Image: Checkpoint in the Palestinian city of Hebron. Credit: Mick Tsikas/AAP/PA Images, all rights reserved.
We welcome the significant growth in recent years of progressive politics centred on social justice and internationalism in the UK, especially within the labour movement. We, Palestinian trade unions, mass organisations and networks, representing the majority in Palestinian civil society, call on the British Labour party, trade unions, city councils, universities and civil society at large to reject the IHRA’s false, anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism.
This non-legally binding definition attempts to erase Palestinian history, demonise solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality, suppress freedom of expression, and shield Israel’s far-right regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid from effective measures of accountability in accordance to international law.
The discredited IHRA guidelines deliberately conflate hostility to or prejudice or discrimination against Jews on the one hand with legitimate critiques of Israel’s policies and system of injustice on the other.
Palestinians last year marked 100 years of the Balfour Declaration, which played a significant role in supporting and entrenching the Zionist colonisation of Palestine. This typically colonial British declaration constituted a declaration of war against our people. It facilitated the birth of the exclusionary state of Israel that maintains a regime of apartheid and systematically oppresses the indigenous Palestinian people, stripping us of our fundamental and UN-recognised rights, including the rights to equality and self- determination and our refugees’ right to return to their homes of origin.
We concur with British Palestinian personalities who have asserted that:
“[A]ny use by public bodies of the IHRA examples on antisemitism that either inhibits discussion relating to our dispossession by ethnic cleansing, when Israel was established, or attempts to silence public discussions on current or past practices of [Israeli] settler colonialism, apartheid, racism and discrimination, and the ongoing violent military occupation, directly contravenes core rights. First, the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, who remain protected by international laws and conventions; and second, the rights of all those British citizens who stand by our side, in the solidarity of a common humanity.”
We recognise the severe pressure being placed on public bodies in the UK, and globally, to adopt this politicised and fraudulent definition of antisemitism. We would assert that those in the UK have a particular moral, political and arguably legal obligation to atone for historic and current British crimes against the Palestinian people and complicity in maintaining Israel’s regime of oppression. We appeal to them to:
1. Consistently uphold the UK Human Rights Act, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the right to freedom of expression, including in narrating Palestine's well-documented colonial history, advocating for Palestinian rights, describing Israel's regime of oppression as racist or as constituting apartheid, and calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel as nonviolent measures of accountability to bring about its compliance with its obligations under international law and its respect for Palestinian rights.
2. Unequivocally uphold the UN-stipulated rights of the people of Palestine, particularly:
The right to live free of military occupation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem;
The right to full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel who currently suffer under a system of legalised and institutionalised racial discrimination;
The inherent and legally upheld right of Palestine refugees to return to their homes of origin from which they have been ethnically cleansed during the Nakba and ever since.
3. Officially endorse a military embargo on Israel, as called for by Palestinian civil society, Socialist International, UK political parties (including Liberal Democrats, Greens, and Scottish National Party), the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC), many development NGOs(including Oxfam and Christian Aid), dozens of British MPs, cities across Europe, Amnesty International, global figures, among others. In 2017 alone, the UK arms exports to Israel reached $284m, setting a record.
4. Unambiguously condemn all forms of racism and bigotry, including Israel’s more than 60 racist laws, especially its latest constitutional law, the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law, that effectively“enshrines Jewish supremacy” and apartheid, as defined by the UN.
Adopting the IHRA definition (with its examples) would not only demonise our present struggle for liberation and self-determination. It would also “silence a public discussion [in the UK] of what happened in Palestine and to the Palestinians in 1948”, as over 100 Black, Asian and other minority ethnicities (BAME) groups in the UK have cautioned. It would also chill advocacy for Palestinian rights, including by vilifying and maligning our nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.
Anchored in our own decades-long heritage of popular resistance and inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement and the US Civil Rights movement, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated BDS movement is supported by an overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society. It is also endorsed by progressive movements representing millions worldwide, including a fast-rising number of Jewish millennials.
BDS is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and adheres to the UN definition of racial discrimination. It therefore “does not tolerate any act or discourse which adopts or promotes, among others, anti-Black racism, anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia”.
Redefining racism against a particular community to serve the political goal of precluding or vilifying the struggle against other forms of racism is immoral and outright racist. It should be condemned by all morally-consistent progressives.
Israel’s utter failure to suppress the impressive growth of BDS across the world in the last few years has prompted it to redefine antisemitism to desperately malign our strictly anti-racist movement.
As leading Jewish British intellectuals and legal experts have stated:
“Criticising laws and policies of the state of Israel as racist and as falling under the definition of apartheid is not antisemitic. Calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel to oppose those policies is not antisemitic.”
We agree with the analysis of more than forty Jewish social justice organisations worldwide that we live in “a frightening era, with growing numbers of authoritarian and xenophobic regimes worldwide, foremost among them the Trump administration, allying themselves with Israel’s far right government while making common cause with deeply antisemitic and racist white supremacist groups and parties”.
We also echo their appeal:
“We urge our governments, municipalities, universities and other institutions to reject the IHRA definition and instead take effective measures to defeat white supremacist nationalist hate and violence and to end complicity in Israel’s human rights violations.”
We need no one’s permission to accurately narrate our history, defend our inherent and inalienable rights, or mobilise principled international solidarity with our struggle to achieve them.
But we expect social-justice oriented political parties, like Labour, and progressive trade unions to effectively contribute to ending British complicity in Israel’s system of oppression that denies us our rights, to protect the right to freedom of expression, and to stand on the right side of history. We expect them to help us in the struggle against apartheid and for equal rights of all humans irrespective of identity. Is this too much to expect?
- General Union of Palestinian Workers
- Global Palestine Right of Return Coalition
- Palestinian Union of Postal, IT and Telecommunication workers
- Union of Professional Associations
- Federation of Independent Trade Unions
- Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate
- Palestinian New Federation of Trade Unions
- General Union of Palestinian Teachers
- General Union of Palestinian Women
- General Union of Palestinian Peasants
- Union of Palestinian Farmers
- General Union of Palestinian Writers
- The Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE)
- Palestinian Camps Boycott Movement-Lebanon (33 organisations from 11 refugee camps)
- Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO)
- Palestinian National Institute for NGOs
- Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC)
- Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (STW)
- Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)
- Union of Palestinian Charitable Organizations
- Women Campaign to Boycott Israeli Products
- Civic Coalition for the Defense of Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem
- Occupied Palestine and Syrian Golan Heights Initiative
- Agricultural Cooperatives Union