May 30, 2017
Re: Resolution to plenary including the IHRA definition of antisemitism
Further to our letter of 24 May to MEPs, the sponsors of the resolution and the European Jewish Congress have now both written to MEPs, calling for Parliamentary endorsement of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition. It is obvious that their motive in producing the resolution was not adoption of the many uncontroversial measures against antisemitism which it contains, but rather endorsement of the IHRA definition, which is embedded in the resolution text (clause C.2) without being highlighted in any way.
The crucial sentence in the sponsors’ memorandum misrepresents the IHRA definition to the extent of being a falsehood. The sentence says “it specifically states that criticism of Israel cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic;” The definition actually says “However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” (our italics) The italicised qualification is the crux of the problem with the definition, the reason it creates the uncertainty that would stifle legitimate criticism of Israel, as we explained in our letter of 24 May.
The sponsors obviously realise this, and have tried to obscure it in order to give the impression that the IHRA definition is innocuous. In so doing, they reveal both the intent of the definition and their method of trying to manipulate Parliament into endorsing it. All decent people realise that the holocaust must be remembered and memorialised, and that antisemitism, like other forms of racism, cannot be tolerated. However, it is disreputable to use holocaust remembrance and intolerance of antisemitism as a means of stifling criticism of Israel.
There are other revealing aspects of the sponsors’ memorandum and the European Jewish Congress letter, i.e. the concentration on increasing levels of antisemitism without saying how this definition would help reduce them, or acknowledging the effect of Israeli actions on the number of incidents; the claim that several international organisations supposedly said that the IHRA was the most qualified body to draft a definition, without saying whether they actually endorsed this definition; citing a link to the definition on the European Commission website as the Commission having “politically endorsed” the definition, when it did not and has not endorsed any definition.
Finally, the memorandum correctly says that the current UK government “formally adopted” the definition. However, it does not acknowledge that one of our UK member groups has received Counsel’s opinion that the definition “is unclear and confusing and should be used with caution”, and “has no legal status or effect and, in
particular, does not require public authorities to adopt this definition as part of their anti-racism policies.”, and “Any public authority which does adopt the IHRA Definition must interpret it in a way which is consistent with its own statutory obligations, particularly its obligation not to act in a matter inconsistent with the Article 10 right to freedom of expression. Article 10 does not permit the prohibition or sanctioning of speech unless it can be seen as a direct or indirect call for or justification of violence, hatred or intolerance.”
There is no agreed definition of antisemitism because the issue is complex, but as we said in our previous letter, if Parliament considers that an official definition of antisemitism might be needed in the European Union, and we are by no means convinced of that, then it should ask the appropriate committee(s) to consider the issue properly. A good model would be the simple definition proposed by the Oxford philosopher Brian Klug. That is “Hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which they are perceived as something other than what they are.” That restricts the definition to statements about Jews or acts against Jews, and does not muddy the waters with questions about Israel.
We again urge MEPs either to remove paragraph C.2 or vote down the proposal.
We have attached our letter of 24 May for ease of reference, and also attached the Conclusion of the Counsel’s opinion.
Dror Feiler, Chair of EJJP, Judar for Israelisk-Palestinsk Fred (Stockholm).
Arthur Goodman, Diplomatic and Parliamentary Liaison officer, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (London)