In May 2016 the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance adopted the following, non-legally binding, working 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 antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Examples to illustrate what might be considered to be anti-semitic were also agreed.
In October 2016 the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee investigating “Antisemitism in the UK”, recommended that the IHRA Definition be “formally adopted by the UK Government, and all political parties, to assist them in determining whether or not an incident or discourse can be regarded as anti-Semitic” but with “additional caveats”. The Committee was concerned with maintaining the right to free speech in the context of discourse about Israel and Palestine.
The Government, however, rejected the Committee’s recommendation and adopted the IHRA definition and examples in full. The examples are shown in full at Appendix 1. The Select Committee’s additional recommended caveats are shown in Appendix 2.
WR is, therefore, “required” to adopt the IHRA definition and examples of anti-semitism.
There are 4 problems for WR in adopting the IHRA definition in line with UK (Tory) Government “requirement”:
It is for WR and WR alone to decide what its policies should be in any matter.
WR stand against all and any form of discrimination whether it be on the basis of a person’s race, nationality, colour, gender, ability, beliefs, appearance or any other factor. We regard every person as a unique individual entitled to be treated equally with every other person. We do not need a specific code to deal with any perceived group.
U.S. attorney Kenneth S. Stern, the person, who wrote the IHRA definition of anti-semitism, including its associated examples, has stated that his original definition had been used for an entirely different purpose to that for which it had been designed. According to Stern it had originally been designed as a ”working definition” for the purpose of trying to standardise data collection about the incidence of antisemitic hate crime in different countries. It had never been intended that it be used as legal or regulatory device to curb academic or political free speech.
Hugh Tomlinson QC, acting on behalf of various groups in the UK including some Jewish organisations, was asked to provide an Opinion on the effect of the Government’s decision to “adopt” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism and to consider the meaning and effect of the IHRA Definition and its compatibility with the obligations of public authorities under the Human Rights Act 1998.
His Opinion was that:
The IHRA “non-legally binding working definition” of anti-semitism is unclear and confusing and should be used with caution.
The “examples” accompanying the IHRA Definition should be understood in the light of the definition and it should be understood that the conduct listed is only antisemitic if it manifests hatred towards Jews.
The Government’s “adoption” of the IHRA Definition has no legal status or effect and, in particular, does not require public authorities to adopt this definition as part of their anti-racism policies.
Any public authority which does adopt the IHRA Definition must interpret it in a way which is consistent with its obligation not to act in a matter inconsistent with the Article 10 right to freedom of expression. Article 10 does not permit the prohibition or sanctioning of speech unless it can be seen as a direct or indirect call for or justification of violence, hatred or intolerance. The fact that speech is offensive to a particular group is not, of itself, a proper ground for prohibition or sanction.
In July 2018 over 40 Jewish groups worldwide rejected adoption of the IHRA definition as it “is worded in such a way as to be easily adopted or considered by western governments to intentionally equate legitimate criticisms of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights with antisemitism, as a means to suppress the former”.
Interestingly, only the Labour Party and the Lib-Dems have actually adopted the IHRA statement and examples in full and both only in September 2018. Other parties including the Conservatives make reference to it in their Code of Conduct but do not incorporate the full text. The SNP have not adopted it at all.
WR, therefore, will not adopt the IHRA definition of anti-semitism, but stands by its general discrimination policy (see above). To have specific policies solely for anti-semitism is in danger of giving this hideous crime a higher status than other forms of discrimination. That is clearly unfair. Our over-riding stance on all forms of discrimination would automatically include any forms of anti-Semitism.
Update: In 2020, a group of scholars created the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism. We believe that this improves on the IHRA declaration in a number of respects, and would be far happier about adopting this definition.
IHRA examples of Anti-semitism
To guide IHRA in its work, the following examples may serve as illustrations:
Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.
Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:
- Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
- Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
- Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
- Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
- 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 a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
- Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
- Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-semitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
- Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
The Parliamentary Select Committee’s Caveats
- It is not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest anti-Semitic intent
- It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent