On Friday, 84 prominent British organisations from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities published a letter criticising attempts to silence the discourse on Palestine and suppress information on human rights abuses both in UK and Palestine.
The letter focuses on the definition of anti-Semitism adopted in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which critics say conflates anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of Israel.
According to IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, “questioning the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor”. Also, “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” is racist.
The BAME’s letter comes amid signals that the Labour Party is prepared to adopt the full IHRA definition, including examples relating to Israel. “We are deeply worried about current attempts to silence a public discussion of what happened in Palestine and to the Palestinians in 1948 when the majority of its people were forcibly expelled,” the letter says.
In 1948, More than 600,000 Palestinians were forced from their land in the events leading to the establishment of the state of Israel. Today, after more than a half-century of occupation, surviving refugees and their descendants still live in camps in neighbouring Arab countries, Gaza and the West Bank.
The letter says: “These facts are well established and accessible, are part of the British historical record, as well as the direct experience of the Palestinian people themselves. The Palestinian community in the UK has raised the disturbing absence of key information about these past and current injustices, and highlighted the racism it exposes then and now.”
According to BAME’s statement, public discussions of these historical facts would be muzzled under IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism. “This silencing has already begun. Today we can freely describe the racist policies experienced in the era of British and European colonialism in our countries of origin (indeed it is taught in British schools), but the colonial history of the Palestinians is continually erased,” the letter continues, “This is a dangerous breach of our own rights, and of the wider British public: we must all hear the full story of the Palestinians in order to make sense of the current discussions about racism and Israel.”
The UK’s Tory government adopted IHRA’s definition in 2016.