It would be wrong, in drawing up guidelines about one form of racism,
to prevent other forms of racism from being called out or to limit the
rights of other oppressed groups to speak about their own oppression.
[As Palestinians] we simply demand the
right to speak about our experiences and make legitimate, evidence-based
criticism of Israel, its foundation, its laws and practices. And we want
everyone to have that right, not just us, as part of an open, free
debate on a major international conflict, for which Britain bears
significant historical responsibility. As a Labour member, I at least
expect to have this right respected within my own party.
those who are insisting upon a word for word repetition of the IHRA
working examples are staunch advocates of Israeli government policies.
What is driving this campaign is clearly an attempt to protect and
improve Israel’s tarnished image, silence Palestinians and discredit
those who support our rights.
[The State of Israel] was founded on discrimination towards Arab people on the
basis of religion and ethnicity. If that’s not a racist endeavour, I
don’t know what is. And I should have the freedom, as the victim of that
racism, to say so.
-Ghada Karmi is a Palestinian doctor, academic and author.
“The biggest contention that my fellow critics of the IHRA
examples have is with a particular one that focuses on calling the state
of Israel a racist endeavour. IHRA’s defenders like to say that it
allows for criticism of the policies of Israel, but not of the endeavour
of building the Israeli state per se (that is to say, Zionism).
But this is an impossible distinction to maintain in
practice. Allowing criticism of policies but not allowing a discussion
of the ideologies or political movements that are behind those policies
is nonsensical. It is like saying you are allowed to criticise
privatisation, because it is a policy, but you aren’t allowed to link
that to neoliberalism as the ideology that upholds it.
Under the IHRA, almost any discussion about
Palestine is liable to descend instantly into rancour and recriminations
on this basis, even more so than in the current febrile atmosphere.
We cannot contravene the right of Palestinians to freely articulate
their oppression, and deter human-rights groups, intergovernmental
agencies or activists from taking up their cause. Our rich history and
tradition as a labour movement of standing shoulder to shoulder with
Palestinians would be heavily penalised.
Even Kenneth Stern, who helped author the IHRA definition, opposes its
accession to concrete legal definition and a framework for tackling
antisemitism. Lawyers across the political spectrum, academics and
institutions see no legal merit or status
to the document.” [x]
As migrant and BAME groups in Britain, we reaffirm our fundamental right
to the freedom of expression, and publicly to express our anxieties
about the suppression of information on the history and lived experience
of our communities.
“We are deeply worried about current attempts to silence a public
discussion of what happened in Palestine and to the Palestinians in
1948, when the majority of its people were forcibly expelled. These
facts are well established and accessible, are part of the British
historical record, as well as the direct experience of the Palestinian
people themselves. The Palestinian community in the UK has raised the
disturbing absence of key information about these past and current
injustices, and highlighted the racism it exposes then and now.
Public discussion of these facts, and a description of these injustices,
would be prohibited under the IHRA’s guidelines, and therefore
withholds vital knowledge from the public. This silencing has already
begun. Today we can freely describe the racist policies experienced in
the era of British and European colonialism in our countries of origin
(indeed it is taught in British schools), but the colonial history of
the Palestinians is continually erased. This is a dangerous breach of
our own rights, and of the wider British public: we must all hear the
full story of the Palestinians in order to make sense of the current
discussions about racism and Israel.
We also know of the efforts by organisations – including UK-based
fundamentalist groups aligned with the far-right in the US – to deny
Palestinians’ basic humanity by suppressing their entire history and
current plight. At the same time, hard-line conservative groups in the
US, such as the Middle East Forum, are providing funding and support to
anti-Muslim extremist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson),
deliberately increasing hatred, fear, and confusion. These coordinated
efforts by right-wing extremists are being actively encouraged by
President Trump’s racism and fear-mongering, which is now aimed at
dismantling UNRWA, the UN agency that protects Palestinian refugees.
We urgently remind politicians and public bodies of their
responsibilities to uphold the principles of the Human Rights Act for
every British citizen and resident in the UK equally, especially the
direct victims of colonialism, racism, and discrimination. As migrant
and BAME communities we stand as one, united against all attempts to
suppress our voices and our calls for justice, freedom and equality.”