Fury as Amnesty oppose adoption of IHRA antisemitism definition

Human rights group accused of 'undermining the purpose of their existence' by antisemitism czar and Jewish groups


Agnes Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, gestures during a media briefing on gender and sexual violence perpetrated by the police during the 2021 national strike protests in Bogota on December 1, 2022. (Photo by DANIEL MUNOZ / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL MUNOZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Amnesty International has caused outrage by signing an open letter this week urging the United Nations not to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, widely accepted by the government, the Labour Party and most universities.

Lord John Mann, the government’s antisemitism czar, told the JC that the NGO’s decision to back the demand could bring its charitable status in Britain under threat.

“Amnesty is undermining the purpose of their existence” by opposing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, he said, adding that it could bring their charitable status in the UK under threat.

“In terms of human rights, Jewish people are entitled to human rights and that human rights includes the right not to be abused because of their identity, he said.

“That is what the IHRA definition is about. The letter is factually inaccurate. They can’t evidence their claims at all. 

“They’re using gossip, basically, inaccurate gossip. In doing so they’re undermining the purpose of their existence.

“Why shouldn’t Jewish people be entitled to the same rights as everyone else? Amnesty wants to deny that to them.” 

The NGO, he added, is jumping on a “bandwagon” without realising the implication of their opposition to the IHRA definition.

“I want to meet their trustees to get a full explanation and explain to them in significant detail why they don’t know what they’re talking about and what they’re going to do about it. 

“As trustees they have a legal obligation to operate within the law.”

The letter signed by the London-based group, first sent to UN secretary general António Guterres on April 3, has been supported by over 100 left-wing organisations, including Jewish Voice for Labour, the Israeli group B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch.

The IHRA definition, it claims, has been used to suppress criticism of Israel and Zionism.

“If the UN endorses the IHRA definition in any shape or form, UN officials working on issues related to Israel and Palestine may find themselves unjustly accused of antisemitism based on the IHRA definition,” the document reads.

“We strongly urge the UN not to endorse the IHRA definition of antisemitism,” it adds. 

“We look forward to assisting the UN’s efforts to combat antisemitism in a way that respects, protects and promotes human rights.”

Responding to the letter, a Board of Deputies spokesperson said: "Amnesty UK's continued attempts to advocate against the IHRA definition of antisemitism ring particularly hollow when one considers that the same organisation actively voted down a motion a few years ago to combat antisemitism in this country. 

“The idea that Amnesty has inserted itself into a discussion as to how Jewish people identify anti-Jewish racism demonstrates just how far it has fallen as an organisation."

An Amnesty source denied that it had voted down the motion.

Claudia Mendoza, co-chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “We support the adoption of the IHRA definition and believe it has been a useful guide for governments and agencies in identifying antisemitism in all its manifestations.

“Considering Amnesty International’s report a year ago which attacked the very concept of Jewish sovereignty, we can understand why they might find such a definition unhelpful. 

“To deny Jews, and Jews alone the right to define the persecution they face reveals much about how this organisation approaches anti-Jewish racism.”

Adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism has been a major demand of Jewish groups around the world.

The UK government adopted the working definition in December 2016, with then prime minister Theresa May saying: “There will be one definition of anti-Semitism - in essence, language or behaviour that displays hatred towards Jews because they are Jews - and anyone guilty of that will be called out on it.”

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