The IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

9th October 2020

The Impress Standards on accuracy, as set out in clause 1 of the Standards Code, state that “publishers must take all reasonable steps to ensure accuracy” and that while publications may be “partisan”, “publishers must not misrepresent or distort the facts”. 

The Standards Guidance provides that “publishers must take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to verify the truth of the information presented”.  Furthermore, “It is also important to note that a story may mislead through the omission of a crucial fact”.

The IHRA Definition

5 Pillars appears to have violated this guidance in reporting on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.  The working definition has been adopted by several governments worldwide, including the British government.  

The IHRA definition is carefully qualified.  Before setting out potential examples of antisemitism, it states (emphasis added):

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

This is a crucial factor in a controversial field.  Statements which many may find highly offensive may not be caught by the definition. It is also possible that a statement falling within these examples would not be caught by the definition, as a result of taking into account the overall context

5 Pillars has omitted this important qualification in its reporting in a number of cases. The result is a material misrepresentation of the definition and its effect. 

The IHRA working definition contains the following illustrative examples which refer to discourse about Israel:

  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

5 Pillars articles

An article by Jahangir Mohammed, of the Centre for Muslim Affairs published on 20 January 2020 states that the IHRC definition will permit only the “weakest form of Palestinian activism”:

“All candidates for leader have signed up to 10 new pledges on “anti-Semitism,” while the party has already adopted the non-legal IHRA definition of anti-Semitism promoted by the Israel lobby. This effectively means that all but the weakest form of Palestinian activism will be banned inside Labour.”

The author also falsely claims that mere “sympathy” for Palestine and criticism of Israel will be targeted:

“It was predicted by many that the IHRA definition would be used against members who expressed sympathy for Palestine or criticised Israel. This came to pass.”

An article published on 17 August 2019 makes the following unqualified and therefore false claim (emphasis added):

“The controversial IHRA definition warns “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” constitutes antisemitism.”

An article published on 10 July 2018 presents further unqualified and accordingly false statements about the IHRA definition (emphases added):

The latest example of this is the ire directed at the Labour leadership for not adopting the definition of anti-semitism defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

Among other criteria this definition states:

“Claiming Israel’s existence as a state is a racist endeavor’ is anti-Semitic.”

Well, put simply, it isn’t. And if we accept that it is we’ll set a dangerous precedent which will ultimately damage free speech, as well as limiting the ability for others to speak up for the Palestinians.

The IHRA view of anti-semitism, which is advocated by pro-Israel organisations, doesn’t make sense. It’s akin to saying that to criticise the actions of the racist, Apartheid state in South Africa, and to call that state a “racist endeavour” would in itself be racist. This is a basic logical fallacy, and an insult to one’s intelligence.

And yet this is precisely the rule which applies to criticism of Israel, according to the IHRA. This utter hypocrisy can only be viewed as Orwellian doublespeak. No wonder many view the IHRA’s definition of anti-semitism, and the vigour from many in the political class to promote it, as a dangerous step towards self-censorship and the clamping down of free speech.

See further: 5 Pillars and Impress Standards.


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