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The Home Affairs Committee report: Opposition to antisemitism must not prevent scrutiny of Israeli human rights abuses

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has responded to the Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisemitism.

Chair of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Hugh Lanning, criticises its recommendations: “It is muddled and fails to differentiate between the actions rightfully needed to combat antisemitism and those which would clamp down on legitimate calls to end the abuses carried out by Israel”.

“The report correctly asserts that antisemitism must be challenged wherever it is found – a commitment Palestine Solidarity Campaign fully endorses. We share the Committee’s assertion that antisemitism must be opposed in a way that maintains freedom of speech on Israel and Palestine. Therefore we find it very worrying that the report recommends adoption of a discredited definition of antisemitism that dangerously conflates anti-Zionism with antisemitism.”

The modified form of the discredited ‘EUMC definition’ of antisemitism would, if adopted, render illegitimate, and potentially criminal, calls for action to address Israel’s persistent denial of Palestinian rights.

Despite noting that the Director of the University of London’s Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism regards the definition as having “largely fallen out of favour, in part due to continued controversy regarding its application to the State of Israel and its policies” (see note 4), the Committee call on government to adopt it in a modified form.

The definition explicitly incorporates criticisms of Israel as a category of antisemitism.  The report suggests additional clarifications to the definition, which it asserts will protect legitimate criticism of Israel but these will, in our view, have a chilling effect on what can be said in opposition to Israel’s policies of discrimination and oppression towards the Palestinian people. (see note 5)

“We are concerned that the report lacks political objectivity in its characterisation of what constitutes legitimate debate about Israel and Palestine.”

It describes Israel as a liberal democracy in which the actions of the government are openly critiqued and debated by its citizens. This ignores the reality of the implementation of a range of laws and policies by the Israeli government in recent years which have stifled dissent and been described by a range of respected international observers as profoundly undemocratic. In April, for example, Amnesty International urged the Israeli government to cease its intimidation of human rights defenders in Israel and the West Bank. (see note 6)

The democratic nature of the Israeli state should be the subject of legitimate debate and scrutiny in the UK particularly within academic environments. Yet in its section on how debate should be conducted on campus the report cautions against what it defines as simplistic formulations. This would render illegitimate formulations which categorise the situation as one in which one party, Israel, exercises overarching power over Palestinian lives.

Most concerning, asking law enforcement officers to adopt a definition of antisemitism which incorporates criticism of Israel within its categories risks the policing of political debate. (see note 7)

We believe this runs counter to everyone’s freedom of expression – a right guaranteed in European law.

In 2014 the UK government in its response to the APPG report on antisemitism indicated it opposed the adoption of the EUMC definition. We believe that a recognition of the highly politicised and contested nature of the definition informed this decision [see note 8].  Nothing in our view has altered the context of that judgment and we urge the Government to ignore the report’s recommendation to adopt the IHRA definition which is substantially the same. To do otherwise would deny people their basic right to challenge both the policies of the Israeli government as well as the doctrine which informs those policies. It would as in our view undermine the struggle against racism. In the words of Dr Brian Klug “When every anti-Zionist is an anti-Semite, we no longer know how to recognize the real thing–the concept of anti-Semitism loses its significance” [note 9].


Notes for Editors:

  1. Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) is the UK’s largest organisation working for Palestinian human rights. Founded in 1982, it campaigns for peace, equality, and justice and against racism, occupation, and colonisation.
  2. Opposing racism, including anti-Jewish prejudice, is one of PSC’s constitutional aims. PSC does not tolerate antisemitism at its events or amongst its supporters.
  3. For more information, contact Ben Jamal on [email protected]
  4. Paragraph 20 of the report references the sub-report commissioned for the 2015 All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism from Professor David Feldman. That sub-report notes: The definition itself rapidly became a topic of controversy rather than consensus. The points at issue included what the status of a ‘working definition’ actually was, whether the working definition was an effective and coherent definition at all, and, finally, controversy dogged the application of the working definition to debate on the State of Israel and its policies.The criticisms have been damaging and the EUMC working definition largely has fallen out of favour. The EUMC’s successor organisation, the Fundamental Rights Agency [FRA], no longer carries the working definition on its website. http://www.antisemitism.org.uk/wp-content/themes/PCAA/images/DAVID-FELDMAN-SUBREPORT.pdf
  5. Critically, the report fails to clearly distinguish between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Antisemitism is hatred or discrimination against Jewish people on the basis of their religion of ethnic identity. Anti-Zionism means to oppose the political doctrine of Zionism. The report does acknowledge that definitions of Zionism are contested and indeed that 41% of British Jews do not self identify as Zionists. However, it later raises concerns about the expression of opposition to Zionism as opposed to opposition to particular policies of the Israeli government. This raises the prospect that any individual or organisation who defines themselves as anti-Zionist from a perspective of resisting the claim of Israel’s right to sustain a Jewish majority and to privilege the right of Jewish citizens above those of Palestinian origin, risk being defined as anti-Semitic.
  6. http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/press-releases/israeli-government-must-cease-intimidation-of-human-rights-defenders-protect-them-from-attacks
  7. Last year a concerted lobby was employed to pressure the University of Southampton to disallow a conference debating the democratic nature of the Israeli state on the grounds that the conference as one sided and antisemitic. Adopting the report’s recommendations would potentially involve the police invoking criminal action against future such proposed conferences https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/mar/31/southampton-university-cancels-event-questioning-israel-existence
  8. Government Action on Antisemitism, page 36 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/390904/Government_Action_on_Antisemitism_final_24_Dec.pdf
  9. Dr Brian Klug is senior research fellow the University of Oxford and an honorary fellow in the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations https://www.thenation.com/article/myth-new-anti-semitism/