The Jerusalem Declaration (JDA), signed by over 200 of the world’s leading scholars in Antisemitism Studies and related fields, including Jewish, Holocaust, Israel, Palestine and Middle East Studies, should be welcomed as a significant improvement upon the deeply flawed and controversial IHRA working definition of antisemitism. The JDA affirms what advocates of Palestinian human rights have been saying all along: that advocating for Palestinian freedom – including by supporting boycotts of Israel, describing Israel as a settler colonial or apartheid state, opposing Zionism, or supporting a one-state solution – is not antisemitic. These are pro-justice positions and basic acknowledgements of the lived reality of Palestinians.
The IHRA definition of antisemitism is not fit for purpose as a tool in contributing to the fight against antisemitism. The definition’s conflation of antisemitism with legitimate attempts to hold Israel to account for its violations of Palestinian rights serves to prevent both discussion of the facts of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people and any calls for action to address that oppression. It disrupts coherent anti-racist politics by draining antisemitism of all meaning and by undermining efforts to address the institutionalised racism that underpins the laws, polices and acts used by Israel to oppress Palestinians and to deny their inalienable rights.
This is not just the view of PSC. It is a view shared by Institute of Race Relations; eminent legal experts including ex-Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stephen Sedley; Liberty; leading academic experts on anti-Semitism Anthony Lerman and Brian Klug; 40 global Jewish social justice organisations, more than 80 UK-based BAME groups, and Palestnian civil society. It was also the conclusion reached by the working group of the Academic Board at UCL, set up to examine the impact of the University’s adoption of the IHRA in 2019. The UCL Academic Board accepted the recommendation within the report that the IHRA be replaced with an alternative, more robust definition.
PSC also shares the critique of Palestinian civil society on the JDA, noting that despite it being a meaningful improvement over the IHRA definition, at its core the JDA mirrors the IHRA’s emphasis on speech about Palestine/Israel as the central lens through which antisemitism is defined. This framing is rooted in a legitimate attempt to address the deficits of the IHRA by suggesting what statements in support of Palestinian rights should not be regarded as inherently antisemitic. As the JDA states, hostility to Israel can occasionally arise from an antisemitic animus. However, the heavy emphasis on the arena of speech about Israel risks reinforcing a chilling effect on advocacy for Palestinian rights by casting a constant shadow of suspicion or doubt on any engagement on the issue. It further risks bifurcating what should be a unified struggle against all forms of racism by divorcing anti-Jewish hatred from its core white supremacist roots and the oppression of other marginalized groups.
The PSC has opposed the adoption of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism because of its inherent flaws and the chilling effect its adoption can have on legitimate advocacy for Palestinian rights. We urge public bodies considering adopting the JDA to consider it with a critical mind in relation to the dangers of it too being used to reinforce the illegitimate policing of speech about Palestine and advocacy for Palestinian rights. However, taken as an alternative to the defective IHRA definition, which has become a tool of McCarthyite repression, the JDA is a vast improvement.