Palestinian rights and the IHRA definition of antisemitism

14 December 2020

This letter originally appeared on the Guardian website on 29 November 2020

We, the undersigned Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals are hereby stating our views regarding the definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and the way this definition has been applied, interpreted and deployed in several countries of Europe and North America.

In recent years, the fight against antisemitism has been increasingly instrumentalised by the Israeli government and its supporters in an effort to delegitimise the Palestinian cause and silence defenders of Palestinian rights. Diverting the necessary struggle against antisemitism to serve such an agenda threatens to debase this struggle and hence to discredit and weaken it.

Antisemitism must be debunked and combated. Regardless of pretence, no expression of hatred for Jews as Jews should be tolerated anywhere in the world. Antisemitism manifests itself in sweeping generalisations and stereotypes about Jews, regarding power and money in particular, along with conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial. We regard as legitimate and necessary the fight against such attitudes. We also believe that the lessons of the Holocaust as well as those of other genocides of modern times must be part of the education of new generations against all forms of racial prejudice and hatred.

The fight against antisemitism must, however, be approached in a principled manner, lest it defeat its purpose. Through “examples” that it provides, the IHRA definition conflates Judaism with Zionism in assuming that all Jews are Zionists, and that the state of Israel in its current reality embodies the self-determination of all Jews. We profoundly disagree with this. The fight against antisemitism should not be turned into a stratagem to delegitimise the fight against the oppression of the Palestinians, the denial of their rights and the continued occupation of their land. We regard the following principles as crucial in that regard:

  1. The fight against antisemitism must be deployed within the frame of international law and human rights. It should be part and parcel of the fight against all forms of racism and xenophobia, including Islamophobia, and anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian racism. The aim of this struggle is to guarantee freedom and emancipation for all oppressed groups. It is deeply distorted when geared towards the defence of an oppressive and predatory state.
  2. There is a huge difference between a condition where Jews are singled out, oppressed and suppressed as a minority by antisemitic regimes or groups, and a condition where the self-determination of a Jewish population in Palestine/Israel has been implemented in the form of an ethnic exclusivist and territorially expansionist state. As it currently exists, the state of Israel is based on uprooting the vast majority of the natives – what Palestinians and Arabs refer to as the Nakba – and on subjugating those natives who still live on the territory of historical Palestine as either second-class citizens or people under occupation, denying them their right to self-determination.
  3. The IHRA definition of antisemitism and the related legal measures adopted in several countries have been deployed mostly against leftwing and human rights groups supporting Palestinian rights and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, sidelining the very real threat to Jews coming from rightwing white nationalist movements in Europe and the US. The portrayal of the BDS campaign as antisemitic is a gross distortion of what is fundamentally a legitimate non-violent means of struggle for Palestinian rights.
  4. The IHRA definition’s statement that an example of antisemitism is “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” is quite odd. It does not bother to recognise that under international law, the current state of Israel has been an occupying power for over half a century, as recognised by the governments of countries where the IHRA definition is being upheld. It does not bother to consider whether this right includes the right to create a Jewish majority by way of ethnic cleansing and whether it should be balanced against the rights of the Palestinian people. Furthermore, the IHRA definition potentially discards as antisemitic all non-Zionist visions of the future of the Israeli state, such as the advocacy of a binational state or a secular democratic one that represents all its citizens equally. Genuine support for the principle of a people’s right to self-determination cannot exclude the Palestinian nation, nor any other.
  5. We believe that no right to self-determination should include the right to uproot another people and prevent them from returning to their land, or any other means of securing a demographic majority within the state. The demand by Palestinians for their right of return to the land from which they themselves, their parents and grandparents were expelled cannot be construed as antisemitic. The fact that such a demand creates anxieties among Israelis does not prove that it is unjust, nor that it is antisemitic. It is a right recognised by international law as represented in United Nations general assembly resolution 194 of 1948.
  6. To level the charge of antisemitism against anyone who regards the existing state of Israel as racist, notwithstanding the actual institutional and constitutional discrimination upon which it is based, amounts to granting Israel absolute impunity. Israel can thus deport its Palestinian citizens, or revoke their citizenship or deny them the right to vote, and still be immune from the accusation of racism. The IHRA definition and the way it has been deployed prohibit any discussion of the Israeli state as based on ethno-religious discrimination. It thus contravenes elementary justice and basic norms of human rights and international law.
  7. We believe that justice requires the full support of Palestinians’ right to self-determination, including the demand to end the internationally acknowledged occupation of their territories and the statelessness and deprivation of Palestinian refugees. The suppression of Palestinian rights in the IHRA definition betrays an attitude upholding Jewish privilege in Palestine instead of Jewish rights, and Jewish supremacy over Palestinians instead of Jewish safety. We believe that human values and rights are indivisible and that the fight against antisemitism should go hand in hand with the struggle on behalf of all oppressed peoples and groups for dignity, equality and emancipation.

Samir Abdallah
Filmmaker, Paris, France
Nadia Abu El-Haj
Ann Olin Whitney Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University, USA
Lila Abu-Lughod
Joseph L Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science, Columbia University, USA
Bashir Abu-Manneh
Reader in Postcolonial Literature, University of Kent, UK
Gilbert Achcar
Professor of Development Studies, SOAS, University of London, UK
Nadia Leila Aissaoui
Sociologist and Writer on feminist issues, Paris, France
Mamdouh Aker
Board of Trustees, Birzeit University, Palestine
Mohamed Alyahyai
Writer and novelist, Oman
Suad Amiry
Writer and Architect, Ramallah, Palestine
Sinan Antoon
Associate Professor, New York University, Iraq-US
Talal Asad
Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Graduate Center, CUNY, USA
Hanan Ashrawi
Former Professor of Comparative Literature, Birzeit University, Palestine
Aziz Al-Azmeh
University Professor Emeritus, Central European University, Vienna, Austria
Abdullah Baabood
Academic and Researcher in Gulf studies, Oman
Nadia Al-Bagdadi
Professor of History, Central European University, Vienna
Sam Bahour
Writer, Al-Bireh/Ramallah, Palestine
Zainab Bahrani
Edith Porada Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University, USA
Rana Barakat
Assistant Professor of History, Birzeit University, Palestine
Bashir Bashir
Associate Professor of Political Theory, Open University of Israel, Raanana, State of Israel
Taysir Batniji
Artist-Painter, Gaza, Palestine and Paris, France
Tahar Ben Jelloun
Writer, Paris, France
Mohammed Bennis
Poet, Mohammedia, Morocco
Mohammed Berrada
Writer and Literary Critic, Rabat, Morocco
Omar Berrada
Writer and Curator, New York, USA
Amahl Bishara
Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, Tufts University, USA
Anouar Brahem
Musician and Composer, Tunisia
Salem Brahimi
Filmaker, Algeria-France
Aboubakr Chraïbi
Professor, Arabic Studies Department, INALCO, Paris, France
Selma Dabbagh
Writer, London, UK
Izzat Darwazeh
Professor of Communications Engineering, University College London, UK
Marwan Darweish
Associate Professor, Coventry University, UK
Beshara Doumani
Mahmoud Darwish Professor of Palestinian Studies and of History, Brown University, USA
Haidar Eid
Associate Professor of English Literature, Al-Aqsa University, Gaza, Palestine
Ziad Elmarsafy
Professor of Comparative Literature, King’s College London, UK
Noura Erakat
Assistant Professor, Africana Studies and Criminal Justice, Rutgers University, USA
Samera Esmeir
Associate Professor of Rhetoric, University of California, Berkeley, USA
Khaled Fahmy
FBA, Professor of Modern Arabic Studies, University of Cambridge, UK
Ali Fakhrou
Academic and writer, Bahrain
Randa Farah
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Western University, Canada
Leila Farsakh
Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Boston, USA
Khaled Furani
Associate Professor of Sociology & Anthropology, Tel-Aviv University, State of Israel
Burhan Ghalioun
Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Sorbonne 3, Paris, France
Asad Ghanem
Professor of Political science, Haifa University, State of Israel
Honaida Ghanim
General Director of the Palestinian forum for Israeli Studies Madar, Ramallah, Palestine
George Giacaman
Professor of Philosophy and Cultural Studies, Birzeit University, Palestine
Rita Giacaman
Professor, Institute of Community and Public Health, Birzeit University, Palestine
Amel Grami
Professor of Gender Studies, Tunisian University, Tunis
Subhi Hadidi
Literary Critic, Syria-France
Ghassan Hage
Professor of Anthropology and Social theory, University of Melbourne, Australia
Samira Haj
Emeritus Professor of History, CSI/Graduate Center, CUNY, USA
Yassin Al-Haj Saleh
Writer, Syria
Dyala Hamzah
Associate Professor of Arab History, Université de Montréal, Canada
Rema Hammami
Associate Professor of Anthropology, Birzeit University, Palestine
Sari Hanafi
Professor of Sociology, American University of Beirut, Lebanon
Adam Hanieh
Reader in Development Studies, SOAS, University of London, UK
Kadhim Jihad Hassan
Writer and translator, Professor at INALCO-Sorbonne, Paris, France
Nadia Hijab
Author and human rights advocate, London, UK
Jamil Hilal
Writer, Ramallah, Palestine
Serene Hleihleh
Cultural Activist, Jordan-Palestine
Bensalim Himmich
Academic, novelist and writer, Morocco
Khaled Hroub
Professor in Residence of Middle Eastern Studies, Northwestern University, Qatar
Mahmoud Hussein
Writer, Paris, France
Lakhdar Ibrahimi
Paris School of International Affairs, Institut d’Etudes Politiques, France
Annemarie Jacir
Filmmaker, Palestine
Islah Jad
Associate Professor of Political Science, Birzeit University, Palestine
Lamia Joreige
Visual Artist and Filmaker, Beirut, Lebanon
Amal Al-Jubouri
Writer, Iraq
Mudar Kassis
Associate Professor of Philosophy, Birzeit University, Palestine
Nabeel Kassis
Former Professor of Physics and Former President, Birzeit University, Palestine
Muhammad Ali Khalidi
Presidential Professor of Philosophy, CUNY Graduate Center, USA
Rashid Khalidi
Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies, Columbia University, USA
Michel Khleifi
Filmmaker, Palestine-Belgium
Elias Khoury
Writer, Beirut, Lebanon
Nadim Khoury
Associate Professor of International Studies, Lillehammer University College, Norway
Rachid Koreichi
Artist-Painter, Paris, France
Adila Laïdi-Hanieh
Director General, The Palestinian Museum, Palestine
Rabah Loucini
Professor of History, Oran University, Algeria
Rabab El-Mahdi
Associate Professor of Political Science, The American University in Cairo, Egypt
Ziad Majed
Associate Professor of Middle East Studies and IR, American University of Paris, France
Jumana Manna
Artist, Berlin, Germany
Farouk Mardam Bey
Publisher, Paris, France
Mai Masri
Palestinian filmmaker, Lebanon
Mazen Masri
Senior Lecturer in Law, City University of London, UK
Dina Matar
Reader in Political Communication and Arab Media, SOAS, University of London, UK
Hisham Matar
Writer, Professor at Barnard College, Columbia University, USA
Khaled Mattawa
Poet, William Wilhartz Professor of English Literature, University of Michigan, USA
Karma Nabulsi
Professor of Politics and IR, University of Oxford, UK
Hassan Nafaa
Emeritus Professor of Political science, Cairo University, Egypt
Nadine Naber
Professor, Deptartment of Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago, USA
Issam Nassar
Professor, Illinois State University, USA
Sari Nusseibeh
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Al-Quds University, Palestine
Najwa Al-Qattan
Emeritus Professor of History, Loyola Marymount University, USA
Omar Al-Qattan
Filmmaker, Chair of The Palestinian Museum & the A.M.Qattan Foundation, UK
Nadim N Rouhana
Professor of International Affairs, The Fletcher School, Tufts University, USA
Ahmad Sa’adi
Professor, Haifa, State of Israel
Rasha Salti
Independent Curator, Writer, Researcher of Art and Film, Germany-Lebanon
Elias Sanbar
Writer, Paris, France
Farès Sassine
Professor of Philosophy and Literary Critic, Beirut, Lebanon
Sherene Seikaly
Associate Professor of History, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
Samah Selim
Associate Professor, A, ME & SA Languages & Literatures, Rutgers University, USA
Leila Shahid
Writer, Beirut, Lebanon
Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian
Lawrence D Biele Chair in Law, Hebrew University, State of Israel
Anton Shammas
Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
Yara Sharif
Senior Lecturer, Architecture and Cities, University of Westminster, UK
Hanan Al-Shaykh
Writer, London, UK
Raja Shehadeh
Lawyer and Writer, Ramallah, Palestine
Gilbert Sinoué
Writer, Paris, France
Ahdaf Soueif
Writer, Egypt/UK
Mayssoun Sukarieh
Senior Lecturer in Development Studies, King’s College London, UK
Elia Suleiman
Filmmaker, Palestine-France
Nimer Sultany
Reader in Public Law, SOAS, University of London, UK
Jad Tabet
Architect and Writer, Beirut, Lebanon
Jihan El-Tahri
Filmmaker, Egypt
Salim Tamari
Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Birzeit University, Palestine
Wassyla Tamzali
Writer, Contemporary Art Producer, Algeria
Fawwaz Traboulsi
Writer, Beirut Lebanon
Dominique Vidal
Historian and Journalist, Palestine-France
Haytham El-Wardany
Writer, Egypt-Germany
Said Zeedani
Emeritus Associate Professor of Philosophy, Al-Quds University, Palestine
Rafeef Ziadah
Lecturer in Comparative Politics of the Middle East, SOAS, University of London, UK
Raef Zreik
Minerva Humanities Centre, Tel-Aviv University, State of Israel
Elia Zureik
Professor Emeritus, Queen’s University, Canada

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