Lawyers’ anti-IHRA letter in Guardian contains 'straightforward lie’, says antisemitism expert

Community Security Trust’s Dave Rich hits out at letter that criticises the government’s attempt to make universities adopt the definition of antisemitism


The Community Security Trust’s Dave Rich has said a letter written by a group of lawyers and published by the Guardian criticising the government’s attempt to make universities adopt a definition of antisemitism “includes a straightforward lie”.

The letter –whose signatories include the QCs Michael Mansfield and Hugh Tomlinson along with the retired appeal court judges Lord Hendy and Sir Anthony Hooper – accuses Education Secretary Gavin Williamson of “improper interference” with universities’ autonomy and right to free expression.

It follows Mr Williamson’s letter to university vice-chancellors in October in which he warned he would “act” if they had not agreed to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition by the end of last year.

Mr Rich, the CST’s Head of Policy, highlighted the claim by the lawyers that "the majority" of examples in the IHRA definition "do not refer to Jews as such".

The letter then added that in the lawyers’ view, and in an allegation frequently made by IHRA’s critics, the definition had been “widely used to suppress or avoid criticism of the state of Israel.”

But listing the 11 examples contained in the working definition Mr Rich then highlighted how 9 of the 11 examples indeed referred to “Jews”,  “Jewish citizens” or “Jewish people.”

Mr Rich tweeted that he believed it was “simply dishonest” to suggest the IHRA definition did not concentrate on defining antisemitism in relation to its impact on Jews.

He added: “It is true that some of these examples also mention Israel, and for good reason. If the signatories of this letter want to argue that (for example) it is not antisemitic to use the blood libel to characterise Israel or Israelis, be my guest. You won't get very far.

“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.”

He added it was “scandalous that the Guardian helps” those who produce false criticism of IHRA continue to do so. The newspaper published the letter on Thursday.

The letter accuses the government of attempting to undermine freedom of speech by supporting the definition citing the Universal Declaration which declares that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

The lawrers state this  right is embodied in UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998, section 6 of which expressly prohibits a public authority from acting in a way that is incompatible with that right.

They say specific protections for freedom of expression at universities were also enacted in the Education Act 1986.

Their letter adds Mr Williamson’s insistence that universities adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism or face sanctions is “legally and morally wrong”.

The JC has revealed how both Oxford and Cambridge were among universities that have adopted the IHRA definition in recent weeks.

The Department for Education said at least 27 institutions have adopted the definition since Mr Williamson’s letter.

A total of 48 out of 133 have now adopted the definition, including the vast majority of universities in the elite Russell Group.

The Union of Jewish Students said those institutions refusing to adopt IHRA are showing  “contempt … for their Jewish students.”

Academics at University College London are due to vote this month on whether to call on the institution’s governing body to rescind its November 2019 adoption of the IHRA definition.


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