Preview of PSC’s letter to Guardian. Whoops, Palestinian students’ letter I mean ……

In a postscript to my account of the House of Lords debate on antisemitism eight days ago I noted the excellent letter in the Guardian a week ago from 97 Jewish student leaders, backing the adoption of the IHRA definition by all universities. (My FOI research indicates that 56 Universities have now adopted it; this is 42% of the total).

Apparently a response letter (in the form of a googledoc) is circulating among Palestinian students in the UK, intended also to be published in the Guardian.

The initiative for the letter from the 97 Jewish student leaders came from themselves (I understand); the text was drafted by them. However the genesis of the letter from the Palestinian students is rather different.  It’s been kindly, generously and thoughtfully drafted for the students by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and a Mr Lewis Backon – the PSC’s Campaigns Officer who I believe is not Palestinian – is urging the students to sign it.  How considerate of the PSC to do this for the students!  I’m sure the PSC has every intention of telling the Guardian that the letter was not actually written by the signatories. And I’m sure that when it comes to denying security to Jewish students, the Guardian is none too fussed about a spot of plagiarism.

The text of the letter (as relayed to me) begins by an affirmation that the students deplore antisemitism. As dictated by the PSC. Good for it/them – except it’s the PSC’s (sorry, the students’) own definition of antisemitism, as opposed to the IHRA one. 

The letter claims (I’m told) that the 11 examples in the IHRA definition conflates criticism of the constitutional order, ideology and structure of the Israeli state with antisemitism, erase Palestinian history and shield Israel’s far-right regime of occupation and oppression. Preventing research and public discussion on the well-established facts of our history is an act of historical erasure and denial of crimes committed against Palestinians.’

Wow.  I must re-read the definition! I thought all it said was that it’s antisemitic to ‘deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination eg by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour’; to require Israel to meet standards above those expected of any other country; to use antisemitic language about Israel – eg to accuse it of a blood libel or to use Nazi comparisons. Apart from that I thought the students can make the same criticisms of Israel that they make of other countries. If they want a lesson they can read Haaretz.

I must confess I’m at a loss to see how this ‘prevents research and public discussion’ of the history of Palestinians. I’m sure the PSC (I’m sorry – the students!) will explain!

The PSC (whoops, sorry, I mean the students!) also claims that ‘Our concerns are shared by a range of eminent individuals and bodies including; the Institute of Race Relations; leading academic experts on antisemitism Anthony Lerman and Brian Klug; 40 global Jewish social justice organisations; more than 80 UK-based BAME groups, and the most detailed academic study yet undertaken surveying the impact of the IHRA.’

I’m sure Ms Viner – the Editor of the Guardian – will want to take a look at those claims before deciding whether to publish the PSC’s letter – I’m sorry, the students’ letter, there I go again! She’s a busy lady so I thought I’d help her……….

Ms Viner, if you look on the website of the ‘Institute of Race Relations’ you won’t find any discussion of the IHRA definition. All you’ll find is a terse definition of antisemitism: ‘Discrimination against or hostility and hatred towards Jewish people, whether they be religiously or ethnically defined.’ That’s useless. For example: It doesn’t tell us whether accusing the IDF of stealing the body parts of dead Palestinians for sale on the open market is antisemitic (it is).  However if we check out what Frances Webber – the Vice Chair of the organisation – has said, we find more.  Ms Webber thinks that the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) ‘never considered the EUMC antisemitism definition valid’.  She’s wrong. (The IHRA definition is drawn from the European Union Monitoring Definition. When the FRA succeeded the EUMC it dropped the definition from its website but NEVER said it was invalid). Incidentally Ms Webber supported Ken Loach as a judge of an anti-racism competition despite Loach’s history of antisemitism. She supported Corbyn’s leadership campaign in 2015. There is no evidence that she ever criticised Corbyn’s antisemitism, Ms Viner!

I’m sure Ms Viner that you will conclude that Ms Webber is an EXPERT on antisemitism, together with the illustrious Institute of which she is the Vice Chair.

What about Anthony Lerman and Brian Klug? Yes Ms Viner, both WORLD AUTHORITIES on antisemitism. You can read about Mr Lerman here. If you want to read his seminal paper on antisemitism, it’s here. Just ignore the errors Ms Viner. Lerman states that ‘Only 6 of 31 governments whose countries are members of IHRA have formally endorsed/adopted the definition.’ But the UN reported that as at August 2019, 18 countries had adopted it. By mid-2020 the total was up to 27.  (Around 20 October 2020 the total rose to 28 as Albania adopted).

Lerman states ‘the UK Government adopted the definition but not the list of examples’. Simply a lie. The examples are part of the Definition and the UK has adopted it in full. Ditto his assertion that the European Parliament only adopted the first 38 words of the Definition and not the examples. A lie. Lerman asserts that the examples are not part of the Definition. A lie.

Ms Viner, Lerman ropes in four of the most eminent and most learned legal minds on the planet for support (though he couldn’t get Lord Sumption): Hugh Tomlinson QC, Sir Stephen Sedley, Sir Geoffrey Bindman and Geoffrey Robertson QC.

  • Tomlinson was paid for his Opinion by opponents of the Definition – Free Speech on Israel; Independent Jewish Voices; Jews for Justice for Palestinians and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.   Hardly surprising that his Opinion opposed the Definition….
  • Sedley suggested the completely unworkable definition that “Antisemitism is hostility towards Jews as Jews”. His criticism of IHRA effectively amounts to the Livingstone Formulation. (This is the lie – beloved of antisemites – that ‘anyone who criticises the Israel government’s policies towards the Palestinians is denounced as antisemitic.’)
  • Bindman’s criticism is here.  He states ‘the IHRA definition should only be adopted if qualified by caveats making clear that it is not antisemitic to criticise the Israeli government without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent’. Of course – and it is in the Definition! (‘ …criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic’.)
  • Robertson’s Opinion was funded by the Palestine Return Centre. I fisked it here.  It  was rapidly deleted. Its worth can be deduced from Robertson’s demonstrably false statement that Israel was created  ‘to compensate for the Holocaust’.

Lerman fails to communicate the fact that the Campaign Against Antisemitism published a supportive legal opinion regarding IHRA! But why on earth should he Ms Viner? Objectivity is the hobgoblin of small minds!

How about the PSC’s (I’m sorry, the students’ – keep forgetting – silly me) other academic luminary, Brian Klug?

Well the PSC (sorry, damn – the students!) probably think that Klug’s definition of antisemitism is ‘a form of hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which Jews are perceived as something other than what they are‘. It’s a common mistake Ms Viner.  In fact Klug dismissed that formulation as ‘too simple’. It is also meaningless.  Over the ages, Jews have been accused of being thieves, manipulators, child killers, controllers of the world – but none of these are hostility to Jews ‘as Jews’.

The ‘40 global Jewish social justice organisations’? Yes they are all bona fide democratically elected representative organisations Ms Viner!   As set out by a chap called Collier here.  He says ‘When you consider that if 75% of the groups listed combined together to put all their people into a single demonstration, they wouldn’t match the regular Shabbat turn out of a single average synagogue in the UK, you begin to realise how vile and insidious this is.

 Among these 40 groups this chap Collier found :

  • Multiple signees who are members of antisemitic Facebook Group Palestine Live
  • Groups that seem to have been invented for the letter
  • People that signed more than once
  • Bloggers who call themselves organisations
  • Groups that are not actually Jewish organisations
  • Groups that share antisemitic material and even one represented by a Holocaust Denier….

The 80 UK-based BAME groups? Sure Ms Viner it’s perfectly understandable that African Rainbow Family, Eritrean Parents and Children’s Association, Min Quan – Chinatown People Rights Group and Zimbabwe Human Rights Organisation think they know more about what Jews find offensive than democratically elected Jewish organisations. Same goes for Black Lives Matter UK and the Palestine Return Centre. Links with Hamas? What nonsense!

Again we see the allegation that the IHRA definition ‘silences a public discussion of what happened in Palestine and to the Palestinians in 1948, when the majority of its people were forcibly expelled.’Golly, I must re-read the definition, I don’t remember any of that! They think the majority of Arabs were expelled in 1948? Not quite accurate Ms Viner.  We know from archives that have been released that most Arabs were advised by their leaders to leave temporarily as they knew that war would break out after the UN resolution granting Israel independence. And the Mayor of Haifa begged the Arabs in Haifa to stay put. The Eritrean Parents and Children’s Association et al should read Professor Efraim Karsh, see here and here.   Around 600,000 Arabs left their homes. Only a fraction were driven by Jews/Israelis and twice as many by Arabs. The vast majority simply fled in fear, disorientation, and lack of national cohesion, Ms Viner.

How about ‘the most detailed academic study yet undertaken surveying the impact of the IHRA’?

Since the PSC – I’m sorry, the students! – don’t identify the study, it’s hard for me to help you Ms Viner. Perhaps they mean this? Well Ms Viner, like Messrs Lerner and Klug, Professor Gould is clearly a global authority on the subject of antisemitism ….clearly!

So do go ahead and print the letter Ms Viner. The PSC – DAMMIT – WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME – THE STUDENTS! – have put such a lot of hard work into ensuring its intellectual rigour!

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Update: The googledoc has been taken down but someone has passed me a screenshot:

The PSC’s letter … Whoops … The students’ letter …