Prof. Sacha Stern, who is Jewish, explained that his and others’ public opposition to the adoption of the international definition is that it “will stifle the expression of such legitimate political views.” He also claims that the Community Security Trust (CST) and the Board of Deputies “have adopted, very sensibly, a politically neutral definition of antisemitism that makes no reference to Zionism or Israel.
Prof. Stern is wrong on both points. First, the international definition does not stifle free speech, only hate speech. In July 2017, Campaign Against Antisemitism published the opinion of expert counsel, David Wolfson QC and Jeremy Brier, on the adoption of the International Definition of Antisemitism. The opinion states that: “Public bodies in the United Kingdom [such as universities] are not ‘at risk’ in using this Definition. Indeed, this Definition should be used by public bodies on the basis that it will ensure that the identification of antisemitism is clear, fair and accurate. Criticism of Israel, even in robust terms, cannot be regarded as antisemitic per se and such criticism is not captured by the Definition. However, criticisms of Israel in terms which are channels of expression for hatred towards Jewish people (such as by particular invocations of the Holocaust or Nazism) will in all likelihood be antisemitic.” The definition itself states that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
Second, the CST does in fact use the international definition in its reportage and the Board of Deputies has expressly called for the wide adoption of the international definition in its recent election manifesto.
It is absurd for Prof. Stern to claim that the international definition poses a risk to anyone but those intending to express antisemitic views and contribute to the toxic atmosphere for Jewish students that now prevails on many campuses, as Prof. Stern himself concedes. It is particularly reprehensible that Prof. Stern would use his Chanukah message to attack the adoption of a tool on which so many Jewish students and professionals rely in combating the resurgence of the world’s oldest hatred. Prof. Stern should apologise.
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