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January 7, 2021 3:23 pm

Top UK Jewish Organization Slams ‘Disturbing’ Letter From Lawyers Attacking IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Part of an exhibit on the Holocaust supported by the IHRA. Photo: courtesy of IHRA.

The head of a top UK Jewish organization condemned an open letter from a group of lawyers and former judges that attacked the Secretary of State for Education’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism, calling the letter’s claims “quite disturbing.”

The letter, published in The Guardian, criticized Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s instruction to English universities to adopt the IHRA definition when setting policy.

It asserted that those who reject the instruction should “be supported in so doing,” calling Williamson’s move both “legally and morally wrong.”

Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told The Algemeiner in response to the letter, “Many of the arguments against adoption of the IHRA definition are based on a total misreading — willful or otherwise — of the definition itself. This latest letter published by The Guardian is no exception, managing to spuriously claim that ‘the majority’ of examples provided by the IHRA definition ‘do not refer to Jews as such, but to Israel.’ In reality, nine out of the 11 examples given specifically reference Jews.”

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“It is quite disturbing that half a dozen upstanding legal minds agreed to have their name associated with a claim which can be debunked by taking five minutes to actually read the document in question,” she said.

The letter attacks the IHRA definition’s inclusion of antisemitic hatred of Israel, saying, “The IHRA added to the definition illustrative examples of statements that could be antisemitic ‘taking into account the overall context.’ The majority of these examples do not refer to Jews as such, but to Israel.”

“They have been widely used to suppress or avoid criticism of the State of Israel,” the letter claimed.

The IHRA’s explanation of its definition states that while antisemitism can include targeting of Israel, such criticism “similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

Further criticism of the letter came from Jonathan Turner, Chief Executive of the advocacy group UK Lawyers for Israel.

“Adoption of the definition does not restrict the freedom of academics or anyone else to be antisemitic. It does help others to identify them when they are,” Turner told The Algemeiner. “Far from curtailing freedom of speech, adoption of the IHRA definition by British universities is likely to promote it by making Jews and others feel more secure.”

Dave Rich, Head of Policy at the Community Security Trust, tweeted Thursday that the letter included a “straightforward lie.”

“I would have a bit more respect for the people who tirelessly campaign against this definition if they were not so repeatedly misleading in what they claim it says and does – and it’s scandalous that the Guardian helps them to do it,” Rich continued.

The letter was signed by Prof. Bill Bowring, Barrister, Birkbeck, University of London; Lord Hendy QC; Sir Anthony Hooper, retired lord justice of appeal; Michael Mansfield QC; Sir Stephen Sedley, retired lord justice of appeal; Hugh Tomlinson QC; Frances Webber, Barrister; Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, solicitor.

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