Home Antisemitism Palestinian rights and the IHRA definition of antisemitism | Letter

Palestinian rights and the IHRA definition of antisemitism | Letter

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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