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Over 300 people attended our excellent Zoom meeting on 'Palestine/Israel and academic freedom' on Sunday and the recording on Facebook has been viewed thousands of times. Please find below some video footage from the meeting.

We are publishing below an important statement sent to us by Sir Stephen Sedley ahead of the meeting, which was read out. The former Lord Justice of Appeal and Judge ad hoc of the European Court of Human Rights writes:

"Anti-semitism, like pornography, may be easier to recognise than to define, but a straightforward and hard-edged definition is that it is hostility towards Jews as Jews. It is neither something as subjective as a “perception” (to use one of the IHRA’s two inappropriate nouns) nor necessarily something as flagrant as hatred (to use the other). In neither instance is it coextensive with criticism (shared, incidentally, by many Jews worldwide) of Israel’s laws, policies and practices, or of Zionism itself.

Failure – or more realistically refusal – to recognise the legitimacy of such critiques is a gag upon freedom of thought and speech, a human right no less real than freedom from racial discrimination."
 



During the meeting, almost two dozen people joined the campaign - were you one of them? If not, you can join here (if you are unsure if you are a member, you can go to https://membermojo.co.uk/labourfreespeech and see if you can log in; you can also change your details yourself). 

We are planning a number of 'real life' protests (for example outside Labour Party HQ on July 20, the day of the next NEC meeting) and are discussing Salma Yaqoob's proposal made at the meeting to organise a 'road show' through British Universities, where free speech and academic freedom have come under particular attack in recent months. We need your support to make all of these things happen! 
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We heard a number of wide-ranging and thought-provoking contributions from:
  • Norman Finkelstein, author, ‘The Holocaust Industry’ 
  • Salma Yaqoob, anti-war activist
  • Dr. Deepa Driver, union activist and academic
  • Moshe Machover, author, expert on Middle East
  • Saladin Meckled-Garcia, UCU UCL vice president
  • Ilan Pappe, Israeli socialist, University of Exeter 
  • Tom Hickey, a leading member of BRICUP
  • Tony Greenstein, blogger, expert on Middle East
  • A statement by Sir Stephen Sedley was read out
Salma Yaqoob 
Why we need to stand up for free speech!

Sir Stephen Sedley: Statement on IHRA

Stephen Sedley has sent us this statement for publication ahead of our meeting on ‘Palestine/Israel and academic freedom. He is the former Lord Justice of Appeal and Judge ad hoc of the European Court of Human Rights; past visiting professor of law, Oxford University. The statement is available online here. 

It is now five years since the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (the IHRA) published what it called “a non-legally binding working definition of anti-semitism”. It is a clumsy piece of drafting distinguished by two particular features: it fails the first test of any definition by being open-ended and indefinite; and it is accompanied by examples some of which are visibly designed to protect Israel from legitimate criticism. 

In spite of its self-description as “non-legally binding”, the supposed definition is rapidly acquiring the force of law by being used as a basis for witch-hunts within institutions and organisations against bona fide critics of Israel. Ignoring the Home Affairs Select Committee’s warning that the document, if unqualified, risked stifling free speech, government has set about enforcing its adoption by threatening to defund institutions which fail to adopt it.

It may therefore be relevant to say a word about the IHRA and the genesis of its “working definition”.  Although the IHRA is a publicly-funded intergovernmental body, based in Berlin, it publishes no minutes and does not reveal who attends its meetings. Among its first member-states were the US, the UK and Israel.

Recent research, however, has established that the “definition” adopted by the IHRA’s Bucharest plenary in 2016 consisted only of the two initial sentences, taken from an abandoned document produced by a European predecessor body. The first is:

“Anti-semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews.”

The second sentence elaborates the possible reach of “rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism” but adds nothing by way of further definition.

How then has the supposed IHRA definition come to include such examples as

“the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity” and “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour” ?

So far as can be ascertained, the grafting on of the list of examples was the work of representatives of two uncompromisingly pro-Israel organisations, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and the American Jewish Committee. There appears to be no evidence that the list was ever adopted by a plenary meeting of the IHRA. None of this has prevented it from being weaponised.

Anti-semitism, like pornography, may be easier to recognise than to define, but a straightforward and hard-edged definition is that it is hostility towards Jews as Jews. It is neither something as subjective as a “perception” (to use one of the IHRA’s two inappropriate nouns) nor necessarily something as flagrant as hatred (to use the other). In neither instance is it coextensive with criticism (shared, incidentally, by many Jews worldwide) of Israel’s laws, policies and practices, or of Zionism itself.

Failure – or more realistically refusal – to recognise the legitimacy of such critiques is a gag upon freedom of thought and speech, a human right no less real than freedom from racial discrimination.

Stephen Sedley

5 June 2021

Video of our lobby outside Bristol University in solidarity with Professor David Miller. 
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