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Top QC calls IHRA definition ‘not fit for purpose’

THE International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism is “not fit for purpose” and is likely to “chill free speech,” leading human rights QC Geoffrey Robertson said yesterday.

Mr Robertson said the government was “wrong” to adopt the IHRA definition without a caveat allowing legitimate criticism of Israel, as recommended by Parliament’s home affairs committee.

The cross-party group of MPs recommended adoption of the IHRA definition and examples in October 2016, but said it should add: “It is not anti-semitic to criticise the government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest anti-semitic intent.”

In a legal opinion written for the Palestinian Return Centre, Mr Robertson said: “Any public body or other organisation (including the Labour Party) that is contemplating adoption of the IHRA definition in full should add this provision to it.”

The barrister, an expert on freedom of speech and human rights who has lectured on genocide at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that the IHRA definition, which some Labour MPs and trade union leaders have called for the party to adopt in full, was “imprecise, confusing and open to misinterpretation and even manipulation.”

He pointed out that it was “originally drafted … as a tool for collecting data and is useful for purposes of discussion,” but said that it “should not be used (or be used with great caution) as a measure for discipline or in ways which have consequences for political speech.”

Mr Robertson recommended that the IHRA definition should not be adopted or applied by public bodies unless they are clear that “they cannot ban speech or writing about Israel unless there is a
real likelihood it will lead to violence or disorder or race hatred.”

A “particular problem” with the IHRA definition, Mr Robertson said, was that it is “likely in practice to chill free speech, by raising expectations of pro-Israeli groups that they can successfully object to legitimate criticism of their country.”

Mr Robertson concluded: “Whether under human rights law or the IHRA definition, political action against Israel is not properly characterised as anti-semitic unless the action is intended to promote hatred or hostility against Jews in general.”

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