IHRA ‘misrepresents’ own definition of anti-Semitism, says report

JVL Introduction

Free Speech on Israel has published an explosive report on a controversial international definition of antisemitism by Jamie-Stern Weiner: The Politics of a Definition: How the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism Is Being Misrepresented

We repost below the story produced by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit on the basis of this report.

It is a sordid story of dishonesty and political manipulation [“lying”]  in which the Labour Party was blackmailed into accepting the “11 examples” attached to the IHRA definition when the IHRA’s own definition excluded them!

As Avi Shlaim, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, University of Oxford, points out in his Introduction to this new report:

  • What is touted as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism is not a definition, has little to do with antisemitism, and was neither written nor endorsed by IHRA. Such are the findings of this meticulously researched and politically explosive report.

Will Keir Starmer’s Labour Party do the honest thing and exonerate its former leader and all those who were tarnished as antisemitic – for simply telling the truth?

This article was originally published by Al Jazeera on Fri 23 Apr 2021. Read the original here.

IHRA ‘misrepresents’ own definition of anti-Semitism, says report

New report obtained exclusively by Al Jazeera details how the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance misinformed the public over its anti-Semitism definition.

An international organisation behind a controversial definition of anti-Semitism has misled the public about that definition, according to a new report by the British campaign group Free Speech on Israel, obtained exclusively by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.

The report, written by Oxford University researcher Jamie Stern-Weiner and set to be officially published on Sunday, shows that statements made by spokespeople and publications of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) have misrepresented the “Working Definition of anti-Semitism” by claiming that it includes a hotly contested list of “examples” of anti-Semitism.

At a May 2016 meeting in Bucharest, the IHRA’s decision-making body, then representing 31 countries, adopted a document that included two separate sections.

The first section is a two-sentence definition of anti-Semitism:

“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.”

The second section is a list containing 11 “contemporary examples” of potentially anti-Semitic statements or behaviours.

Of these eleven examples, seven contain references to the Israeli state. One controversial example claims it may be considered anti-Semitic to describe Israel as a “racist endeavour”, while another claims it could be considered anti-Semitic to “apply double standards” to Israel.

The organisation’s decision to adopt the document came after heated debate concerning the inclusion of the examples in the IHRA definition. According to a confidential internal memo from an ambassador to the 2016 IHRA plenary meeting, seen by Al Jazeera, Sweden and Denmark objected to the definition being rushed through as well as to “the examples added to the definition”.

In the end, the governing plenary decided to adopt only the two-sentence passage as its definition, excluding the controversial examples. The examples were not endorsed as part of the working definition but as “illustrations” to “guide IHRA in its work”.

Limiting free speech

Despite this decision taken by the plenary, Stern-Weiner’s report shows how the controversy surrounding the status of the examples has been omitted from the public record by high-ranking members of the IHRA.

Leading pro-Israel advocacy groups have depicted these examples as the most important part of the IHRA definition. A senior official at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that, while “the IHRA definition is in itself … minimalist”, what makes it “an essential definition in our eyes is the list of examples”.

Critics of the examples have expressed concern about the ways in which they restrict free speech, in particular, that of Palestinians to describe the occupation of their land and their continuing oppression by the Israeli state.

The examples have also been used by Israel lobby groups to disrupt the activities of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement around the world by claiming that a boycott of Israel is anti-Semitic.

In a foreword to the report, Oxford University Professor Avi Shlaim argues that its findings “ought to lead any government or organisation that is considering the adoption of the IHRA definition to think again”.

False statements

Stern-Weiner identifies repeated public statements made by IHRA, its spokespersons and representatives which misrepresent the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism by conflating it with the list of examples.

In May 2018, the IHRA’s Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial appeared to go against the decision taken by the plenary two years earlier, stating that “the definition and the examples constituted the full definition, and that the subject was not open to further discussion”. This was prompted by a pro-Israel lobby group active in the IHRA.

An article on the IHRA’s website, published later that year, falsely stated that “the Working Definition, including its examples, was reviewed and decided upon unanimously during the IHRA’s Bucharest plenary in May 2016”.

In June 2020, the IHRA’s Chair, Ambassador Michaela Küchler of Germany, alleged that IHRA member countries had “agreed” on “the text of the working definition” both the two-sentence passage “and the examples included”.

This inaccurate claim was repeated by a European Commission handbook on the IHRA definition, co-published by the IHRA in January 2021.

These statements run counter to other public statements where the IHRA applauded decisions by the German and French parliaments to endorse the working definition without the inclusion of the examples.

Despite repeated attempts by the report’s author to seek clarity from the IHRA on the status of the 11 examples, no answer from the organisation on this question was forthcoming.

Palestinian rights

This misrepresentation has affected those campaigning for Palestinian rights. For example, in early 2017, the IHRA Working Definition was leveraged to have pro-Palestine events on UK university campuses cancelled.

In 2018, Britain’s Labour Party was at the centre of a national controversy as pro-Israel advocacy groups, including the Jewish Labour Movement, pushed the party to adopt the examples, which these groups inaccurately depicted as integral to the IHRA definition.

Yet Labour had adopted the two-sentence IHRA Working Definition, exactly as agreed by the IHRA plenary.

Al Jazeera’s four-part investigation The Lobby, released in January 2017, revealed how the Jewish Labour Movement and others worked closely with the Israeli Embassy in London in order to influence the Labour party to include the examples referring to Israel in the definition and present the party leadership as “anti-Semitic” for not doing so.

Comments (7)

  • Alan Maddison says:

    Excellent research by Jamie.

    Will the Pro-Israel BoD/ JLM et al now say that the IHRA governing plenary was antisemitic in refusing to adopt the 11 examples?

    This could be described as a farce if it were not so serious.

  • John Coates says:

    It has been obvious to many of us that the bogus and defamatory campaign against Jeremy Corbyn has been an outrage.
    It was equally obvious that the “crisis of anti-Semitism” in the Labour Party was a right-wing contrivance to smear Corbyn and the Left.
    It is probably Corbyn’s greatest failure that he never found the political courage to call out the lies that were advanced using the IHRA Working Definition as a crutch.
    It therefore comes as no surprise to learn that the IHRA itself has cynically misrepresented its own Definition in an attempt to stifle support for Palestinian rights and to lend support to the racist State of Israel.
    The tragedy is the extent to which the Definition has already been used to defame Corbyn and the Left in the Labour Party and to chill debate in this area.

  • Margaret West says:

    The IHRA “definition” was never – in fact – a definition.
    Apart from anything else it never covered the examples
    which were supposed to illustrate it.

    Just been watching “The Death of Stalin” – a farce.
    In the early scenes the Committee were contradicting
    themselves in an effort to placate the General Secretary.

    It was the same with many of the PLP under Corbyn
    who were tripping over themselves in order not to be
    accused of antisemitism. The problem was that Corbyn
    was never supported by the PLP who appeared to
    be in thrall to the right wing.

  • John Bowley says:

    By telling lies in support of a right-wing racist government, the IHRA has discredited itself and contributed to non-factually-based anti-Jewishness.

    Great damage has been caused everywhere and democracy undermined.

    As others have suggested, will the establishments and hierarchies who eagerly lapped up the lies now recant and ask pardon from their victims?

  • Harry Law says:

    “The significance of this definition lies in the international cooperation that led to it … [I]t was unanimously approved by government representatives from all IHRA Member Countries. Gaining this level of international consensus was no easy feat”
    In fact it was an impossible feat, never mind, we the [IHRA] concocted a list of possible anti Semitic phrases then lied to all and sundry that this was the gold standard on defining anti-Semitism. That the Labour party and Corbyn have been destroyed, and many Labour members were traduced and expelled from the party could be said to be the icing on the cake. Mission accomplished.

  • Allan Howard says:

    John Coates said that ‘It is probably Corbyn’s greatest failure that he never found the political courage to call out the lies that were advanced using the IHRA Working Definition as a crutch.’ And what do you think would have happened if he HAD John? Yes, he would have been condemned by all the usual suspects for doing so, and it would have been ‘presented’ as yet FURTHER evidence that he is anti-semitic. And anyone that thinks any different is either living in Cloud Cuckooland or being HIGHLY disingenuous! As if the MSM and the Jewish newspapers and the JLM and the CAA et al who all conspired in the ‘Anti-semitism’ smear campaign would have just remained silent and allowed him to do so. Of course they wouldn’t!

    What more proof does anyone need that THAT is the case than the ‘contrast’ in the response – or lack thereof – to the fact that the LP is still using the antisemitism code of conduct drafted by the party in 2018 – ie that Labour’s new leader has been secretly using exactly the same code that Jeremy was condemned and vilified for? Or what happened when Jeremy said in a statement the day the EHRC published it’s fraudulent report that ‘The scale of the problem has been dramatically overstated by political opponents inside and outside the party and the media’ – ie for stating the actuality? Yes, the very people and groups who had been dramatically overstating the scale of the problem all piled in to condemn him AND he was then promptly suspended.

    Oh, right, but if only Jeremy had had the ‘political courage’ to call out the lies, all the smearers and liars would have crawled away never to be heard from again. Yeah, sure John, as if!

    But don’t let the reality of the situation deter you from blaming the victim for being the victim John!

  • DJ says:

    This escapade raises serious questions about the integrity of the IHRA. More ammunition against the anti Palestinian definition of antisemitism touted in it’s name. No doubt the Israeli lobby will be concerned to keep this”under wraps”.

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