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).
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
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
Please delete and amend as necessary
1. This branch/CLP/organisation notes with great concern:
1.1. the dismissal of Stan Keable by Hammersmith and Fulham Labour council on April 21 2018. After 17 years service as a housing enforcer, he is supposed to have “brought the Council into disrepute”, by saying that the Zionist movement collaborated with the Nazi regime. He said this on March 26, in a conversation in Parliament Square. This had nothing to do with work. Stan was participating in the Jewish Voice for Labour counter-demonstration in support of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, called in opposition to the right-wing ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration. The conversation was secretly filmed by the BBC’s David Grossman, who put a 105-second video clip online.
1.2. that the Council’s justification for dismissal is based on Stan attending the JVL counter-demonstration, by which he “knowingly increased the possibility of being challenged about his views and subsequently proceeded to express views that were in breach of the council’s equality, diversity and inclusion policy and the council’s code of conduct”.
1.3. that the right to express one’s views and to go on demonstrations are important democratic rights. Freedom of expression and freedom ofassemblyare guaranteed in Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
2. We further note:
2.1. that Unison has withdrawn its support (except at branch level) because Stan rejected the advice of its regional organiser to plead guilty, which would have meant abandoning the right to demonstrate and to freedom of speech.
3. We believe:
3.1. that Stan’s dismissal is wholly unjust and must be reversed.
3.2. this dismissal extends the McCarthyite witch-hunt against Corbyn supporters in the Labour Party to the area of employment. We fear that Stan’s dismissal could be the first of many political sackings.
4. We resolve to:
4.1. call on Hammersmith & Fulham council to reinstate Stan;
4.2. call on the Unison leadership to support Stan in his fight for reinstatement;
4.3. donate £50/£100/£250 [delete as necessary] to his campaign for reinstatement, and circulate/promote his GoFundMe campaign: www.gofundme.com/ReinstateStanKeable;
4.4. affiliate to Labour Against the Witchhunt [local or regional organisations £25, national organisations £100];
4.5. sponsor the ‘Reinstate Stan Keable’ lobby of Hammersmith and Fulham Council meeting, Hammersmith Town Hall, King Street W6 9JU, Monday July 16th, from 5pm to 7:15pm (Council meeting starts 7pm).
To be sent to:
This CLP notes that:
- Marc Wadsworth, a leading Black antiracist activist, was expelled from the Labour Party – with no right of appeal – on April 27, 2018, charged with bringing the Party into disrepute;
- his expulsion followed 22 months of suspension from membership;
- his expulsion was not for antisemitism, despite continuous prejudicial media coverage falsely accusing him of antisemitic abuse at the media launch of the Chakrabarti Report on June 30, 2016.
This CLP believes:
- that the party has indeed been brought into disrepute, not by Marc Wadsworth’s non-abusive remark at the Report launch, but by the actions of PLP members publicly denouncing him as an antisemite; by the adherence of the entrenched party bureaucracy to a unaccountable and unelected disciplinary system which was not fit for purpose; and by its failure to put in place a system conforming with principles of natural justice, which should be automatic in any labour movement organisation.
This CLP therefore:
- supports Marc Wadsworth’s campaign to clear his name of the antisemitism slur and for reinstatement as a member of the Labour Party;
- calls on the General Secretary to speedily implement Chakrabarti’s recommendations designed to reform flawed party rules and structures to ensure prompt, fair and transparent handling of disciplinary complaints against members, with right of appeal and including presumption of innocence and fact-based judgements that do not rely on guilt by association
More videos from Jackie Walker, Mike Cushman etc to come. Click here for a report of the excellent meeting, which launched LAW’s national speaking tour.
Regrettably, Marc Wadsworth and Deborah Hobson of Grassroots Black Labour have decided to part company with Labour Against the Witchhunt to concentrate on GBL. This comes after LAW organised a lobby of Marc’s disciplinary hearing and a very successful #Justice4Marc speaking tour in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Chester, Bristol, Swansea and Sheffield to protest against his unjust expulsion from the Labour Party on April 27.
We encourage all LAW supporters to continue to campaign against Marc’s expulsion (as against all other unjust expulsions and suspensions), for example by moving our model motion or similar motions in their branch and CLP. We are also happy to help with the organisation of local LAW meetings by providing speakers and administrative support – get in touch!
GBL’s statement announcing their withdrawal
Grassroots Black Left has decided to withdraw its representatives from the Labour Against the Witchhunt steering committee. GBL will continue to work with individuals and organisations in the fight against unjust Labour Party suspensions and expulsions, as long as they respect the important principles of black self-organisation and self-determination.
We will vigorously resist any attempts to make GBL subordinate to the will of individuals and groups who choose to misuse their power or positions. While recognising the good work LAW has done, particularly by its local activists who have helped GBL, Jewish Voice for Labour and the Labour Representation Committee make the #Justice4Marc national speaking tour a success, difficulties encountered on the LAW SC have made it impossible for us to stay on that body.
A broad-based, non-sectarian, mass campaign against the purge is desperately needed by all those comrades affected by it. GBL notes many of the victims have been black people, Muslims and Jews. They must therefore be at the heart of the fightback. GBL is totally opposed to anti-black racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. But we deplore the cynical weaponisation of false accusations of anti-Semitism, which have undermined the genuine fight against racism and support for the Palestinians. When the targets have been black, including GBL member Marc Wadsworth, this has damaged much-needed unity between black people and Jewish people.
We recognise the main objective of the right wing, who have been driving the purge, is to attack Jeremy Corbyn’s progressive leadership of the Labour Party. Appeasement and capitulation is not the best way to defeat them.
GBL will continue to work with JVL, LRC, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Red Labour, supportive LAW groups and others committed to stopping the purge, getting Marc reinstated by Labour and the Shami Chakrabarti report recommendations on the party’s disciplinary procedures implemented.
The LAW steering committee sent the following short reply
Dear GBL comrades,
We regret that Grassroots Black Left has decided, in its May 27 statement, to withdraw its representatives, Marc Wadsworth and Deborah Hobson, from the steering committee of Labour Against the Witchhunt. We hope that GBL and LAW can cooperate fully in campaigning against all unjust suspensions and expulsions of Labour Party members, including for the reinstatement of Marc Wadsworth.”
It was signed by remaining SC members Tony Greenstein, Stan Keable, Steve Price, Jackie Walker and Tina Werkmann (SC members are elected as individuals, not as delegates, by voting at membership meetings).
Please support Stan Keable’s campaign for reinstatement. Stan, secretary of Labour Against the Witchhunt, has been sacked for stating an historically verifiable fact. And now his union (Unison) has let him down too. He has been advised of how much a barrister would cost to represent him at an employment tribunal. Please give generously and spread this message. Thank you!
On April 21 2018, I was dismissed from my job with Hammersmith and Fulham Council after 17 years unblemished service as a housing enforcer, for having “brought the Council into disrepute”, by saying that the Zionist movement collaborated with the Nazi regime – a well documented if shameful historical fact.
I said this on March 26, in a conversation in Parliament Square – nothing to do with work – while participating in the Jewish Voice for Labour demonstration in support of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, called in opposition to the rightwing ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration.
The BBC’s David Grossman tweeted a 105-second video clip of the conversation, retweeted by Tory MP Greg Hands to H&F Council Labour leader Stephen Cowan and then used by the Council to sack me.
Unison has withdrawn support because I rejected the bad advice of their regional organiser to plead guilty, throwing away the right to demonstrate and to freedom of speech – so I need funds for a barrister and potential legal costs to challenge my political victimisation at an employment tribunal, as well as for campaigning for reinstatement.
My dismissal extends the McCarthyite witch-hunt against Corbyn supporters in the Labour Party to the area of employment. Don’t let me be the first of many political sackings.
Please give generously. Any surplus funds will be passed to Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW) for campaigning.
My open letter to H&F Councillors:
Mike Cushman – ‘How talking about Zionism can lose you your job’:
Tony Greenstein – ‘No criticism permitted’:
Open letter to Hammersmith & Fulham Labour councillors and party members
Shame on Hammersmith and Fulham Council. The decision to sack me on April 21, after 17 years of unblemished service as a housing enforcer (Public Protection and Safety Officer), for expressing my political views – namely, anti-Zionism – on the March 26 Jewish Voice for Labour demonstration in Parliament Square, has brought the Council, and the Labour Party, into disrepute, and rubbished its own much vaunted anti-racist reputation.
Does the H&F Labour council really want to forbid criticism of Zionism – the official ideology of the racist Israeli state? Does the council support the ethnic cleansing of the 1948 Nakba (“Disaster’ – the forced removal of some 750,000 Palestinians), the discriminatory treatment of Palestinian Israeli citizens, and the ongoing ethnic cleansing on the West Bank?
At the very moment when the Zionist Israeli apartheid state is massacring its own Palestinian citizens – imprisoned, impoverished and starved in the siege of Gaza – H&F Council forbids the criticism of Zionism, becoming the first Council to extend the “Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism” charade from the suspension and expulsion of pro-Corbyn Labour Party members to the dismissal of employees, opening the way for the introduction into the UK of the notorious West German practice of Berufsverbort– the wholesale sacking of socialist teachers and civil servants under the 1972 ‘anti-radical decree’. Presumably, logically, all job applicants should now be asked the question: ‘Are you an anti-Zionist?”
My dismissal letter is entitled “Strictly private and confidential”, but the attempt of a Labour council to ditch freedom of speech and assembly is a threat to the employment rights of millions and a matter of public concern. Freedoms have always been fought for and won in public.
I can remember, in slightly more rational times, when serious disciplinary cases, those involving “serious misconduct” and possible dismissal, were heard by Councillors, not paid officers. It is ridiculous today that an employee, the Director of Environment, who is no doubt competent in dealing with environmental issues, should be tasked with resolving a political issue that has nothing to do with work, while the elected Labour politicians can wash their hands of the matter, like Pontius Pilot.
I shall, of course, be submitting an appeal, and/or taking the matter to an employment tribunal, where I feel sure the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, including the right to express views which are irritating or offensive to the public or the state, are more likely to be upheld. Freedom of speech is nothing if it does not include the right to offend.
Further details of my disciplinary case are available online:
- ‘How talking about Zionism can lose you your job’ by Mike Cushman
- How Equalities Policies are Used to Deny Free Speech and Human Rights’ (Free Speech on Israel)
- ‘No criticism permitted’ – Tony Greenstein, who defended Stan at his hearing, reports
- The H&F Council Leader, Steve Cowan, may be contacted here: firstname.lastname@example.org
I urge those who wish to offer support and solidarity to me and others affected by the anti-Corbyn campaign to join Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW) and/or sign up to receive LAW’s email newsletter.