Following pressure, many local councils have already adopted the IHRA definition. Some have adopted the definition with its illustrative examples, some just the 39-word definition. Several of those who have adopted the definition and its examples have also adopted caveats suggested by the Home Affairs Select Committee to protect freedom of speech.
Adoption of the definition has led to the suppression of advocacy for Palestinian rights.
The Big Ride for Palestine
Tower Hamlets Council in London rejected an application from The Big Ride for Palestine to hold a welcome event in a council-run park because of concerns that the event was too “controversial” and conflicted with the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
The Big Ride for Palestine is an annual cycle ride that raises money for children suffering the effects of living under military occupation in Gaza. In March, organisers applied to Tower Hamlets Council to hold an event in a council-run park to welcome the riders.
To the organisers’ surprise, the Council rejected their application after a month-long delay, citing concerns that the event provided too many difficulties around risk assessment. However, a Freedom of Information request submitted to the Council by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), who support The Big Ride, revealed that discussions around antisemitism – specifically the IHRA definition – were at the heart of the decision.
The Chilling Effect
This example demonstrates the chilling effect that adoption and codification of the definition has helped create. By conflating hostility to or prejudice against Jews on the one hand, with legitimate critiques of Israel’s policies and system of injustice on the other, the IHRA definition has contributed to an atmosphere in which advocates for Palestinian rights face undue investigation, hostility, and repression.
As Geoffrey Roberston QC argues “a particular problem with the IHRA definition is 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 Israel and correspondingly arouse fears in NGO’s and student bodies that they will have events banned, or else will have to incur considerable expense to protect them by taking legal action. Either way, they may not organise such events.”
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