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Legal opinion finds major fault with government antisemitism definition

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March 27, 2017 by IJV

Legal opinion finds major faults with government antisemitism definition

  • Definition cannot be used to judge criticism of Israel as antisemitic, unless it expresses hatred towards Jews. 
  • 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 cannot properly be characterised as antisemitic.
  • The definition’s poor drafting means public bodies applying the definition could be at serious risk of “unlawfully restricting legitimate expressions of political opinion”.
  • Definition has already been used to close down student events at universities across the country; it is widely feared to have a ‘chilling effect’.
  • Eminent lawyers Sir Geoffrey Bindman and Sir Stephen Sedley endorse the legal opinion and will address the launch at the House of Lords.

A coalition of organisations has obtained an Opinion from Senior Counsel on the possible impact on freedom of expression and assembly of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism adopted by Theresa May’s government in December 2016.

Hugh Tomlinson QC examined the concerns of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP), Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), Free Speech on Israel (FSOI) and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) that the ‘IHRA definition’ conflates antisemitism with criticism of Israel and could be misused to curtail campaigning on behalf of Palestinians. The groups cite recent occasions when university authorities have forced student Palestine societies to cancel or postpone planned meetings and actions.
 
The Opinion states that the definition is badly drafted, creates scope for confusion and inconsistency, and potentially “chills” the debate around Israel/Palestine. Tomlinson stresses that the definition is not legally binding, public bodies are under no obligation to adopt it, and those that do must take care applying it or risk “unlawfully restricting legitimate expressions of political opinion in violation of statutory duties to ensure freedom of expression and assembly.”
 
He makes clear that the definition cannot be used to judge criticism of Israel to be antisemitic, unless the criticism actually expresses hatred towards Jews. He states:
 
“Properly understood in its own terms 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 characterized as antisemitic. A public authority which sought to apply the IHRA Definition to prohibit or sanction such activities would be acting unlawfully.”
The full text of the opinion is available here: http://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/ihra-opinion/
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