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Activists speak out on the IHRA definition – it’s not antisemitic to stand up for Palestine

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Issue 2619
A protest in London in July claiming that the Labour Party is for the many not the Jew
A protest in London in July claiming that the Labour Party is “for the many not the Jew” (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party are under pressure over how the party defines antisemitism. The right wants Labour to agree that it’s antisemitic to say “the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour”.

Labour’s executive may adopt this International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition and the examples it gives of antisemitism. But, as these activists explain, that would undermine the right to criticise Israel—and would be a defeat for supporters of Palestine.


Richard Kuper

Richard Kuper

Richard Kuper, Jewish Voice for Labour

The definition creates the presumption that criticism of Israel, unless proved otherwise, is likely to be antisemitic.

It’s subtle in some ways. It has phrases like “criticisms of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”.

Or “applying double standards by requiring of Israel behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”.

All this begs many questions—specifically why you can only criticise an injustice if you criticise all other injustices at the same time.

Furthermore the document ignores that fact that Israel isn’t in every respect like every other country. What other country refuses to define its borders? Or rules illegal a proposal to make Israel a state of all its citizens?

It has been in belligerent occupation of another people for 50 years and counting. Not many states fit this kind of situation.

What do we do? We fight tooth and nail against the incorporation of the IHRA definition.

If we lose, the war is not over. The war in local authorities and universities is independent of what the NEC [National Executive Committee] decides. The IHRA definition is here and we have to fight its implementation.

We have to fight the way in which it is used to deny freedom of speech—to chill discussion. To make people wary of raising issues because of fear they will be accused of antisemitism.

Criticism of Israel is not antisemitic unless motivated by anti-Jewish prejudice. The IHRA definition has to be resisted.


Lindsey German

Lindsey German

Lindsey German, Stop the War Coalition

There is a major operation going on to try to link antisemitism to opposing what Israel is doing.

I am not going to stop criticising Israel. I am not going to stop showing solidarity with Palestinians.

We have to be able to say we oppose antisemitism but we are not going to stop our criticisms of Israel. The world will be watching this.

If the IHRA definition with all its examples is agreed by Labour’s NEC this will be seen by the Palestinians as a defeat for their cause.

It will make it harder for them and harder for people who want to show solidarity with them in this country.

What is going on in Labour is nothing short of a politically motivated witch hunt. There’s only one way to deal with a witch hunt—stand up to it.

You have to say, this isn’t about the issue they say it’s about. It’s about stopping opposition on this question and more broadly stopping the development of a mass movement which can lead to a Corbyn government.


Rob Ferguson

Rob Ferguson

Rob Ferguson, Free speech on Israel

My father went to Palestine in the 1930s. He saw himself as a socialist Zionist. He joined the Haganah—the Zionist militia. But he was forced to choose between his socialist principles and his Zionism.

He witnessed the systematic exclusion through violence of Palestinian Arabs from the economy and from their land. Despite the intentions of those like my father seeking sanctuary, this is legitimately described as a racist endeavour.

You may disagree with that position. But to label it as antisemitism is to degrade that term and empty it of meaning.

If the IHRA definition is adopted with whatever caveats, we will see a vicious racking up of the witch hunt.

It has been a fundamental misjudgment over more than two years to retreat and concede and fail to call out those prosecuting this attack.

We have many different views. I am a member of the Socialist Workers Party. But our strength lies in our ability to unite to defend solidarity with Palestine.

Our foes may think that if they get this definition through on the Labour NEC that it is the end of the matter. It is not.

It is one thing to bring the pressure of the establishment on those upper reaches of the representative structures. It is another to take on the mass movement which will fight on each campus, in every constituency Labour Party, in our trade union movement and across the Palestine solidarity movement.

Together we have an untapped potential that can throw this back.


Huda Elmi

Huda Elmi

Huda Elmi, Labour activist and Labour NEC candidate

The problem with this debate is that Palestinians have been completely erased from it—deliberately so.

One of the things we have to be proudest about in the Labour movement is that we’ve stood consistently shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians.

We can see having a pro-Palestinian leader in Jeremy Corbyn as a direct disavowal of British imperialism. The ruling class are obviously going to kick back at that.

We have to take charge of this discussion and bring it back to what is important. We have to champion the survival of our labour movement which has internationalism as core to its beliefs.

What they’re trying to subvert is our ability to be loud and unapologetic about being anti?colonial.

This is about criminalising Palestinian activism. We can’t accept this document. We have to do all we can to shape a consensus that the Palestinian struggle is key to a Jeremy Corbyn government and our labour movement.


Bernard Regan

Bernard Regan

Bernard Regan, Palestine Solidarity Campaign executive

Antisemitism has no place in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign or the Palestine solidarity movement.

The people who most delegitimise Israel are the Israeli politicians who are responsible for massacring Palestinians.

What delegitimises Israel is the truth and they can’t confront it. So they want to gag everybody who speaks the truth.

We need to build an international solidarity movement. We need to support initiatives that carry that forward.

We’re going to carry on fighting antisemitism, opposing it with all our strength and all our hearts.

But also we’re going to go on building a mass solidarity movement supporting the Palestinians’ right for justice.


Salma Karmi-Ayyoub

Salma Karmi-Ayyoub

Salma Karmi-Ayyoub, British Palestinian human rights lawyer

The battle over the IHRA definition is focused on one sentence. It says it would be antisemitic to deny the Jewish right to self-determination “by claiming a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.”

It’s odd that a question over what is antisemitic boils down whether a people have a right to self-determination through the creation of a state.

But that example gives an insight into what is motivating this campaign. It’s conflating a couple of things. It’s saying the right to Jewish self-determination means the formation of “an Israel”.

In practice that means the Israel that exists now—a Jewish state in Palestine.

So if you say, ‘I don’t think there should be an Israel in Palestine’. Or you say, ‘I don’t think that Israel should be the state it is’ you are, according to the IHRA document, an antisemite.

The purpose is to create a situation where Israel’s existence in its current from is unchallengeable.

What will be the impact if Israel succeeds in equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism?

It will seriously hinder what we’re allowed to oppose. If you’re not allowed to question Israel’s legitimacy, then you can’t oppose the policies that flow from this.

If you say, as a Palestinian I want the right to citizenship in Israel, you are told that you are challenging something fundamental about Israel and you’re an antisemite.

We need to say we are an indigenous people struggling against settler-colonialism and that the Israeli state was established as a racist regime.


Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali, author and veteran anti-war activist

The campaign against Jeremy Corbyn was launched by the political establishment—backed by a large chunk of the parliamentary Labour Party.

They are frightened that this is a political leader pushed by extra-parliamentary pressure. Most importantly he is the only Labour leader the party has had who has been a consistent opponent of imperialism.

And on Palestine, Jeremy has been rock solid.

Jeremy was at his best when he took on the establishment. During the last general election when there were terror attacks, he said this is not unrelated to our foreign policy.

Some 70 percent of the public agreed. Sometimes politicians have to follow their instincts.

Jeremy—don’t give up. Don’t let the spin doctors muzzle you. What you do best is tell the truth. And when the truth is told the people who back you are not going to step back—they want you in power.


What is Zionism?

Zionism is the belief that Jewish people have the right to establish an exclusively Jewish state. It sees antisemitism as inevitable and a separate state as the only solution.

Israel was founded in 1948 on the violent expulsion of nearly one million Palestinians from their homes. It has terrorised and oppressed the Palestinians ever since.

All Jews have a “right of return” to Israel. But Palestinians have no right of return. Israel is a racist state and it’s right to oppose it.

Read more

These are edited speeches given at a meeting Corbyn, antisemitism and justice for Palestine in central London last week. A video of all the speeches in full is online at

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