The government’s definition of anti-Semitism has political aims and is an attack on free speech
13 April, 2017
• CAMDEN Council has been considering whether to adopt the government’s definition of anti-Semitism.
If the real purpose is to fight anti-Semitism, then there is an adequate short definition – “hatred against Jews as Jews”.
By contrast the government has adopted a very long definition from the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA). It has political aims – namely, to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, to suppress free speech and thus to silence pro-Palestine voices, especially the phrase “apartheid Israel” as supposedly anti-Semitic.
These anti-democratic aims can be seen in the text, where seven of the 11 examples concern Israel. These aims can also be seen in the Department for Education’s February letter warning Universities UK that there may be “anti-Semitic incidents” at student events in Israel Apartheid Week. The letter led some university administrations to cancel such events.
That suppression runs contrary to a legal opinion by Hugh Tomlinson QC: “the IHRA definition does not mean that activities such as describing Israel as a state enacting a policy of apartheid, as practising settler colonialism or calling for policies of boycott divestment or sanctions against Israel can properly be characterised as anti-Semitic. A public authority which sought to apply the IHRA definition to prohibit or sanction such activities would be acting unlawfully.”
Beyond simply cancelling events, the government-IHRA definition has been deployed in more subtle ways, for example, to intimidate pro-Palestine student activists, to impose a great burden of evidence upon them through bureaucratic procedures and thus to wear them down.
When Labour Party members brought a motion against the government-IHRA definition to the Hampstead and Kilburn branch, the chair simply ruled out the motion as anti-Semitic, citing the definition.
This manoeuvre further reveals its true aim and use. Camden Council should reject the government-IHRA definition, whose aim is censorship rather than fighting anti-Semitism.