UK’s newly adopted definition of antisemitism: one step further to silence pro-Palestine voices

On Sunday, Prime Minister Theresa may announced that the UK is formally adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.  The definition as it was adopted by IHRA in May 2016 is as follows:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The definition itself, is not contestable. However, as indicated by Jewish network Free Speech on Israel, of the 11 examples IHRA gives to describe what falls under this description, seven relate not to Jews as Jews, but to the state of Israel and its actions.
The Israel lobby has been hard at work over the past year, engaged in a fierce battle against BDS, anti-Zionism and Palestine solidarity in general. The government has bent over backwards to facililitate the demands of the Israel lobby, aimed to silence and intimidate the voices of those supporting Palestinian rights and this is the latest manifestation of the lobby’s work to stifle the voice of Palestinian rights advocates.
Earlier this year, the government announced restrictions on public bodies regarding ethical procurement. A move that was described by Riya Hassan, Europe Campaigns Officer with the Palestinian BDS National Committee, as a gift to Israel, aimed to intimidate councils falsely thinking that they are no longer allowed to exclude companies that violate human rights from tender exercises.
The government even went against its own advice to do so, contradicting it’s existent advice on business with the Occupied Territories from the Foreign Office’s Overseas Business Risk guidelines. These state “Financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements as well as other economic activities in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements, entail legal and economic risks stemming from the fact that the Israeli settlements, according to international law, are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory.”
Ryvka Barnard, Senior Campaigns Officer at War on Want, made a statement that these guidelines were the latest in a sustained government assault on democratic rights and freedoms and warned that the real threat in what the government planned is in regards to local authority pension investments. Worryingly, their plan implemented in November 2016 involves giving central government the power to veto decisions made by local councils, such as voting to divest from fossil fuels, the arms trade of companies complicit in human rights abuses.
In addition, as indicated in a report this year by the BDS Movement, Israel lobby organisations have issued legal threats against student unions and local councils that democratically voted to adopt BDS by falsely characterising criticism of Israel as inherently “anti-semitic”.  The bank accounts of various Palestine solidarity organisations have been closed. Israel lobby organisations have unsuccessfully attempted to take legal action against trade unions over their support for BDS while the UK government has abortively tried to pressure academic and other unions to revoke BDS policies.
We have already seen events in universities cancelled under the pressure of the Israel lobby, simply for criticising Israel. For instance, in April 2015, Southampton University planned a conference on ‘International law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, responsibility and exceptionalism’. Again under intense pressure from the Israel lobby, the university cancelled the conference citing ‘health and safety’ concerns.
In the lead up to the decision by government to adopt the new definition of antisemitism, we have seen a year long smears on the Labour Party and strong pro Palestinian voices such as Jeremy Corbyn, Malia Bouttia and other well known anti-racists. Despite that the Chakrabati report concluding that the Labour Party is not rife with antisemitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism, the momentum for another report looking specifically into antisemitism was created.
The UK Home Affairs Select Committee issued a report urging the government to adopt an amended definition of antisemitism that views the term “Zionist” as inflammatory and potentially antisemitic, and thus, we find ourselves here. A devastating attack on freedom of speech, but more dangerously, a risk of individuals and organisations being prosecuted and dealt with even more heavy handedly. Despite the fact that Met Police figures for October 2016 show that Islamophobic crime is double the percentage of antisemitic hate crime, an enquiry has not been undertaken by government to address it.
The report itself received a scathing response from Jewish people in the UK, who do not identify as Zionist and are in support of Palestinian rights.The Committee ignored the submissions from Jewish groups and other organisations which contradicted the views of the Jewish establishment. Free Speech on Israel, a Jewish network of Labour, Green and trade union activists criticised the report for ignoring evidence.
“Those interviewed or referenced by the Committee who claim to represent the Jewish community all identify themselves as Zionists who defend Israel from all and any criticism, namely the Board of Deputies of British Jews, The Jewish Leadership Council, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, the Community Security Trust, British Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), and the Zionist Federation.”
The argument that opposing Zionism and Israeli policy is not antisemitic is time and again falling on deaf years, thus ignoring Jews around the UK and the rest of the world, and those who have legitimate concerns with the Zionist ideology and Israel policies.
Earlier this year, three UK councils were cleared of anti-semitism by the High  Court after they imposed boycotts on Israeli goods. With this new definition of anti-semitism, it is unlikely that councils will be able to continue to divest from countries such as Israel, who perpetually human rights. Activists and organisations will likely suffer more backlash and be labelled antisemitic for simply supporting Palestinian rights. With this newly adopted antisemitism definition, attacks like this are likely to increase. If they take away people’s right to criticise a State and ideologies, then what kind of steps are we taking for our future? Where will the crackdown on freedom of expression end?

Zaher Birawi , Chairman of Europal Forum, stated that this definition contradicts in many of its parts with basic rights endorsed by international laws such as Freedom of expression.  He stressed that the the attempts of the Israeli lobby in tightening the grip on activists opposing the practices and crimes of the Israeli occupation through governmental legislation or guidelines will not protect Israel from criticism  and from using the jurisdiction to present war crime cases in international courts or in the European courts including the UK.

Birawi pointed that this definition is considered a new challenge for the Palestine solidarity movement to overcome the Israeli lobby restrictions by innovative tools and ideas.

(Source / 14.12.2016)

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