PSC welcomes the reaffirmation of the commitment of the Government to combat antisemitism. Antisemitism is a racism that is utterly repellent, and as an anti-racist organisation we welcome actions to ensure that no one is subject to discrimination because of their background or heritage. We also share the Government’s concern that efforts to combat antisemitism can be undermined if there is not a commonly agreed definition.
The substance of the definition the Government seeks to adopt is useful. It states “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.”
However, the guidance which accompanies the definition is problematic in so far as it incorporates criticism of Israel as a form of antisemitism. In doing so it risks rendering illegitimate, and potentially criminal, calls for action to address Israel’s persistent denial of Palestinian rights. We believe this runs counter to everyone’s freedom of expression – a right guaranteed in European law.
The government states that freedom of speech on Israel/Palestine is protected within the definition via the statement that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”.
However, there are already many examples of the definition being used to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel. Indeed, a previous version of this definition was abandoned because of concerns about its employment to limit freedom of expression. The APPG report on antisemitism in 2015 noted that the definition had “largely fallen out of favour, in part due to continued controversy regarding its application to the State of Israel and its policies”.
Addressing the fact that Israel as a state privileges the rights of Jewish citizens above those of Palestinians risks being framed as antisemitic under the terms of the guidance accompanying the new definition. It is important to note that Adalah, the Israeli human rights organisation, has identified over 50 laws within the state of Israel which specifically discriminate against Palestinian citizens.
In order to meet its aim of finding a definition which can be employed by all bodies and institutions in the fight against antisemitism, whilst at the same time preserving the right of free expression to criticise Israel, the Government should adopt the 40-word definition cited above, and not the guidance which incorporates legitimate criticism of Israel. Freedom of expression to criticise any and all governments is a fundamental right cherished by our society. Raising our voices to highlight continued Palestinian human rights abuses is both necessary and right.