Law for Palestine in partnership with the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) as part of its Question of Palestine program organized as part of the of “Jurists for Palestine Forum” monthly webinars, a webinar titled “The Anti-Semitism Label: Fighting Discrimination V. Silencing Critical Voices”. The webinar, which opened the second season of the Jurists for Palestine Forum, examined the definition of Anti-Semitism designed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016, which many states and institutions have endorsed as a tool to combat antisemitism.
The webinar, held on 31 March 2022 via Zoom, hosted three academics and legal practitioners namely the Former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine Professor Richard Falk, Professor of International Law, Neve Gordon and Program Director at the European Legal Support Center, Giovanni Fassina. Three experts were also invited to offer their comments on the speakers’ interventions: Dr. Illise Cohen (Anthropologist (USA) and co-founder of the Atlanta chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace), Dr. Andrew J Gordon (Professor of Comparative Cultural Studies, University of Houston) and Dr. Anis F. Kassim (International lawyer and BoT member at Law for Palestine).
The webinar, moderated by Abdelghany Sayed, legal specialist and PhD candidate at Kent Law School (UK), was attended by jurists, academics and researchers of the Jurists for Palestine Forum from around the world.
IHRA Definition is part and parcel of the Politics of Deflection and is a key Apartheid Enabler
In his intervention, Professor Richard Falk provided that Israel over the past decade has shifted its concentration from refusing the UN criticism of its policies and practices toward attacking the credibility of the person or group that are mounting those critics to try to accuse them of antisemitism. Israel tended to distract the international community away from its crimes toward pinning the label of antisemitism, Professor Falk argued. IHRA definition made this distraction official by its embracing of Israel within the definition of antisemitism, he added.
Professor Neve Gordon took this idea a step further, arguing that IHRA definition is not only distracting from the Israeli wrongdoings against Palestinians, but it enables the continuation of Apartheid. He reminded that according to IHRA definition, labelling of Israel as an Apartheid state, a label which became well-established and widely accepted by human rights organizations and civil society, constitutes antisemitism: this turned the anti-Semitic label into a shield for the continuation of the Apartheid regime and in fact fully enables it. All the more, the IHRA definition is harmful to the Jewish people, who get singled out by the politicization of the IHRA definition among others, and therefore targeted and not protected, while antisemitism is still ‘very much alive and kicking’.
IHRA definition cannot stand in face of laws of freedom of expression and political thinking
On his side, the Program Director at the European Legal Support Center, Giovanni Fassina discussed the legal effect of IHRA definition. Mr. Fassina stated that even though IHRA definition has not been incorporated in primary laws the political pressure on institutions and companies to adopt it gave the definition a ‘de facto binding nature’. Based on this, hundreds of individuals have been affected as their freedom of political thinking and freedom of expression got jeopardized through complaints filed against them accusing them of antisemitism according to IHRA definition, as was also explained by Professor Neve Gordon.
However, when legally challenged, such complaints usually cannot stand in the face of the clearly established laws of freedom of expression and freedom of political thinking, Fassina said based on the over 100 cases their Center dealt with during the last two years. Yet, for individuals to take up cases in court requires a lot of money, energy and other resources, and the whole process can be psychologically and professionally very heavy.
The antisemitism label is important in fighting discrimination but should not be used to silence political criticism
The speakers and commentators agreed on the importance of the antisemitism as a tool to fight different forms of discrimination against Jews, but the political agenda in it should be taken away as it harms not only those who got accused of it but also Jews themselves. As was put down by Professor Neve Gordon, “what this definition is doing is that it does a work of a cry-wolf while the real antisemitism is erased and deflected”.
Dr. Ilise Cohen added that IHRA definition lost its mark by failing to include many different faces of racism and antisemitism and exhausted the definition in silencing critiques against Israel. Anti-Semitism should be condemn as part of the condemnation of any form of racism, racial discrimination and bigotry. Cohen, Anthropologist and Specialist in Jewish Studies, argued that Israel as a nation has its nationalistic propaganda agenda but these has to be taken out of the context of antisemitism. She underscored the inner problem of the discriminatory nature of Israel as the state of one group only, as inherently racist, from its very conceptualization and foundation.
During his intervention, Dr. Anis Kassim argued that as a human rights defender he stands against all forms of racism and discrimination. He recalled the argument of the International Tribunal of Nuremberg designed to try Nazi crimes against Jews stating that its jurisdictional authority was derived from the concept of crimes against the common humanity of all victims without giving due regard to religious or national affiliations of the victims. According to Dr. Kassim, the IHRA definition views Jews as different type of humans.
Dr. Cohen raised this problem as well by arguing that the definition singles out Jews from any other nation in the world. It also discriminates against Jews themselves by forcing them to be Jews of only a certain type who must accept that their right to self-determination is centered in Israel. “This is in itself antisemitism”, Dr. Cohen added.
Finally, Dr. Andrew Gordon provided another perspective to the discussion by arguing that much of “the antisemitism and hate-of-Arab-feelings are basically misapprehensions of the cultural differences that become in our minds as biological differences” as was expressed by him. He concluded that only through stop thinking of cultural and political differences as biologically inherent in us that Apartheid could be dissolved, and the discourse could change.
The attendees discussed with the guests the power of the UN General Assembly in setting the tone of what constitutes antisemitism, and the need for an unequivocal UN position on the need to stand against antisemitism as part of the fight against all forms of racism, while preserving and protecting the necessary, vital space for critical thinking and freedom of expression.
This webinar comes within the monthly activities of the Jurists for Palestine Forum, affiliated to the Law for Palestine Organization. The Forum is holding online monthly webinars gathering international experts and researchers, students, jurists and people interested in Palestine from different countries of the world to discuss topics and developments related to international law and Palestine, in addition to effectively networking between jurists interested in Palestine from all over the world.
* To attend the next monthly webinars of Jurists for Palestine Forum, you can register via the following link “here“