A coalition of groups, including Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Free Speech on Israel, Independent Jewish Voices and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, has obtained an Opinion from Senior Counsel on the possible impact on freedom of expression and assembly of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism which Theresa May’s government adopted in December 2016, and which we discussed in Newsletter 20. The groups concerned cited recent occasions when university authorities had forced student Palestine societies to cancel or postpone planned meetings and actions.
The Counsel, Hugh Tomlinson QC, found that the definition was badly drafted, created scope for confusion and inconsistency, and potentially chilled the debate around Israel/Palestine. He stressed that the definition was not legally binding, public bodies were under no obligation to adopt it, and those that did should take care applying it or risk unlawfully restricting legitimate expressions of political opinion in violation of statutory duties to ensure freedom of expression and assembly. The definition could not be used to judge criticism of Israel as antisemitic, unless it expressed hatred towards Jews. Describing Israel as a state enacting a policy of apartheid, as practising settler colonialism or calling for policies of boycott divestment or sanctions against Israel could not properly be characterized as antisemitic.
Tomlinson’s findings can found here, and end with a concise summary.
In a meeting in the House of Lords on 27 March, the retired Appeal Court Judge, Stephen Sedley, advised the government to make a principled retreat from a flawed definition which it had naively adopted. The coalition that obtained the opinion is now informing local authorities and universities so as to insure they are better prepared to deal with those attempting to enforce the flawed definition.