Prominent lawyer says IHRA anti-Semitism definition could silence criticism of Israel

Geoffrey Robertson QC

The definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the government and promoted by pro-Israel groups could silence legitimate criticisms of Israel and coverage of human rights abuses against Palestinians, a prominent human rights lawyer has declared.

In an opinion which was produced to advise the Palestinian Return Centre, Geoffrey Robertson QC examines all eleven “examples” attached to the IHRA definition and concludes that several of them are so loosely drafted that they are likely to chill criticism of action by Israel and the advocacy of sanctions as a means to deter human rights abuses in Gaza and elsewhere.

He says there is a particular danger that the definition will be used mistakenly to defame criticisms of Israel by branding them as anti-Semitic.

Mr Robertson says: “a particular problem with the IHRA definition is that it is likely in practice to chill free speech, by raising expectations of pro-Israeli groups that they can successfully object to legitimate criticism of Israel and correspondingly arouse fears in NGO’s and student bodies that they will have events banned, or else will have to incur considerable expense to protect them by taking legal action. Either way, they may not organise such events.”

Jeremy Corbyn has been under pressure to adopt the IHRA definition

Mr Robertson is an expert on freedom of speech and human rights who has lectured on genocide at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has criticised Theresa May for adopting a definition which was not intended to be binding and which was not drafted as a comprehensible definition.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been under sustained pressure to adopt the IHRA definition by pro Israel and right-wing members of his party.

Robertson also states that the definition does not cover the most insidious forms of hostility to Jewish people. He says it does not cover speech that arouses hostility, or which “politely spreads the poison of prejudice” against Jews as a race. And he expresses surprise that Jewish organisations which are advocating acceptance of the full definition by the Labour Party and other organisations have not realised that it fails to protect Jews from many prevalent kinds of anti-Semitism.

Sign up for regular updates straight to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated on the latest news and updates from around the Muslim world!

Mr Robertson is particularly critical of the Government for “adopting” the definition without Parliamentary discussion and without the protection for free speech recommended by the Home Affairs Committee. Should any University or local council apply it, he says they should follow the Home Affairs Committee recommendation and add to it the clarification that “it is not anti-Semitic to criticise the Government of Israel without additional evidence to suggest anti-Semitic intent.”

The opinion concludes that political action against Israel cannot properly be characterised as anti-Semitic unless the action is intended to promote hatred or hostility against Jews in general.

The full text of the opinion is available HERE

Add your comments below

Previous articleIndonesian Muslim leader condemned for Netanyahu meeting
Next articleShaykh Yasir Qadhi Islam in China