Press release re antisemitism letter

Antisemitism Consortium, 7 July 2018

Over 60 parliamentarians and artists welcome Jewish call for clarity on antisemitism

  • Jewish call for clarity on antisemitism defended legitimate criticism of Israel
  • 19 Labour MPs among more than 40 parliamentarians today backing that call
  • Group want robust action against antisemitism and Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights

Over 60 parliamentarians and artists have signed an open letter welcoming a call from eminent Jewish academics and other high-profile cultural figures for clarity on antisemitism.

The letter published today in the Guardian – whose other notable signatories include musician Jarvis Cocker, actor Julie Christie and human rights lawyer Conor Gearty – emphasises the need for clarity on “what type of speech about Israel may be antisemitic and what is not.” The need for such clarity is acknowledged in new guidelines put forward this week by the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee.

Noting that “the fight against antisemitism is not enhanced by any conflation of antisemitism and legitimate criticism of Israel’s laws or the policies of its government”, the statement highlights the need for both “robust action against antisemitism” and “robust action to address the displacement of Palestinians and the denial of their rights by successive Israeli governments.”

Among the political figures echoing the Jewish call for clarity with their intervention are former leader of the Liberal Party Lord Steel of Aikwood, former Labour Ministers Clare Short and Baroness Blackstone, and co-leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas.

The original initiative being endorsed today by politicians and cultural figures was supported by 27 prominent academics and other figures from the Jewish community. The signatories included eminent lawyer Sir Geoffrey Bindman, film makers Mike Leigh and Peter Kosminsky, writers Gillian Slovo, Michael Rosen and Susie Orbach, and four Fellows of the Royal Society

Their statement set out principles for recognising and challenging antisemitism while distinguishing it from legitimate criticism of Israel. It stressed: “Holocaust denial, the blood libel, conspiracy theories about supposed Jewish power or the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide – all are expressions of antisemitism… Criticism of Israel is not antisemitic unless motivated by anti-Jewish prejudice.”

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.”

Their open letter reflected public concern about the conflation of antisemitism with criticism of Israel, within the UK Government-endorsed IHRA definition of antisemitism which recently prompted civil liberties organisation Liberty to pass a motion at its Annual General Meeting on May 19 warning of threats to freedom of expression.

Filmmaker Mike Leigh, a signatory to the original call, said: “Around the world antisemitism and other forms of racism seem to be on the rise. It is critical that the fight against it is aimed at the right targets and does not prevent entirely legitimate criticism of Israel’s apartheid policies or activism to oppose them such as boycotts.”

Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine & Middle East, Grahame Morris MP, who signed today’s statement backing the earlier call, said: “We should be deeply concerned about antisemitism in all its manifestations and rigorously challenge it at all times. It is also essential to defend the right to speak out against Israel’s violations of international law and denial of the rights of the Palestinian people, and to call for action to address them. Clarity on the difference is therefore vital and I welcome the sensible principles the letter sets out.”


Notes For Editors

  1. The original initiative from Jewish community figures and academics (‘We must define antisemitism to fight it effectively’, Guardian Letters, 15 June 2018) came in response to widespread criticism of the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) “Working Definition of Antisemitism” which controversially includes “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” and “Applying double standards” [to Israel] in its guidelines as examples of potential antisemitism. The IHRA definition was endorsed by Prime Minister Theresa May in December 2016
  2. This intervention by parliamentarians and others endorsing the new initiative from Jewish communal figures is a sign they too reject the controversial IHRA definition supported by the Prime Minister, which was described in a legal opinion from Hugh Tomlinson QC as “unclear and confusing” and having “no legal status or effect.”
  3. On 5 July, revised guidelines on identifying and tackling antisemitism formulated by Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) were leaked to the press, and revealed that the party had rejected some of the problematic aspects of the IHRA guidelines which conflated criticism of Israel and antisemiti