Unmoved by the global surge of antisemitism, the Guardian published an article representing the latest in the outlet’s long and obsessive crusade against one the most widely accepted tools to help fight it.
The piece (“UN urged to reject antisemitism definition over ‘misuse’ to shield Israel”), by Chris McGreal, is putatively a straight news article on opposition to the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. But, as with so many of McGreal’s reports, it’s, in reality, a one-sided promotion of the views of faux human rights groups, like Amnesty International, with zero credibility on the issue of antisemitism.
Many of the charges in the letter by the NGOs parroted by McGreal are either factually incorrect or evoke common antisemitic tropes.
For instance, in the very first sentence, McGreal writes:
More than 100 Israeli and international civil society organisations have asked the United Nations to reject a controversial definition of antisemitism because it is being “misused” to protect Israel from legitimate criticism.
Later, he writes:
the IHRA definition has often been used to wrongly label criticism of Israel as antisemitic, and thus chill and sometimes suppress, non-violent protest, activism and speech critical of Israel and/or Zionism, including in the US and Europe,” the letter said.
Also, there’s this:
The groups say the IHRA definition has been used “to muzzle legitimate speech and activism by critics of Israel’s human rights record and advocates for Palestinian rights”
What McGreal is legitimising is an accusation characterised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) as antisemitic in their report on antisemitism in the Labour Party: the charge, by Ken Livingstone and others, that Jews dishonestly smear people with false charges of antisemitism to stifle criticism of Israel.
The charge is especially dishonest as the IHRA definition is not legally binding, and specifically says that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”.
Moreover, as the CST’s Dave Rich argued, “it is hard to see how a non-legally binding definition with no legal authority could undermine legally-guaranteed rights to free expression and academic freedom”. He also noted the moral double standards of those opposing IHRA’s non-legally binding definition on the grounds that it stifles free speech, while having no such issues with Britain’s legally-binding restrictions on speech: the Public Order Act, the Equality Act, the Protection from Harassment Act, the Malicious Communications, etc.
There are also a significant factual error in McGreal’s report, here:
The definition has been accepted by the US state department, several European governments including the UK and Germany, and EU bodies after strong lobbying by pro-Israel groups and others.
If fact, the IHRA definition has been accepted by two dozen European governments, not “several”, and a total of 35 democracies.
In fact, the IHRA definition – in addition to being supported by most Jewish organisations – is the most widely used antisemitism definition in the world, and has been endorsed by over 1,000 global entities, including a large number of regional governments, law enforcement agencies and universities. The UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed recommended that governments use IHRA, as did the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, the EU Council and EU Parliament.
The Guardian evidently believes the real problem is not the dangerous demonisation of, and attacks on, Jews, but the ‘silencing’ of anti-Israel voices – a view supported by many on the Corbyn-left, to which Dave Rich observed: “You would be forgiven for treating the suggestion that criticism of Israel is widely suppressed, either in our universities or elsewhere, as a laughable fantasy”.