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The Scottish government is silencing Palestinians

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, speaks at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., US, on Monday, May 16, 2022. [Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images]
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, speaks at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., US, on Monday, May 16, 2022. [Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is facing a backlash after a group of Palestinian academics criticised her decision to embrace the working definition of anti-Semitism prepared by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance because the definition clearly contradicts a hate crime review commissioned by her own government.

The Holyrood government took the decision to follow Westminster in its adoption of the controversial IHRA definition of anti-Semitism which includes, as an example, "Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour."

Now Sturgeon's government is in the embarrassing position of embracing two conflicting reports which openly contradict each other. To add to her woes, international human rights groups as well as a UN rights expert recently declared Israel to be an "apartheid state".

The contents of the IHRA definition clash with the findings of Lord Bracadale, who was appointed by Scottish Ministers in 2017 to lead the Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation. A group of Palestinian academics has now confronted Sturgeon's government over this clear contradiction.

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A few days ago, an open letter was published in the Scottish media about the dilemma facing Palestinians living in Scotland who accuse the Holyrood government of effectively gagging them from talking about the ethnic cleansing of Palestine during and ever since the Nakba.

"As Palestinians in Scotland we feel the need to be able to tell our story of being driven from our homeland in a programme of ethnic cleansing that built the state of Israel on the destruction of our villages and towns," wrote the 26 signatories, including Amina Abdel-Khaliq, Dr Nur Abdelkhaleq, Waseem Abu Aghlain and Dr Kholoud Ajarma. "The Scottish Government's adoption of the problematic IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism limits that freedom by protecting the state of Israel from democratic critiques of its widely recognised apartheid structures.

"Responding in part to the question of the IHRA definition, Lord Bracadale's 2018 Review of Hate Crime Legislation accepted the case put forward by Palestinians and others that legislation should not protect 'political entities' since that could lead to the 'curtailment of freedom of expression and freedom of political debate'."

In their letter, the signatories demand that the Scottish Government should act on the findings of Lord Bracadale's hate crime review which it commissioned.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 16: Protestors have gathered in solidarity with the people of Palestine amid ongoing conflict in Gaza on May 16, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. The demonstration comes amid spiraling violence in Israel and Palestine and after yesterday's Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, which commemorates the expulsion of Arabs from their homes in the 1948 war that forged modern Israel. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Protestors have gathered in solidarity with the people of Palestine amid ongoing conflict in Gaza on May 16, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland [Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images]

"The Palestinian community voice has been absent while the state that violates them has been armed and supported by our government and the entire UK political class," commented the co-founder of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Mick Napier. "That Palestinian first-person voice is uniquely compelling in forcing acknowledgement of the blood-soaked record of Israel, its past and present record of violent ethnic cleansing that is concealed or justified by our politicians."

Napier added the warning that, "The Scottish Government seems intent on burying Bracadale's warning that the IHRA can muzzle free speech. It must not be allowed to do so."

I've always believed that hate towards and the unfair treatment of Jews should be roundly condemned, opposed and met with zero tolerance. But to be frank, the IHRA definition, which seeks to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, does not serve to protect Jews; it is all about protecting the rogue state of Israel and its zealous supporters.

Towards the end of last year, I wrote about 82-year-old Diana Neslen who faced expulsion from the Labour Party after she was accused of posting "anti-Semitic" views on social media. The problem for Labour leader Keir Starmer and his party, though, was that Diana is a Jew.

After three investigations by the party she became so fed up that she employed lawyers, who fired off a warning letter telling Labour officials that her anti-Zionist viewpoint is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act in the UK. Furthermore, the lawyers at Bindmans said that she herself had been "subjected by the party to discrimination and harassment related to her protected philosophical belief."

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Predictably, the Labour Party backed down although it has yet to apologise to Neslen or abandon complaints against other party members under similar investigations. Jewish Voice for Labour, of which Neslen is a member, says that at least 46 Jewish Labour Party members, two of whom have since died, have faced or are facing disciplinary charges relating to allegations of anti-Semitism.

"To say that we are insulting Jews is wrong," Neslen told the Guardian in February. "We are acting in accord with what we regard as Jewish values and Jewish ethics, and I'm not going to change that."

So it seems that for most Palestinians and many Jews, the IHRA was designed to protect Israel, its racist policies and its Zionist supporters. Meanwhile, Lord Bracadale's report makes it crystal clear that criticism of Israel and its racist policies is entirely legitimate.

There can be no doubt that anti-Semitism is a crime, but equally there can be no doubt that fighting Zionism is a duty for anyone who opposes apartheid. It's time for Sturgeon and her government to get off the fence, scrap their support for the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and allow Scottish Palestinians to tell their stories without let or hindrance.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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