You are here

Ask your MSPs not to stigmatise criticism of Israel

Action Date: 

11 October 2017 to 31 December 2019


March for Gaza, Washington DC, 2 August 2014
March for Gaza, Washington DC, 2 August 2014

The Scottish Government has adopted the controversial IHRA definition of anti-semitism, which is being used in the rest of the UK and elsewhere in the world to stigmatise and suppress criticism of Israel as supposedly "anti-semitic".

Please contact your MSPs to ask them to urge the Scottish Government to think again.

You can use the writetothem website or find your MSPs at . You can contact your list MSPs as well as your constituency MSP, so it might be worthwhile to choose one or two MSPs that you think are likely to be sympathetic.

Please use the covered in the message below and  let us know of any replies you receive (you can use the contact form on this website).

Message to MSPs

Please urge the Scottish Government to reconsider its decison, announced in the Parliament on 13 June, to adopt the definition of anti-semitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The definition is problematic because it links anti-semitism to criticism of Israel. Since being adopted by the UK Government in December 2016 it has already been used to suppress legitimate criticism of Israel and to brand a survivor of the Budapest ghetto as anti-semitic.

The Scottish Government's decision is part of its response to the report of Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime, Prejudice and Community Cohesion, published in September 2016. The report recommended that "the Scottish Government should lead discussion on the development of clearer terminology and definitions around hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion" but did not mention the IHRA definition or indeed discuss anti-semitism at all.

In a written answer dated 14 March 2017 (Question S5W-07668) Angela Constance MSP said:

"We agree with the definition produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and consider the resolution they have adopted to be a helpful guide to the different manifestations of anti-Semitism."

The core text of the IHRA definition provides a straightforward and reasonable definition of anti-semitism. It says:

"Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."

In the IHRA resolution referred to in Angela Constance's written answer, and linked to in the Scottish Government's full response to the report by the Advisory Group, this core text is followed by examples "to guide the IHRA in its work". Some of the examples - holocaust denial, for instance - are clearly anti-semitic. Others are very problematic, for example:

  • "Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor." But Israel's nationality law, its conduct towards its Palestinian citizens and towards Palestinians in the occupied territories, and the bill currently progressing through the Knesset that would define Israel as a Jewish state all provide a basis on which it can reasonably and legitimately be argued that the State of Israel is a racist endeavor. This issue is central to any eventual resolution of the Israel-Palestine question. Suppressing discussion of it undermines freedom of speech in Scotland and tilts international negotiating tables in Israel's favour.
  • "Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis." The effect of this is to give Israel unique protection, whatever human rights abuses it commits, from comparison with Nazis. Yet the Nazi regime and the Holocaust led to the creation of the whole present system of UN and EU human rights law. For some Jews who survived the Holocaust, or whose families died in it, Nazi policies are an even clearer touchstone of immorality than they are for others. Labelling such people as anti-semitic is deeply offensive, besides the harm that it does in choking off the lessons that can be learned from history.

Anyone relying on the IHRA definition in Scotland is likely to assume that the Scottish Government, in adopting the definition, is also adopting the guidance provided with it.

The UK Government, in its response to the Home Affairs Committee Inquiry into anti-semitism referred to a point made ("criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic") within the guidance as "references within the definition" and relied on it to argue that the definition provides sufficient protection for freedom of speech (which it does not).

In other words, the guidance is treated by the UK Government as being integral to the definition. There are various other examples of the guidance being treated in this way.

Angela Constance has said on behalf of the Scottish Government (in her written answer S5W-07668 quoted above), that the IHRA guidance is "helpful." In doing do so she has lent further weight to the presumption that the Scottish Government believes that the guidance should be used in Scotland and is integral to the definition.

The way that the IHRA guidance has already been applied elsewhere in the UK demonstrates that it is very unhelpful indeed. It facilitates (and perhaps institutionalises) anti-semitism by facilitating attempts to smear Jews as anti-semitic if they draw on their own experience of the Holocaust in criticising Israel (as happened in connection with a talk by a survivor of the Budapest ghetto at Manchester University in March) or if they adopt an anti-Zionist political stance. It also suppresses crucial discussions about the nature of Israel and the Israel-Palestine question.  In doing so, it is not so much a tool for tackling racism as a tool for shaping foreign policy and public perceptions of it. It risks directing Scotland's international relations down a worryingly pro-Israel path.

The definition used by the IHRA (an organisation with 32 member countries) is being promoted around the world through a series of unilateral decisions instead of through the usual multi-lateral processes within the UN. This process damages international efforts to build peace and justice. Scotland should not support it.

Doudou Diène, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, stated in his 2008 report to the Human Rights Council of the UN (A/HRC/9/12):

"The Special Rapporteur has observed that the systematic equation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism has the effect of making it more difficult to combat anti-Semitism. The equation of a political ideology, Zionism, with a form of racism reinforces the essentialist and reductive vision characteristic of a deep current of anti-Semitism denying the political and ideological diversity of the Jewish people and manifesting itself also in relation to Zionism. In its most political form, this identification leads to the characterization as anti-Semitic of any criticism of the State of Israel, in particular the different facets of its occupation of the Palestinian territories as defined by the United Nations. This tendency to construe opposition to a political ideology and the political actions of a State as racism targeted at a whole people is not only a denial of the democratic legitimacy of political criticism but also blurs the analysis and understanding of anti-Semitism, in particular any objective assessment of the anti-Semitism entering into anti-Zionism and criticism of the State of Israel."

Please urge the Scottish Government to take steps to avoid these problems. It should either:

a) Adopt a definition of anti-semitism unconnected with the IHRA, for example by using the definition that forms the opening words of the statement provided by the Coordinating Board of Jewish Organisations to the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and annexed to the Rapporteur's 1996 report to the Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/1996/72):

"Anti-Semitism is an irrational hatred of the Jewish people. It starts with hostility, grows to prejudice, and from there to agitation, discrimination, and violence against Jews and Jewish institutions."


b) Adopt as Scottish Government policy the core text of the IHRA definition, accompanied by a statement that the examples or illustrations provided by the IHRA for its own guidance do not form part of Scottish Government policy.


Photo: Rally and march for Gaza, 2 August 2014, Washington DC. © Susan Melkisethian, some rights reserved