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PSC welcomes the crucial report released today by the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) and European Legal Support Center (ELSC). The report provides overwhelming evidence to substantiate the concerns PSC – amongst many others – has been raising for years as to how the IHRA working definition of antisemitism (IHRA WDA) has been used to silence and “delegitimise points of view critical of Israel and/or in support of Palestinian rights”. 

For many years those seeking to defend the usage of the IHRA WDA have sought to deflect the widespread critique of its threat to freedom of expression and academic freedom by claiming that there is no credible evidence of it being used to silence critique of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people. Most significantly the Taskforce on Antisemitism in Higher Education (established by the UK Government’s Independent Adviser on Antisemitism, Lord Mann), claimed in a report last year that a survey across 56 universities could not provide a single example in which the IHRA definition had in any ways restricted freedom of speech or academic research. This report completely discredits Mann’s claims by documenting 40 cases where, using the IHRA WDA, spurious allegations of antisemitism have been brought against students, academics, student unions and societies, leading to investigation. None of the 40 allegations, once investigated, have been substantiated. The report underlines that the effect of the process of investigation upon those accused has been personally damaging, despite having been cleared in the end, and, as intended, has served to create a chilling effect around the ability of Palestinians and their allies to address the facts of history and to advocate and campaign for Palestinian rights.  

PSC works closely with ELSC to provide support to those in academic spaces and elsewhere who are subject to allegations of antisemitism that are a product of a deliberate conflation of antisemitism with legitimate critique of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people. We have sought to raise concerns with relevant authorities of the destructive impact of public bodies adopting the IHRA WDA, under pressure from the Government and pro-Israel groups. This work has made us acutely conscious of the reality confirmed by the report of the particular targeting of Palestinian students and staff who seek to express their experiences of oppression and discrimination, and who talk about the history of the oppression of their people. Universities and relevant regulatory bodies must act to address the failure that this report exposes: the failure to protect Palestinian students and academics from discrimination by those seeking to shield the state of Israel for accountability for its human rights violations.  

PSC echoes this report’s recommendation that the UK government retract its instruction to universities to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. It is not, and has never been, an appropriate tool for tackling antisemitism. Universities must also act themselves to resist the adoption of the IHRA WDA , and where it has been adopted to rescind that decision.  

Higher education institutions, like all public bodies, must be rigorous in dealing with complaints of racism, including complaints of antisemitism. Their ability to properly tackle racism will only be diminished by the utilisation of a definition of antisemitism which conflates legitimate criticism of Israel with antisemitism, targets Palestinian students and staff and works to silence freedom of expression. 

PSC will continue to work closely with ELSC to provide advice and support to individuals and groups facing illegitimate attempts to silence their voices. We will also continue to work closely with student groups on campuses across Britain campaigning for Palestinian rights. These campaigns recognise that the Palestinian struggle for liberation is an integral part of the global struggle for racial, climate, gender, and social justice. We encourage everyone of conscience to respond to these attempts to chill such legitimate activism by working to build ever larger and broader campaigns for justice and freedom in Palestine and beyond.   

Read the full report here.