In a move which will concern pro-Palestine activists, authorities in the West Midlands have adopted a definition of antisemitism that is backed by pro-Israel organisations.
The West Midlands Combined Authority – which covers areas such as Birmingham and Coventry – voted unanimously to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism which is opposed by pro-Palestine groups.
There are now fears that the definition – which outlaws harsh criticism of Israel – could have a chilling effect on pro-Palestine activism.
The IHRA definition was approved by WMCA after consultation with the pro-Israel Jewish Leadership Council.
The West Midlands now joins other combined authorities such as Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Liverpool City Region, North East Combined Authority and the Greater London Authority in adopting the definition – as well as over 260 councils in England and Wales. All major political parties have also adopted the definition.
Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “Nobody should be the victim of hate because of their faith or heritage, which is why I have been working closely with our Police and Crime Commissioner to tackle this, and why I was so keen for the WMCA to sign up to the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
“I am pleased the WMCA board has now agreed the definition, and I hope this serves as a symbol to not only the Jewish community in the region but all communities, that the West Midlands stands together against all forms of hate and prejudice.”
For the past two years the JLC, as well as other pro-Israel organisations such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews – have been liaising with councils over the need to adopt the IHRA definition, in collaboration with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
But pro-Palestine activists have consistently said it could silence legitimate criticisms of Israel and coverage of human rights abuses against Palestinians.
In 2018 a legal opinion produced for the Palestinian Return Centre concluded that there was a particular danger that the definition would be used to defame criticisms of Israel by branding them as antisemitic.
QC Geoffrey Robertson said: “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.”
The IHRA definition of antisemitism condemns those who question Israel’s “right to exist” or call it “racist.”
It states: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish
community institutions and religious facilities.”
However, the IHRA then goes onto give examples of what may constitute anti-Semitism, some of which may be highly contentious. These include:
- The targeting of the Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.
- Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of Nazis.
- Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
- Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of Israel is a racist endeavor.
However, many pro-Palestinian activists in the UK and around the world believe that Israel has no right to exist in its present form. This is because, they argue, Israel is an Apartheid State which stole Palestinian land through ethnic cleansing and has sustained itself since through brutality, occupation and war.
These activists also say that Israel is a racist entity because of its exclusivist nature and its treatment of non-Jews. And they would prefer Israel to be replaced by a secular, democratic or Islamic state.