A leading figure in the UK Black Lives Matter movement has attempted to defend a tweet made by his organisation in June which suggested British politics was being “gagged of the right to critique Zionism” by telling presenter Emma Barnett that “one of the reasons is the IHRA definition”.
Appearing on Ms Barnett’s Radio 5 Live show, Joshua Virasami, who said he was an “active member” of the BLM movement in the UK, was asked about the controversial tweet and its relation to the aims of his group.
Asked about who the gagging reference was aimed at Mr Virasami said: “That’s a good question. The tweet was mainly talking about the fact that during the annexation of the West Bank and during the situation where Palestine is being colonised, a conversation is not happening.
“And that conversation is not happening for many reasons, one of those reasons is the IHRA definition which in many ways does disallow conversations to happen about the true nature of what is going on in Palestine.”
The author then accepted that “many people” saw the tweet in June as being “antisemitic”.
But Mr Virasami then suggested “it would be antisemitic to pretend there’s a homogenous belief around what is happening in Israel/Palestine. A lot of radical Jewish groups….”
Ms Barnett then interjected that “those two things are entirely separate”.
The black rights activist was then asked whether he considered it antisemitic to suggest “some kind of Jewish force” was preventing criticism of Israel.
He said: “I think there’s two things here. I think, one, the tweet didn’t say they were being gagged by some kind of Jewish force…. That’s actually to put words that don’t exist into the tweet.”
Ms Barnett suggested that it had been “inferred.
“The word is gagged – a little English word, it means there’s a conversation is not being allowed to happen.”
When again asked who he believed was preventing this conversation from happening, Mr Virasami said: “It’s things like the IHRA definition.”
He was then challenged by the show host as to why a definition of antisemitism meant people were being gagged.
“That’s a definition that when implemented disallows genuine conversation about what is happening in Israel to happen,” said Mr Virasami.
He then continued by suggesting “a lot of people, whether that’s business people or – and they don’t need to be Jewish – just anybody who has stakes in the conversation on Israel going a certain way might proclaim that any conversation around Israel ..”
Ms Barnett then interrupted and asked: “Did you say ‘a lot of business people’ - in response to who may have written a definition of antisemitism?’
Mr Virasami said: “No I am making a separate point. I’m saying a lot people have a stake and would like to see any conversation about Israel as antisemitic and any conversation about Zionism as antisemitic. Part of what is happening with the IHRA definition is that you can’t have an honest conversation about Israel and Palestine. And so the tweet is literally that, we have been unable to have an honest conversation.”
Ms Barnett then protested that “no-one is stopping you”.
He said: “That’s not true – some people have lost their jobs because of what they have said about Israel.”
Eventually Mr Virasami conceded it may have been “insensitive” to have used the word “gagged” in the tweet.