Statement on TH Council’s full adoption of IHRA definition

TH Palestine Solidarity will be protesting against TH Council’s full adoption of the IHRA definition at the Full Council meeting on Weds 21st November at Mulberry Place.

Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity Campaign (THPSC) and Jenin Friendship Association (THJFA) regrets TH Council’s decision of 17 September to adopt, in its entirety, the IHRA definition of antisemitism and the accompanying “examples”.

In an era when the far-right is growing in confidence it is more important than ever to stand against Holocaust denial, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and any other forms of antisemitic prejudice and hatred.

However, the examples which accompany the IHRA definition systematically conflate opposition to Israel with antisemitism, threatening to undermine many years of practical solidarity with the Palestinian people in the face of decades of dispossession and occupation.

We note that the motion was moved by Conservative councillors, whose party had been at the forefront of promoting Islamophobia and the racist “hostile environment” that has affected the lives of so many of our residents.

Opposed to all forms of racism

We are opposed to all forms of racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia. Tower Hamlets has a proud history of uniting our community against racism and fascism – from Cable Street to the EDL and Britain First. This includes unity across differences in view over Israel-Palestine.

It is vital that our borough, particularly given the threat of the far-right today, maintains this unity and defends freedom of expression over Israel-Palestine.

We therefore oppose attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its historic meaning of hostility towards or discrimination against Jews as Jews. PSC and THJFA have always opposed any expression of antisemitism, whatever the context.

A statement we can support

We therefore support the statement by many leading Jewish academics and others that:

Criticism of Israel is not antisemitic unless motivated by anti-Jewish prejudice. Examples of this can include: holding all Jews accountable for the actions of the state of Israel; engaging in conspiracy theories about the state of Israel that draw on antisemitic stereotypes about supposed Jewish power; accusing all Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than to the interests of their own nations.

“Criticism of Israel, of its displacement of Palestinians and of its denial of their rights, is not antisemitic. Criticising laws and policies of the state of Israel as racist and as falling under the definition of apartheid is not antisemitic. Calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel to oppose those policies is not antisemitic. We call upon all public bodies and other organisations to apply these principles in addressing antisemitism within their own organisations and when challenging it within wider society.”

Problems with IHRA

We believe the Council’s decision to adopt the full IHRA definition, with all its examples, can only serve to suppress criticism of the Israeli state and support for the Palestine cause.

It is a decision that flies in the face of calls from Palestinians in the West Bank, the Israeli Knesset and in Britain, and OVER 40 international Jewish organisations  to reject the full IHRA definition. It will also disappoint the many Palestinians who have a personal connection with our borough.

Despite denials, the IHRA definition has already been used to suppress criticism of Israel. As the letter from Arab members of the Knesset makes clear, it specifically silences Palestinian voices in articulating the institutional and structural roots of their own oppression. Currently Israel has over 60 laws that discriminate against Palestinians.

Working together, getting it right

Since the formation of THJFA in 2002, our community, the Council, many councillors and our Mayor, have welcomed visitors from Jenin in Palestine. We have campaigned with the support of Tower Hamlets constituents, to further this friendship by twinning Tower Hamlets with Jenin.

We believe that adopting the definition sends a message that criticism of the Israeli state and solidarity with the Palestinian people will be discouraged in our borough and regarded with suspicion.

We aim to campaign that nothing in the Tower Hamlets code prevents our community from expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people and support for their struggle for equality and human rights or from discussing the reality and roots of their oppression.

We believe many in our community will be concerned at the adoption of the full IHRA definition. We intend to protest at the next meeting of our Council on Wednesday 21st November.

We will continue to highlight the struggle for Palestinian human rights; to build the solidarity campaign in our borough and to insist on the freedom to protest at the racist structures of power that have been employed to dispossess and oppress the Palestinian people.

Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Jenin Friendship Association

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