We are Israeli citizens, active against our government’s severe violations of human rights and international law. Many of us are the descendants of Holocaust survivors. We are committed to universal values of freedom and equality.
We note that Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights are increasingly regarded as policies which amount to an apartheid system. One significant statement on this matter was issued by notable Israeli human rights group B’tselem earlier this year. (1)
We would like to voice our concern as to the adoption of the IHRA Definition with its 11 examples by UCL. We believe that this definition does not serve the struggle against racism. Moreover, we believe that the definition is currently being used to stifle free speech and slander human rights defenders.
It is of the utmost importance that we distinguish between Jews and Zionists. We understand that Zionist students at UCL may claim that they are threatened by harsh criticism of Zionism, and specifically the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). As Jewish Israeli citizens, we reject this assertion. Zionism is an ideology and a political identity, rather than an ethnic or religious affiliation. Anyone who promotes a contentious political ideology must be prepared to face harsh criticism. In fact, we ourselves face a great deal of public anger here in Israel when we voice our views. This is a price we are willing to pay. We note the difference between harsh criticism and racism, including anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. In order to thwart the latter two, no new definition is required.
We also believe that from an open-minded academic perspective, the IHRA definition and the politics around its adoption run contrary to an emerging academic consensus. UK group Free Speech on Israel has just published an important new research study (2) by Jamie Stern-Weiner which documents authoritatively the lack of status of the 11 examples and that they are not at all part of the IHRA definition. The study demonstrates that
There is no expert consensus supporting the Working Definition.
IHRA’s decision-making body, the Plenary, did not adopt any examples of ‘antisemitism’ as part of its Working Definition.
Senior IHRA officials and pro-Israel groups have misrepresented the IHRA Plenary’s decision in order to smuggle into the Working Definition examples that can be used to protect Israel from criticism.
These examples have been used, in practice, to censor Israel’s critics. We note that political and public figures are increasingly alarmed at the attempts to force inadequate definitions of of anti-Semitism in the service of cynical political interests. Thus for example, at a recent international 2021 Mayors Summit Against Anti-Semitism, organized by the Municipality of Frankfurt, Mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, condemns false allegations of antisemitism and explicitly includes any denunciation of the ICC investigation into alleged violations of international law by Israel.
Undoubtedly, the IHRA definition is continually being used to silence debates and discussions on the ill treatment of the Palestinians by the State of Israel, which not only discriminates against Palestinian students, but also other students, academics and the wider community (including Israelis), who support Palestinian human and collective rights. With the current adoption of the IHRA definition, UCL remains an unsafe place for such people to have dialogue on the Palestine cause. In short, this definition unfairly favours those with certain political views which damages UCL's reputation of being fair and non-discriminatory.
We agree with the working group of UCL academics that warns the IHRA definition conflates anti-Jewish prejudice with political debate over Israel and Palestine. In particular, we note their warning that the definition could have “potentially deleterious effects on free speech, such as instigating a culture of fear or self-silencing on teaching or research or classroom discussion of contentious topics”. (4)
We will gladly address any questions or comments you may have.
Boycott from Within (Israeli citizens for BDS)
(3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUOCCnYLV2U&feature=emb_title (Mayor of Amsterdam speaking at around 51:05)