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Campaigners warn of chilling effect of UK anti-Semitism definition

A network of campaigners has warned of a chilling effect posed by a definition of anti-Semitism recently adopted by the British government.

In a statement published this week, Free Speech on Israel criticised a text endorsed by Prime Minister Theresa May on the grounds that it "deliberately emphasises criticism of Israel and Zionism as likely to be anti-Semitic."

According to Free Speech on Israel, the problem with the definition lies in the examples it cites of "actions that should be investigated as purported to show anti-Semitic motivation." Of the eleven examples given, "seven relate not to Jews as Jews, but to the state of Israel and its actions."

For campaigners, this "emphasis reveals the motivation of those who have been promoting this definition for more than 10 years."

The group claims that pro-Israel individuals are already interpreting the UK government announcement "as shielding Israel and its foundational political philosophy of Zionism, rather than protecting Jews."

According to Free Speech on Israel, "there are already many examples of attempts to illegitimately stretch the use of the definition to censor legitimate political and moral debate", with "a particular target" being the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Free Speech on Israel describes itself as "a network of labour, green and trade union activists in the UK, mainly Jewish, who came together in April 2016 to counter attempts by pro-Israel right wingers to brand the campaign for justice for Palestinians as anti-Semitic."

The group urges the government "to adopt just the 40-word definition [of anti-Semitism]", but reject "the contentious, partisan, politically slanted examples that accompany it."

Free Speech on Israel also notes that Oxford University philosopher Brian Klug has proposed a more straightforward and easier to apply definition of anti-Semitism as: "a form of hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which Jews are perceived as something other than what they are."

Professor David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of anti-Semitism, recommended the use of this definition in his report commissioned to assist the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism.

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