Forty Jewish organisations from around the world have issued a joint statement dispelling the notion that calling Israel a racist country is anti-Sematic. The group denounced sections of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism saying that it stifles criticism of Israel with false accusations of racism against Jews.
The statement by the international coalition, which also includes dozens of non-Jewish groups from 15 different countries, coincides with a row within the British Labour Party over some of the examples of anti-Semitism contained in the IHRA guideline. While the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party has adopted the universal definition of anti-Semitism, it left out or re-worded sections which equated anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel.
Warning against the suppression of free speech while authoritarianism and racism is on the rise across the globe, the international coalition cautions against the adoption of a definition of anti-Semitism that shields Israel from criticism and stifles discussion over its policies.
In their statement, they say that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which is increasingly being adopted or considered by Western governments, "intentionally equate legitimate criticisms of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism".
They argue that the conflation of anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel "undermines both the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality and the global struggle against anti-Semitism". Furthermore "it also serves to shield Israel from being held accountable to universal standards of human rights and international law".
The coalition, which includes groups like Independent Jewish Voices, Jewish anti-fascist groups, and many others "urge [our] governments, municipalities, universities and other institutions to reject the IHRA definition and instead take effective measures to defeat white supremacist nationalist hate and violence and to end complicity in Israel's human rights violations". They denounce Israel saying:
Israel does not represent [us] and cannot speak for us when committing crimes against Palestinians and denying their UN-stipulated rights.
Attacks against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign were cited as an example of the way in which the IHRA definition is used to suppress free speech and pro-Palestinian activism. It's reported that since being adopted by the UK government in December 2016, these guidelines have been used to target organisations campaigning for Palestinian rights. Supporters of Israel have also called on the government to stop the annual "Israeli Apartheid Week" on university campuses on the grounds that it breaches the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.
After revealing that some of the undersigned organisations said that they gave their full backing to the BDS, while others in part, and others have no formal position on BDS, they all affirmed that "the current call for BDS as a set of tools and tactics should not be defined as anti-Semitic".
The close alliance between US President Donald Trump and Israel's right -wing government with white supremacists was a grave threat they said.
The coalition advised that "at times like this, it is more important than ever to distinguish between the hostility to or prejudice against Jews on the one hand and legitimate critiques of Israeli policies and system of injustice on the other."