March 15 2021
Dear Mayor ….,,
We are writing to you about the Global Mayors Summit Against Antisemitism, which we understand you will be attending.
We want to alert you to the nature of the organiser, the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement (CAM); to what you will be asked to support; and to the legal liabilities to which you will expose yourself if you ban the kinds of advocacy events you will almost certainly be asked to ban.
CAM is concerned as much with protecting Israel from criticism as by combating antisemitism. This becomes evident when you look at the membership of its Advisory Council and staff. The Advisory Council numbers three very senior Israeli politicians, including a former Leader of the Israeli Labour Party, a former Deputy Prime Minister and the last Ambassador to the UN. The staff includes a former Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy.
The published list of conference subjects prominently includes the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. Looking up the reference to the definition on the CAM website reveals something distinctly odd. It doesn’t quote the whole Working Definition, as would be expected, but only quotes some of the examples “of contemporary antisemitism” from the Working Definition. Moreover, it omits the conditional wording related to the examples which say that the context of a comment or statement has to be considered before it can be judged antisemitic in terms of an example.
You have to use the link to the IHRA website, and then read the Working Definition carefully before you realise the examples are meant to be conditional, not presumptive. You could be forgiven for thinking that CAM doesn’t want you to know that.
(JJP is on record as opposing the Working Definition because of its many inadequacies as a definition and its bias towards interpreting criticism of Israel as antisemitic. The conditionality is the only thing that enables it to be used at least somewhat objectively as a test of antisemitism.)
Based on the pattern of conferences that promote the IHRA Working Definition, you will be asked to treat advocacy of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) applied to Israel as inherently antisemitic and to ban Palestinian advocacy events that support BDS. The claim that BDS is inherently antisemitic does not stand up to examination. BDS is a legal, non-violent strategy to enable civil society actors to bring pressure on Israel to come into compliance with international law. Individual consumers and private sector organisations can decide not to buy Israeli products from Israel or from settlements, or not to buy products from companies that assist the occupation. Public bodies such as local authorities, can decide not to buy products from settlements.
All this is directed at Israel because of what Israeli governments do, not at Jews. The fact that Israel was created by Zionists as the Jewish state, and is represented as such by its government, does not make it immune from civil society pressure if people think its policies are immoral.
The claim doesn’t even stand up in terms of the IHRA Working Definition itself. The justification used by the Working Definition’s proponents is that BDS violates the example of “Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” However, the need to take context into account nullifies the effect of that example, because Israel’s long-standing occupation and its related policies are unique among democratic nations. No other democratic nation has been occupying another peoples land for 54 years, settling it with its own citizens, imposing separate and unequal planning and legal regimes that massively favour the settlers over the occupied people, and severely restricting the occupied people’s freedom of movement and expression. It is an undeclared apartheid regime.
In the past few years, there have been 17 court rulings that overturned bans of events because BDS was to be advocated. The basis of the rulings was that BDS is legal, so that banning it would be an unwarranted infringement of the right to freedom of expression and assembly. The attached list provides details of the court rulings. Should you attempt to ban such an event, you would render yourself liable to legal action and to paying damages.
You will also be asked to treat anti-Zionism as antisemitic. That doesn’t stand up to examination either. Zionism is the ideology of Jewish territorial self determination. It cannot be considered a necessary part of being Jewish because it requires control over territory. Moreover, the great majority of the indigenous population of Palestine were not Jewish and did not agree to Zionists taking over any part of it. They have been disenfranchised by Zionism. Therefore, for both the general and the specific reasons, people have the right to an opinion about Zionism. Should you attempt to ban an event because it would advocate anti-Zionism, you would also render yourself liable to legal action and to paying damages.
Underlying the arguments and the court rulings is the simple fact that freedom of speech is a fundamental right in any democratic society. It cannot be set aside because of political beliefs, no matter how fervently they are held.
Dror Feiler, Chair, EJJP, member Judar for Israelisk-Palestinsk Fred (Stockholm).
Arthur Goodman, EJJP, Diplomatic and Parliamentary Liaison Officer, JFJFP