Why we need a campaign For Free Speech!

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The right to free speech, especially on the subject of Israel/Palestine, is coming under immense attack all over the world.

– Universities: Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has just threatened to cut the funding of any university that refuses to adopt the ‘working definition of antisemitism’ published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance “by the end of the year”. A recent survey by the Union of Jewish Students had shown that only 29 out of 133 universities had adopted the IHRA definition, and 80 said they had no current plans to do so. (link)

– Schools: In September, the British government instructed schools in England not to use resources from anti-capitalist organisations: “Schools should not under any circumstances use resources produced by organisations that take extreme political stances on matters. This is the case even if the material itself is not extreme, as the use of it could imply endorsement or support of the organisation.” (link)

– NGOs: The US government is threatening to label labelling a number of leading international humanitarian organisations as antisemitic after they documented Israeli rights abuses against Palestinians, including settlement building in the occupied territories. The groups include the UK-based Amnesty International and Oxfam as well as the US organisation Human Rights Watch. (link)

– BDS movement: In 2019, the German government voted to declare BDS ‘antisemitic’ (link). In the US, some states have passed anti-BDS measures, such as punishing companies that refuse to do business with illegal Israeli settlements (link). After it labelled the BDS movement as antisemitic in 2018, the city council of Vienna cancelled a lecture by Ronnie Kassrills, the Jewish South African anti-Apartheid campaigner, alongside several Palestine solidarity events by a combined vote of the Greens, Social Democrats and the neo-Nazi Freedom Party (link). When France’s highest court convicted twelve activists merely for handing out BDS leaflets, the European Court of Human Rights stepped in and overruled the verdict in June 2020, stating that this was a breach of freedom of expression, ordering the French government to pay damages to the activists (link). Still, Boris Johnson is considering introducing similar laws in Britain, which was indeed promised in the Tory’s election programme (link). A large number of local authorities have already adopted the IHRA definition. Tower Hamlets council banned a bike ride for Palestinian children meeting in a park; other councils have refused to let BDS or pro-Palestinian groups hire town buildings or stage protests.

Labour movement: The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in 2015 unleashed a vicious campaign against him and his supporters. Anti-Zionism and support for the Palestinian struggle was wrongly equated with antisemitism, leading to the smearing of hundreds of supporters of the Palestinian struggle as antisemites. The campaign culminated in the October 29 suspension of Corbyn himself, for stating that: “One antisemite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents”. Like many others before him, he was punished simply for stating the plain truth.  

The fight for freedom of discussion and democratic decision-making in our movement is essential for the struggle for socialism. For this reason, we oppose demands for “zero tolerance”. This is the opposite of the culture of open debate we need. The best way to fight prejudice, misperceptions and misunderstandings is by education and free and frank debate.