A media statement from eminent Jewish figures says clarity about what antisemitism is, and what it is not, is essential to effectively combatting age-old prejudices against Jews. Their statement draws on work towards a definition of antisemitism intended to benefit government, political parties, public bodies and NGOs by avoiding the dangers inherent in conflating antisemitism with criticism of Israel.
EMINENT JEWISH FIGURES CONDEMN ATTEMPTS TO SILENCE CRITICISM OF ISRAEL
Statement from high profile Jewish figures reflects public concern about conflation of antisemitism with criticism of Israel
Signatories call for clarity in opposing antisemitism in all its forms while protecting the right to address unjust laws and policies of the State of Israel.
Moves to assist public bodies, by clarifying what antisemitism is and what it is not, follow Liberty AGM warning of threat to freedom of expression.
June 19, 2018 – A statement from 27 senior Jewish academic and cultural figures says clarity about what antisemitism is, and what it is not, is essential to effectively combatting age-old prejudices against Jews.
The signatories include eminent barrister Sir Geoffrey Bindman, film makers Mike Leigh and Peter Kosminsky, writers Gillian Slovo, Michael Rosen and Susie Orbach, four Fellows of the Royal Society and more than a dozen other leading academics.
They say: “Holocaust denial, the blood libel, conspiracy theories about supposed Jewish power or the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide – all are expressions of antisemitism… Criticism of Israel is not antisemitic unless motivated by anti-Jewish prejudice.”
The statement comes at a time when there is controversy about attempts to prevent criticism of Israel by promoting the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) “Working Definition of Antisemitism“. This was adopted by the UK government in December 2016 along with a set of guidance notes focused on Israel, and widely promoted as a tool for opposing hostility towards Jews.
However, the IHRA definition has been condemned for undermining the freedom to criticise Israel for its displacement of Palestinians and its denial of their rights. A legal opinion from Hugh Tomlinson QC described the document as “unclear and confusing” and having “no legal status or effect.”
Retired Appeal Court judge Sir Stephen Sedley has called it “a protean definition of antisemitism which is open to manipulation and capture”. It has been cited in many cases where public authorities, including universities, have refused to host speakers, cancelled room bookings and called off academic conferences.
Concerns about freedom of speech prompted Liberty, the leading civil liberties organisation in the UK, to pass a resolution condemning the IHRA definition at its Annual General Meeting on May 19. It warned public bodies not to adopt it, because its conflation between antisemitism and criticism of Israel blurred “the previously clear understanding of the nature of antisemitism,” risked “undermining the defences against it” and threatened freedom of expression.
Jewish activists are consulting with leading experts in the field to produce a new definition of antisemitism, designed to avoid these problematic issues for the benefit of government, political parties, NGOs and other public bodies. This work has contributed to the statement published in the Guardian on June 15 (see full text and signatories below).
It is endorsed by Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Jewish Socialists’ Group and Jewish Voice for Labour.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. The statement
There are disturbing signs round the world that age-old prejudices against Jews are reviving once more. We need to be clear in recognising them, and resolute in dealing with them. A precondition for fighting antisemitism effectively is clarity about what it is, and what it is not.
Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice or hostility against us because we are Jews. It is a form of racism. It may be manifested in violence, denial of rights, discriminatory acts, prejudice-based behaviour, verbal or written statements, negative stereotypes or scapegoating.
Holocaust denial, the blood libel, conspiracy theories about supposed Jewish power or the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide – all are expressions of antisemitism.
Criticism of Israel is not antisemitic unless motivated by anti-Jewish prejudice. Examples of this can include:
Holding all Jews accountable for the actions of the State of Israel
Engaging in conspiracy theories about the State of Israel, that draw upon antisemitic stereotypes about supposed Jewish power.
Accusing all Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than to the interests of their own nations.
Criticism of Israel, of its displacement of Palestinians and of its denial of their rights, is not antisemitic
Criticising laws and policies of the State of Israel as racist and as falling under the definition of apartheid is not antisemitic.
Calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel to oppose those policies is not antisemitic.
We call upon all public bodies and other organisations to apply these principles in addressing antisemitism within their own organisations and when challenging it within wider society.
2. The signatories
Sir Geoffrey Bindman
Professor D.B.A. Epstein, FRS
Professor Stephan Feuchtwang
Professor Harvey Goldstein
Dr Brian Klug
Professor Malcolm Levitt FRS
Professor Moshe Machover
Miriam Margolyes MBE
Professor Laurence Pearl FRS
Professor Jacqueline Rose FBA
Professor Steven Rose
Professor Michael Rosen
Professor Douglas Ross FRS
Professor Andrew Samuels
Professor Donald Sassoon
Professor Lynne Segal
Professor Avi Shlaim
Professor Annabelle Sreberny
Professor John S. Yudkin
Professor Nira Yuval-Davis
3. The Liberty resolution
This AGM reiterates:
its abhorrence of antisemitism as a repellent undercurrent which persists across the social and political spectrum; and Liberty’s support for effective measures to combat antisemitism and all other forms of racism;
the legal Opinion of Hugh Tomlinson QC which states that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance ‘Working Definition of Antisemitism’, adopted by the UK government in December 2016, is “unclear and confusing” and “has no legal status or effect”; and that the overriding legal duty of public authorities is to preserve freedom of expression; that the guidance that is attached to the definition conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism, that the definition is being interpreted as saying that to describe Israel as a state practising apartheid, or to call for Boycott or Sanctions to be applied in defence of Palestinian rights, is an inherently antisemitic act that should be prohibited; that the definition is being cited in attempts to deter, obstruct or prevent events that are critical of Israel, or support the legitimate rights of Palestinians;
that by blurring the previously clear understanding of the nature of antisemitism, the IHRA definition risks undermining the defences against it; and that the definition’s conflation of antisemitism with criticism of Israel and legitimate defence of the rights of Palestinians is a threat to freedom of expression. It regrets that some local authorities have already adopted it, calls on those that have done so to apply it with extreme caution, and calls on other public bodies not to adopt the definition