Palestinian voices raised against the IHRA document

Lining up at the checkpoint starts at 3am, though the checkpoint does not open until around 5:00am. photo: Porter Speakman, Jr. +972magazine

JVL Introduction
The rumpus about antisemitism in the Labour party in recent months has been characterised by the virtual absence of Palestinian voices in the mainstream media.

This statement below, from Palestinian unions, NGOs and movement organisations, is therefore particularly important and instructive. Please read and share.

It is followed by Ahmad Samih Khalidi, who argues in a Guardian comment that Jeremy Corbyn has no need to apologise for being the first Labour leader to oppose Zionism on moral grounds.

Labour must reject biased IHRA definition that stifles advocacy for Palestinian rights

We welcome the significant growth in recent years of progressive politics centred on social justice and internationalism in the UK, especially within the labour movement. We, Palestinian trade unions, mass organisations and networks, representing the majority in Palestinian civil society, call on the British Labour party, trade unions, city councils, universities and civil society at large to reject the IHRA’s false, anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism.

This non-legally binding definition attempts to erase Palestinian history, demonise solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality, suppress freedom of expression, and shield Israel’s far-right regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid from effective measures of accountability in accordance to international law.

The discredited IHRA guidelines deliberately conflate hostility to or prejudice or discrimination against Jews on the one hand with legitimate critiques of Israel’s policies and system of injustice on the other.

Palestinians last year marked 100 years of the Balfour Declaration, which played a significant role in supporting and entrenching the Zionist colonisation of Palestine. This typically colonial British declaration constituted a declaration of war against our people. It facilitated the birth of the exclusionary state of Israel that maintains a regime of apartheid and systematically oppresses the indigenous Palestinian people, stripping us of our fundamental and UN-recognised rights, including the rights to equality and self- determination and our refugees’ right to return to their homes of origin.

We concur with British Palestinian personalities who have asserted that:

“[A]ny use by public bodies of the IHRA examples on antisemitism that either inhibits discussion relating to our dispossession by ethnic cleansing, when Israel was established, or attempts to silence public discussions on current or past practices of [Israeli] settler colonialism, apartheid, racism and discrimination, and the ongoing violent military occupation, directly contravenes core rights. First, the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, who remain protected by international laws and conventions; and second, the rights of all those British citizens who stand by our side, in the solidarity of a common humanity.”

We recognise the severe pressure being placed on public bodies in the UK, and globally, to adopt this politicised and fraudulent definition of antisemitism. We would assert that those in the UK have a particular moral, political and arguably legal obligation to atone for historic and current British crimes against the Palestinian people and complicity in maintaining Israel’s regime of oppression. We appeal to them to:

1. Consistently uphold the UK Human Rights Act, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the right to freedom of expression, including in narrating Palestine’s well-documented colonial history, advocating for Palestinian rights, describing Israel’s regime of oppression as racist or as constituting apartheid, and calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel as nonviolent measures of accountability to bring about its compliance with its obligations under international law and its respect for Palestinian rights.

2. Unequivocally uphold the UN-stipulated rights of the people of Palestine, particularly:

The right to live free of military occupation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem;

The right to full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel who currently suffer under a system of legalised and institutionalised racial discrimination;

The inherent and legally upheld right of Palestine refugees to return to their homes of origin from which they have been ethnically cleansed during the Nakba and ever since.

3. Officially endorse a military embargo on Israel, as called for by Palestinian civil society, Socialist International, UK political parties (including Liberal Democrats, Greens, and Scottish National Party), the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC), many development NGOs(including Oxfam and Christian Aid), dozens of British MPs, cities across Europe, Amnesty International, global figures, among others. In 2017 alone, the UK arms exports to Israel reached $284m, setting a record.

4. Unambiguously condemn all forms of racism and bigotry, including Israel’s more than 60 racist laws, especially its latest constitutional law, the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law, that effectivelyenshrines Jewish supremacy” and apartheid, as defined by the UN.

Adopting the IHRA definition (with its examples) would not only demonise our present struggle for liberation and self-determination. It would also “silence a public discussion [in the UK] of what happened in Palestine and to the Palestinians in 1948”, as over 100 Black, Asian and other minority ethnicities (BAME) groups in the UK have cautioned. It would also chill advocacy for Palestinian rights, including by vilifying and maligning our nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

Anchored in our own decades-long heritage of popular resistance and inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement and the US Civil Rights movement, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated BDS movement is supported by an overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society. It is also endorsed by progressive movements representing millions worldwide, including a fast-rising number of Jewish millennials.

BDS is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and adheres to the UN definition of racial discrimination. It therefore “does not tolerate any act or discourse which adopts or promotes, among others, anti-Black racism, anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia”.

Redefining racism against a particular community to serve the political goal of precluding or vilifying the struggle against other forms of racism is immoral and outright racist. It should be condemned by all morally-consistent progressives.

Israel’s utter failure to suppress the impressive growth of BDS across the world in the last few years has prompted it to redefine antisemitism to desperately malign our strictly anti-racist movement.

As leading Jewish British intellectuals and legal experts have stated:

“Criticising laws and policies of the state of Israel as racist and as falling under the definition of apartheid is not antisemitic. Calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel to oppose those policies is not antisemitic.”

We agree with the analysis of more than forty Jewish social justice organisations worldwide that we live in “a frightening era, with growing numbers of authoritarian and xenophobic regimes worldwide, foremost among them the Trump administration, allying themselves with Israel’s far right government while making common cause with deeply antisemitic and racist white supremacist groups and parties”.

We also echo their appeal:

“We urge our governments, municipalities, universities and other institutions to reject the IHRA definition and instead take effective measures to defeat white supremacist nationalist hate and violence and to end complicity in Israel’s human rights violations.”

We need no one’s permission to accurately narrate our history, defend our inherent and inalienable rights, or mobilise principled international solidarity with our struggle to achieve them.

But we expect social-justice oriented political parties, like Labour, and progressive trade unions to effectively contribute to ending British complicity in Israel’s system of oppression that denies us our rights, to protect the right to freedom of expression, and to stand on the right side of history. We expect them to help us in the struggle against apartheid and for equal rights of all humans irrespective of identity. Is this too much to expect?


  1. General Union of Palestinian Workers
  2. Global Palestine Right of Return Coalition
  3. Palestinian Union of Postal, IT and Telecommunication workers
  4. Union of Professional Associations
  5. Federation of Independent Trade Unions
  6. Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate
  7. Palestinian New Federation of Trade Unions
  8. General Union of Palestinian Teachers
  9. General Union of Palestinian Women
  10. General Union of Palestinian Peasants
  11. Union of Palestinian Farmers
  12. General Union of Palestinian Writers
  13. The Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE)
  14. Palestinian Camps Boycott Movement-Lebanon (33 organisations from 11 refugee camps)
  15. Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO)
  16. Palestinian National Institute for NGOs
  17. Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC)
  18. Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (STW)
  19. Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)
  20. Union of Palestinian Charitable Organizations
  21. Women Campaign to Boycott Israeli Products
  22. Civic Coalition for the Defense of Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem
  23. Occupied Palestine and Syrian Golan Heights Initiative
  24. Agricultural Cooperatives Union

Siding with the Palestinian struggle is not antisemitic

Jeremy Corbyn has no need to apologise for being the first Labour leader to oppose Zionism on moral grounds

Jeremy Corbyn’s choice of words about Zionists may be open to criticism. But his, and anyone else’s, right to oppose Zionism is not. Zionism is the assertion of the primacy of the Jewish claim to Palestine over the expressed will of the 70% Arab majority before 1948, and at its continued expense since. Israel, as a Jewish majority state, could not have been established other than on the debris of Arab Palestine, the destruction of its society and the dispossession and disenfranchisement of its indigenous population.

Opposition to Zionism on these grounds is a moral stance, is neither antisemitic nor racist, and is founded on the belief that the creation of Israel has a profound injustice at its roots.

Jewish opposition to Zionism has a long and distinguished history. Furthermore, the Palestinian historical narrative has been largely vindicated, in part by Israeli and Jewish historians, and Jewish voices in support of Palestinian rights today abound. Using the charge of anti-Zionism as a tool to silence critics of today’s Israel is the last resort of those seeking to deflect attention away from the egregious path that Israel appears to have chosen. It wants to have it both ways, on the one hand to charge with racism those who conflate anti-Zionism and antisemitism. On the other hand,it accuses those who refuse this conflation, of antisemitism on the grounds that anti-Zionism denies the Jews the right to self-determination. By this token, any criticism of Israel or Zionism becomes a slur on the Jewish people. The insidious goal of the “anti-anti-Zionist” campaign is to silence the Palestinians and their supporters and to smother them with the charge of racism. No one should fall for this or accept it.

The question of rooting out antisemitism from Labour or elsewhere is not open to debate. But sympathy for the Palestinians is not antisemitism, and those who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and its dead have no reason to apologise for doing so. It behoves those who pretend to be offended by such gestures to remember that no side has had a monopoly over virtue in the 100 years of this conflict.

They would do well to recall the Jewish terrorist bombings of Arab marketplaces in 1938, the bombing of the King David hotel in 1946, the massacres of Deir Yassin, Illut, Kafr Manda, Saliha, Jish, Safsaf, Hula and other places in 1948, the ethnic cleansing of Lyd and Ramla in 1948, the mass killings in Gaza in 1957, the massacre of Egyptian prisoners in 1956 and 1967, the bombing of an Egyptian children’s school at Bahr el-Baqar in 1970, the shooting down of a Libyan civilian aircraft in 1973, the bombing of Beirut in 1981, the complicity in the Sabra and Shatila massacres of 1982, the killings at Qana in 1996, and the repeated assaults on Gaza since 2005.

Be that as it may, it should be clear that the Palestinian case is in no need of any Nazi or any other analogy. It stands soundly on its own moral and political grounds. Those who genuinely sympathise with our cause should understand that evoking the Nazis is not only wrong, but bad politics, as it allows the other side to obfuscate its own crimes while hiding under the mantle of outrage at the very comparison.

The Nakba was not a holocaust, and the Israelis are not Nazis. Full stop. But Israel, its armed forces and the pre-state Haganah and Jewish terrorist gangs have all committed heinous crimes, and those who seek to deny or ignore this have no right to be offended by gestures of support for the Palestinian victims of Israel’s continued assaults, or by opposition to Israel’s ideological foundations.

The Labour party’s Zionist roots run deep – its intellectuals and party leaders have all been deeply immersed in a Zionist/socialist ethos that has long been bent to defend and serve the Zionist enterprise both pre- and post-state. The party’s 1943 adoption of ethnic cleansing (“let the Arabs be encouraged to move out as the Jews move in”) sent a strong signal to the Jewish leadership as to the boundaries of the possible in Palestine. Today Corbyn stands alone among Labour leaders for his open support of the Palestinian cause. This is a remarkable historical turnabout and one that the Palestinians should be unequivocally grateful for. The trouble is that he has singularly failed to make the case in his own defence. Under a barrage of attacks on the antisemitism issue, he has retreated and backtracked, mumbled and fumbled as if he has something to hide, thereby undermining his credibility as leader and peacemaker alike.

Corbyn’s faltering in his own defence is no reason to abandon his principled stance, or for suppressing the debate over Zionism. Indeed, by raising the issue of Zionism and its moral grounding, he has done everyone a favour in spite of himself.

Ahmad Samih Khalidi is a senior associate member of St Antony’s College, Oxford, and co-author of A Framework for a Palestinian National Security Doctrine

Comments (1)

  • Rick Hayward says:

    The comment piece by Ahmad Samih Khalidi was one of two in the Guardian last week that made an attempt to strike a balance in reporting the latest faux-hysteria outbursts.

    It was, however, a vain hope that the heavily censored Guardian was changing its spots on the ‘antisemitism’ scam (I always use quotation marks now to distinguish fake from real antisemitism).

    Any hope that the spots might change in response to readers scathing remarks was quickly dashed by the articles of the following day – uncritical headlines reciting the myths from the usual suspects from the right (including one former minister fond of taking the Murdoch coin).

    The news item about Trump withdrawing funding from UNWRA was relegated to virtual invisibility.

    … and this, of course is the pattern. As this item points out (backed by serious academic research), the Palestinian perspective is notable for its almost total absence in the MSM.

    Of course, that absence worries many of us in specific relation to the current distortions about the related issues – and not least the dragging of the charge of ‘antisemitism’ into the dirty world of propaganda, with all that implies for charges that aren’t fake, and the associated image of the Jewish community.

    But – beyond that, there is also the serious issue of what this says about the UK as an open society, when the media, almost without exception, ducks investigative reporting in response to manipulative pressure.

    That doesn’t bode well for any minority community … or the majority.

Comments are now closed.