that a great deal of extra security would be required.
A student society set up decades ago to represent a well-established immigrant community in the UK wanted to hold welcome drinks for new undergraduates at the beginning of the academic year. The university told them to hand over the guest list 48 hours before the event. They explained that they had no way of knowing who would turn up, as the event was to welcome new members, but offered to check university IDs at the door, take names, or have a senior member in attendance – no, they couldn’t hold the event, it was against the new rules. One of the organisers was sent an explanatory email: ‘The event was impossible without a guest list because of our legal duty to abide by Prevent. All colleges across the university must screen guest lists before they offer an event, for security purposes … our hands are simply tied on this one.’
The British government’s Prevent programme, aimed at keeping people from being ‘drawn into terrorism’, was developed in 2003, after the invasion of Iraq, as part of the overarching counter-terrorism strategy known as Contest. Continue reading “Don’t Go to the Doctor”
Shurat HaDin fail in latest lawfare attempt to silence Israel’s critics
Surat HaDin describes itself as working “with Western intelligence agencies, law enforcement branches and a network of volunteer lawyers across the globe to file legal actions on behalf of world Jewry” and is presumed to have close links with Mossad, the Israeli spy agency. It has a record of pursuing aggressive, and fortunately usually embarrassingly unsuccessful, lawsuits to silence critics of Israel. They have pursued charities, churches, journalists and academics who do not adhere to their apologias for Israeli crimes and of course presume an identity between their sponsors, the Israeli state, and “world Jewry”.
They appear well-funded and setbacks do not halt their efforts to exploit US claims that their courts have worldwide jurisdiction in the USA’s ever expanding and morphing ‘war against terror’.
Their most recent failure was when US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis threw out their billion dollar suit against Facebook. Shurat HaDin claimed that the social media corporation was assisting Hamas (in violation of the US Anti-Terrorism Act) in “recruiting, radicalizing, and instructing terrorists, raising funds, creating fear and carrying out attacks.” They claimed that, therefore, Facebook was liable for the exaggerated compensation that US law provides to ‘victims of terrorism’.
The suit failed because the US law clearly states “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” The US has a long standing commitment to freedom of speech under the First Amendment but current and recent administrations express strong interest in curtailing this protection in pursuit of America’s self-identified ‘enemies’.
Shrat HaDin took advantage of First Amendment rights themselves to post large billboards outside Mark Zukerberg’s home.
Threat is worldwide
Law in other jurisdictions, including the UK and Europe, is more cautious in claiming global scope but protection of free speech is also less robust.
Current debate on the responsibility of Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies for content posted on their platforms gives rise ot concern. How the line is drawn between the unacceptable and the merely unwelcome to some sectional interests is going to be highly contested and crucial to maintaining space for promotion of Palestinian rights. We can expect Shurat HaDin and others to exploit any opportunity t drive critics of Israel off of social media with devastating impact on our ability to inform and organise.
The UK Government’s adoption of the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism, and the drive to get the EU to adopt it, expands the definition of antisemitism to embrace legitimate debate on Israel’s actions. It is essential to prevent the IHRA definition being used as the benchmark for permitted speech in public meetings, on broadcast media or the internet.
… the version that Luke Akehurst is peddling is even worse
Luke Akehurst of ‘We Believe in Israel’ has been circulating an amended version of the IHRA definition of antisemitism to Local Authorities and encouraging them to adopt it. A letter sent by Akehurst, former Labour Leader of Hackney Council and failed NEC candidate, has been urging councils to pass a motion that subtly, but significantly, toughens the suppression of pro-Palestinian voices. Worse it tries to pass off this new version as the same as the original. The letter has been circulated in the name of a previously unknown front organisation ‘Local Government Friends of Israel’.
The IHRA definition is in two parts: a flawed core definition and a series of exemplars that link the definition to criticism of Israel. The IHRA definition describes the exemplars as:
“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 guidelines highlight manifestations of antisemitism as including:”
This makes criticism of Israel such as “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.” an absolute offence; regardless of whether there is any evidence of antisemitic intent.
Film maker Jon Pullman interviewed Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Mike Cushman to produce this video on the FSOI journey to playing a vital role in defending the space for action in support of Palestinian Rights.
This article is reprinted from Open Democracy by permission of the author
The attempt to outlaw the use of the term “apartheid” in relation to Israel and its occupation has to be recognised as carrying dangers of effectively stifling debate on an issue of great importance
We are faced with an increasing onslaught on criticism of Israel with attempts being made to drawn the lines ever more narrowly. There are accusations that any singling out of Israel is antisemitic: so, for example, calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions in Israel’s case but not in others is prima facie evidence of antisemitism, as is using the word apartheid to characterise any aspect of Israeli society.
What I would like to address here is the use of the concept of ‘apartheid’ to compare South African and Israeli society, and the dangerous suppression involved in outlawing its use. Critics say the analogy is plain wrong and therefore its use can only be malign: an attempt to delegitimate, demonise and apply double standards (to use Sharansky’s 3-D test of criticism of Israel – see the discussion Is criticism of Israel antisemitic?) about what it is that goes beyond what is acceptable. Ultimately, for many of these critics, the use of the term “apartheid” is antisemitic. Continue reading “Don’t mention Apartheid”
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.
Since early in 2016, debate about rights for Palestinians has been under severe threat because criticism of Israel and of its founding ideology, Zionism, has been misrepresented as antisemitic.
Antisemitism is hatred of Jews simply because they are Jews. It must be vigorously combatted, along with all forms of bigotry. Confusing it with opposition to the state of Israel or Zionism is to obscure the real meaning of the term antisemitism and make fighting against it more difficult.
First, let me begin by saying that anti-Semitism in itself is certainly not a hoax. There are centuries of evidence supporting the existence of virulent Jew-hatred. Anyone with a Twitter account knows that such anti-Semitism exists. I’ve recently highlighted it at Mint Press News, a publication to which I contributed for over a year. So anti-Semitism, though largely an enterprise of the far-right, exists on the left as well. Fighting anti-Semitism is a laudable goal.
But here’s where I part company with the institutional Jewish community. If you were to poll Jews about their priorities in life and issues that most concern them, anti-Semitism would be very far down the list.
Of course, members of all religions react with great concern to threats to their co-religionists. That is understandable. But Jews aren’t the only religion under threat: true, Jews have been attacked by Islamists in Europe and places like Turkey. But Coptic Christians were attacked by ISIS in Egypt this week and Rohingya Muslims have been ethnically cleansed by Burmese Buddhists for several years. Jews in today’s world don’t have a monopoly on victimhood. But the organized Jewish community acts as if it does. As if they own the field of religious hatred and are the only victims, or at least the only ones who really matter, because of our past suffering in the Holocaust.
Exaggerating the significance of anti-Semitism also tends to distort Jewish life and identity. If you define yourself as a Jew as someone fighting against anti-Semitism, rather than fighting for a rich, positive, substantive Jewish identity–you don’t have much substance on which to base your Jewishness. That’s a significant part of my quarrel with groups like the ADL and AJC, whose existence and financial wherewithal is predicated on anti-Semitism.
Jews obsessed with anti-Semitism do offer what they see as a positive model of Jewish identity: Israel. I wrote about this in the essay, The Closing of the American Jewish Mind, my contribution to the newly published Israel and Palestine: Alternative Models of Statehood. There I noted that Israel has become a substitute for the Jewish culture, traditions, art, and even religious practice that used to be at the heart of Diaspora Jewry. Wealthy Jews like Sheldon Adelson, Michael Steinhardt and others have bet hundreds of millions of dollars that while Judaism may wither on the vine, Israel will not. That’s why they’ve funded Birthright as their primary response to assimilation.
But what happened to Torah, Talmud, religious ritual, Biblical prophecy, Kabbalah, Zohar, Yiddish culture, language, and song, among many others? If you posit anti-Semitism and Israel as the sole arbiters of Jewishness, it leaves nothing of what sustained us over centuries and even millenia. It is a poor substitute for what we’re losing. And I can’t say that I blame any Jewish youth who rejects this tepid porridge they’re offered as a substitute for Jewishness. This also explains why the Pew poll found that the younger generation is rejecting their parents’ generation and its single-minded near-obsession with Israel to the exclusion of almost all else.
Jewish Voice for Peace protest UC Regents proposal to define criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic
It goes without saying that if you offer Israel as the New Jewish Religion, that you view any threat to Israel as a threat to the Jewish people. That is why the Israel Lobby has worked so diligently to insinuate criticism of Israel as a primary tenet of anti-Semitism. That is why the current far-right Israeli government repeats the smear that BDS is not just anti-Israel, but anti-Semitic.
These are, of course, radical revisions of the traditional definition of anti-Semitism as expression of hatred toward Jews. If you believe there is no difference between Israel and Jews, then this may make some sense. But if you conflate the two then you fall into a morass of internal contradictions. If you reject the notion of dual loyalty, then how do you combat the claim by anti-Semites that Diaspora Jews must be disloyal to their homelands because they retain sole loyalty to Israel? How do you stand against acts of terror by Islamists aimed at Jews, when the terrorists believe that in attacking Jews they are also attacking Israel? How do you embrace the claim by the Likudist far-right that Iran aims to destroy not just Israel, but the entire Jewish people? Especially when the Iranians have never made such a sweeping claim?
Which brings me to the current efforts by legislators in the U.S. and UK to legislate a radical revision in the definition of anti-Semitism. Recently, the U.S. Senate passed almost unanimously the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which employs the following definition and examples:
Calling for, aiding or justifying the killing or harming of Jews
Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust
Demonizing Israel by blaming it for all interreligious or political tensions
Judge Israel by a double standard that one would not apply to any other democratic nation
Few will have any argument with the first two definitions, but the second two are so vague and broad as to be meaningless. Under this problematic rubric, reporting that Israeli Jews kill Muslims because of their religion is anti-Semitic. Criticizing Israel for fomenting political discord in the Middle East also appears anti-Semitic. And criticizing Israel before criticizing every other democracy which engages in bad behavior is also anti-Semitic. In fact, such an approach makes most Jews themselves anti-Semites because most American Jews are critical, some highly critical of Israel and its policies.
Such definitions have one major goal: to silence, rather clumsily, political speech regarding Israel. They are intended to “box in” the BDS movement and other forms of “delegitimization” by defining legitimate political discourse as off-limits. Such efforts must be seen for what they are: bald-faced attempts to stifle debate and suppress dissent. Democracies are antithetical to such notions. They are strong precisely because they permit, even encourage the free flow of ideas. That is how the best ideas develop and how we keep such societies strong and vital. Suppressing speech, as the Israel Lobby seeks, is anti-American and anti-democratic.
The British parliament stands ready to pass an equally noxious anti-Semitism bill which the media have largely misreported as a milquetoast affirmation of the basic decency of Jews in the face of mindless hate. This Christian Science Monitor report sounds innocent enough:
…The British government hopes the new definition will offer a more concrete and clearer notion of anti-Semitism, to be adopted in as many circles as possible. Proponents believe that the clarified definition will prevent vagueness that may lead to anti-Semitic crimes going unreported or unacknowledged. The definition is part of an international effort to end hate crimes against Jewish people as well as combat Holocaust denial in all its forms.
Until you read the fine print on the website of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance which the Parliament relied on in crafting its own definition:
Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews
worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence
of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other
Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
These examples themselves are deeply problematic. The State of Israel is racist. It’s policies are racist. The structure of its society is racist. By noting and criticizing such racism prevalent in Israeli society I by no means “deny Jewish people their right to self-determination.” In fact, I strengthen Israel in doing so.
The “double standard” theory is bogus as well. Holding Israel to the standards of international law is not “applying a double standard.” In fact, the three main demands of BDS (ending Occupation, return of Palestinian exiles, and offering fully equality to Israeli Palestinians) derive from the heart of democratic traditions.
As for the “Nazi analogy,” I’d be a lot more comfortable with this one if the Israel Lobby wasn’t so free and easy to call Israel’s critics and opponents Nazis and the like. Not to mention that there are clear elements of Israeli policy that echo those of the Nazis, just as there are elements of Trumpism which do so as well. Why should the former be labelled anti-Semitic? A clear, carefully articulated analogy based on historical facts cannot be.
Finally, you can’t call “holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of Israel” anti-Semitic if Israel’s leaders themselves refuse to make such a distinction. You can’t have your cake and eat it.
These efforts to redefine anti-Semitism for the convenience of the Lobby and as a buttress against criticism of the noxious polices of the State of Israel are worse than a waste of time. They are a radical departure from established consensus both among moral philosophers, historians and Jews themselves about the definition of the noxious concept of Jew-hatred. We are about to see such a radical departure from consensus here in the United States as Donald Trump takes office. It will lead to great ugliness and distortion of the great traditions of American democracy. Let’s not do the same to the concept of anti-Semitism.
International “definition” of antisemitism threatens to limit criticism of Israel
This ‘international definition’ has no international status
The ‘definition’ deliberately emphasises criticism of Israel and Zionism as likely to be antisemitic
The UK government’s proposed adoption of it threatens to obstruct or even criminalise free speech
The UK Government has announced that it will adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism:
“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.”
Were the definition to stop at that point its adoption by the Government could be applauded. But the major part of the definition is given over to examples of actions that should be investigated as purported to show antisemitic motivation. Of the eleven examples given, seven relate not to Jews as Jews, but to the state of Israel and its actions.
This emphasis reveals the motivation of those who have been promoting this definition for more than 10 years. It will be all too easy for governments, or others via litigation, ‘lawfare’, to employ it to limit criticism both of: Israel’s repeated breaches of International Law and abuses of the Human Rights of Palestinians; and critiques of Zionism as an ideology used to justify and excuse Israel’s actions.
There are already many examples of attempts to illegitimately stretch the use of the definition to censor legitimate political and moral debate. A particular target has been the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement – a mass non-violent civil society campaign to hold Israel to account. Already Israel’s UK supporters have rushed to pre-emptively interpret the Government’s announcement as shielding Israel and its foundational political philosophy of Zionism, rather than protecting Jews.
There is a simple option for the Government that will allay fears that this definition will be used to suppress free speech. This is to adopt just the 40-word definition cited above, but not the contentious, partisan, politically slanted examples that accompany it.
Free Speech on Israel also urges the Government to adopt an equivalent definition of Islamophobia and promote it vigorously since attacks on Muslims, both verbal and physical, are a far greater and more frequent threat to the safety and security of British citizens and residents than is antisemitism.
Free Speech on Israel is a network of labour, green and trade union activists in the UK, mainly Jewish, who came together in April 2016 to counter attempts by pro-Israel right wingers to brand the campaign for justice for Palestinians as antisemitic. Their attacks form part of two highly orchestrated campaigns: one, to undermine the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn, the first potential British Prime Minister to have a consistent record of supporting Palestinian rights; the other, to suppress the pro-Palestinian voices of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others of many faiths and none, campaigning for freedom, justice and equality for all.
Oxford University philosopher Brian Klug has proposed a more straightforward and easier to apply definition of antisemitism as: ‘a form of hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which Jews are perceived as something other than what they are.’ Use of Dr Klug’s definition was recommended by Professor David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism in his report commissioned to assist the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism.
The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign was launched by Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005 and has attracted worldwide support. It is the object of concerted attack by the Israeli Government and its supporters in other countries.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is not a formal international organisation. It is a loose alliance whose founding purpose is to ensure, through education, that new generations are informed about that tragedy.