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Adopting this anti-Semitism definition could cost the council dear

21 April, 2017

Edited extract from an email sent to Camden’s Bloomsbury ward councillors:

• I HAVE learnt that Cllrs Abdul Hai and Roger Robinson will be proposing a motion for the council to adopt the new IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism, recently adopted by Theresa May’s government in December 2016.

I would like to draw your attention to some important matters of concern relating to this vote, especially Hugh Tomlinson QC’s legal opinion which states that any public body applying the definition could be at serious risk of “unlawfully restricting legitimate expressions of political opinion”.

I have attached the legal opinion and I hope you will give it your full consideration before proceeding to the vote on the 24th.

This opinion was recently launched in the House of Lords by Sir Stephen Sedley and Sir Geoffrey Bindman and I sincerely hope you will urge your fellow councillors and the leaders of the Labour group, to invite Geoffrey Bindman to address the council chamber on the day of the vote.

To vote through the IHRA definition without being fully aware of its many flaws and ambiguities, as unpicked in the legal opinion… would place the council at serious risk of both reputational damage and (potentially costly) legal challenge.

I am worried that the proposed IHRA definition is politically motivated, and I have reason to believe that it is being used to chill free speech in relation to Israel and Palestine.

Shortly after the government adopted the IHRA definition – an earlier version of which was abandoned by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency in 2013 – the higher education minister wrote to every university in the country informing them of the new definition.

This definition was then used as a pretext for the cancellation of a number of Palestine solidarity events. Such events were cancelled at a number of universities, which led to widespread reports about the suppression of free speech, and met with protest from over 100 academics [7].

Given the Camden councillors’ motion concerns anti-Semitism, I am also deeply surprised that they make no mention of the rise of anti-Semitism associated with far-right populist parties and politicians, from Donald Trump’s White House to the openly fascist Golden Dawn in Greece.

The councillors do make clear in the second line that a major concern of their motion is Israel. The motion further proposes wholeheartedly to adopt the deeply flawed IHRA definition, which Professor David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism, has described as “bewilderingly imprecise”.

When it comes to the duty to confront and tackle the anti-Semitism threat, such imprecision is unforgivable. Why such imprecision then? Some commentators have suggested the IHRA definition has been deliberately constructed in this way to create room for manoeuvre for those who wish to target Palestinian solidarity activism, as has been demonstrably the case at a number of universities. Such a view has been cogently argued by David Rosenberg, of the Jewish Socialists’ Group.

As he puts it, the flawed IHRA definition “has the potential to outlaw perfectly legitimate pro-Palestinian human rights campaigns as anti-semitic”. I am sure you will agree that this is entirely unacceptable. More to the point, it could place the council in breach of the Human Rights Act, as Tomlinson suggests.

I urge you to reconsider Camden’s adoption of this deeply flawed definition of anti-Semitism, and I hope that you will work towards developing a thorough and inclusive anti-racist strategy that can unite all sections of the community.

OWEN HOLLAND
Tavistock Court, WC1

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