Posted on June 10, 2019, by & filed under Latest News.


This paper below was submitted by ICAHD UK to the enquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into the allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Details of the enquiry investigation may be viewed here.

Summary

1. ICAHD UK recommends the Commission to define anti-Semitism at an early stage in its enquiry.  We recognise this is not a straightforward task, nor one free from controversy.

2. While we abhor any form of discrimination against or harassment or victimisation of Jews, we are concerned lest some people may allege anti-Semitism for political purposes, either to damage individuals in the Labour Party or to weaken legitimate criticism of the Government of Israel.

Who are we?

3. ICAHD, the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, is an Israeli Committee set up originally to draw attention to the demolition of houses by the Israeli Government in the occupied territory of Palestine. Today it also looks more widely at the Nation-State law and the discrimination by the Israeli Government in favour of Jews against Palestinians, and at the increasing Judaisation of all of historic Palestine, and to seek a solution which would give equal rights to all, whatever their race or religion.

4. ICAHD UK is the UK member of the ICAHD family. It seeks to help achieve a just and sustainable peace between Palestinians and Israelis and to educate and inform the British public about what is happening on the ground, and to advocate for democracy and human rights. Its members include Jews, Christians, people with other faiths, and of none.

Anti-Semitism

5. We have suggested above that defining anti-Semitism is not a straightforward matter, nor is it free from controversy.  In particular, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition, along with examples, now adopted by the Labour Party, has been severely criticised by Jews who do not feel represented, indeed feel often misrepresented, by such bodies as the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Jewish Labour Movement.

6. In addition, the IHRA definition has been contested by scholars of anti-Semitism including Brian Klug[1], Antony Lerman[2], David Feldman[3],jurists including Hugh Tomlinson[4], Stephen Sedley[5], Geoffrey Bindman and Geoffrey Robertson[6] and one of the original drafters Kenneth S. Stern[7] has opposed the misuse of the definition to suppress and limit free speech.

7. The particular cause for concern is that the definition allows, too easily, for an illegitimate and inaccurate conflation of anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel and indeed of Zionism understood as a political project.

8. It is also the case that objection to the project of creating and maintaining a specifically Jewish State, as reflected in Israel’s recent Nation-State Law, is not of itself anti-Semitic.

9. Objections to a specifically Jewish State needs to be understood within the wider context of ethical and political opposition to all forms of racial and religious prejudice. This includes, any form of privileging a particular racial or religious group. This is the platform upon which we, the UK Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, firmly stands.

10. In the light of these remarks, ICAHD UK endorses the understanding of anti-Semitism put forward by Jewish Voice for Labour:[8]

Antisemitism is a form of racism. It consists in prejudice, hostility or hatred towards Jews as Jews. It may take the form of denial of rights; direct, indirect or institutional discrimination; prejudiced-based behaviour; verbal or written statements; or violence. Such manifestations draw on stereotypes – characteristics which all Jews are presumed to share.

11. The utility and straightforwardness of this definition is underscored by the fact that in labelling anti-Semitism a form of racism it provides, in effect, a universal definition of that scourge such that the term ‘Jew’ can be replaced by, for example, Muslim, Roma, African and so forth.

But many people define anti-Semitism in terms which go far wider than that. Although they state that criticism of the actions of the Israeli Government is not in itself anti-Semitic, that is what their words amount to in practice as anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are treated as virtual synonyms, treated as both meaning the same thing[9]. But, as we have made clear, Zionism, the establishment of a Jewish state, is an entirely political programme. It was opposed by very many Jews when it first came into being in the late nineteenth century and it continues to be by many Jews today, while many of its protagonists are fundamentalist Christians in the UK as well as in the USA.

12. The same confusion appears in practice in the definition of anti-Semitism put forward in 2016 by the IHRA and which has since been adopted in many countries and by the Labour Party last year after considerable pressure. For example ‘Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’ which is given as an example of anti-Semitism sits oddly against the general sentiment that ‘Criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other countries cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic’.

Conclusion.

13. It may well be the case that there are anti-Semites who call themselves anti-Zionists. It is also possible to criticise Israel without being anti-Semitic. But there is not a clear cut distinction between the two which everyone would accept. For this reason care has to be taken to ensure that any criticism of the Israeli government is not liable to unfair challenge.

14. For this reason we suggest that an early task for the Commission should be to agree on a definition of anti-Semitism which will be fair both to the Labour party and to its critics. It may however be elusive to find one which all concerned will accept: that disagreement may well itself be significant and explain some of the difficulties which have arisen.

Daphna Baram
Director, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) UK
8 June 2019

 

References

[1] https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/blog/7741/

[2] https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/opendemocracyuk/labour-should-ditch-ihra-working-definition-of-antisemitism-altogether/

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/28/britain-definition-antisemitism-british-jews-jewish-people

[4] https://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/ihra-opinion/#sthash.Pq6ZRGYp.dpbs

[5] https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n09/stephen-sedley/defining-anti-semitism

[6] https://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Geofrey-Robinson-QC-opinion-on-IHRA.pdf

[7] https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/app/uploads/2018/08/Stern-Testimony-11.07.17.pdf

[8] Declaration on Antisemitic Misconduct, a document prepared by JVL for the Labour Party’s consultation on its code of conduct on anti-Semitism.

[9] See for example ‘The Mutating Virus: Understanding anti-Semitism’, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Future of Jewish Communities in Europe, Conference of the European Parliament, 27 September 2016.