Federal Board decision on the re-adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association definition of antisemitism

On Tuesday, the Federal Board of the Liberal Democrats debated the re-adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association definition of antisemitism.  In 2016, Tim Farron MP, then Leader, stated in Parliament that the party had adopted this definition. He also noted the Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into Antisemitism in the UK. Since then the party has used the IHRA definition in complaints and discipline cases involving antisemitism.  

In coming to that decision, as you would expect, we had an informed debate, looking at the IHRA definition and its worked examples (which you can find here and other papers including the Home Affairs Select Committee 2016 Antisemitism Inquiry Report, as well as receiving papers from the Lib Dem Friends of Israel and the Lib Dem Friends of Palestine. 

The Board agreed that the Liberal Democrats reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation*. In so doing, we confirm our commitment to reject and fight antisemitism both inside and outside the party. We recognise and adopt the 2016 International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism in full, including its worked examples.

In this context we also confirmed that Liberal Democrats also believe that freedom of speech is a fundamental right and a key feature of any democratic society and we noted the contents of House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee’s 2016 report on Antisemitism in the UK in this regard which said: 

  • It is not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.
  • It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.”

In reconfirming this clear and robust stance, Liberal Democrats commit ourselves once more to the fight against antisemitism wherever it is perpetrated, as well as all other forms of discrimination.

*Extract  from the Liberal Democrat Preamble to the Federal Constitution.

* Baroness Sal Brinton is President of the Liberal Democrats. She is a working Lib Dem peer, and was the candidate for Watford at the 2010 and 2005 General Elections.

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  • Well said Paul !!!

  • Alisdair McGregor 8th Sep '18 - 8:41am

    Complaining about a 3 day delay on an LDV article appearing when the original decision to adopt this was made 2 years ago seems a little bit pointless.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 8th Sep '18 - 9:04am

    Hywel, i got the article at about 10:10 last night.

    Sal, you may have noticed, was pretty busy with a major party event yesterday, which has dominated this week.

    And that is on top of Parliament being back and all the other stuff she has to deal with being Party President.

    Can I suggest that you give her and I a bit of slack and maybe a tiny bit of recognition of the fact that we were both working at gone 10 on Friday night?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th Sep '18 - 1:40pm

    The IHRA definition says it is not antisemitic to criticise Isarel, in the same way as criticising other countries, the Commons Committee says the same but mentions liberal democracies. Being, correctly, in favour of these two, means this party sets a high standard on Israel, in effect a little more than IHRA, and respects Israel, as being, a liberal democracy, for the IHRA could be putting Israel in the same category as any country, meaning non democracies.

    Thus our party expects Israel to behave in a democratic way, because we know it as a democracy and want better for it , from it.

    IHRA is a very good definition, it should be seen as very compatible with the views of the committee in the House, and thus here shown, with our values also.

    The key is to listen to the Jewish community as well as our conscience, they should be one.

  • I guess the federal board didn’t have much choice in the circumstances and I have only minor quibbles with the IHRA definition. But the Lib Dem constitution also says that we seek to “BALANCE the fundamental values of LIBERTY, equality and community…”

    Freedom of speech is essential to a free society and is particularly important to minorities and groups like women (who are not a minority!). It is not a nice little add on extra luxury for people. Just a few years ago expressions of LGBT sexuality, gay kisses on TV, even the “acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” (in the words of Section 28) were considered beyond the pale. Even if Section 28 only applied to state schools, Wikipedia reports the wider chilling effect of this censorship had: “The law’s existence caused many groups to close or limit their activities or self-censor. For example, a number of lesbian, gay and bisexual student support groups in schools and colleges across Britain were closed owing to fears by council legal staff that they could breach the act.”

    A little further back to question the established rulings of the Christian church that did not treat women and LGBT people well was to condemn oneself to eternal hell fires. Powerful governments and powerful religions need criticism and scrutiny to prevent greater harm and sometimes this is vicious, sometimes satirical and may be over the top. May be luckily I am not much interested in the Middle East but it is difficult to see why someone should not be able to say “Zionists are” or “Zionism is”. Of course a counter should be allowed that that what someone is saying is racist, homophobic or heterosexualist. The difficulty is when you start “punishing” people for it.

    I appreciate the concern that people use “Zionists” as code for Jews. I also find it worrying if minorities or groups feel unsafe harassed or worse because of free speech and what someone says about their religion or Government. Of course as a society we put limits on free speech. But the key is not to restrict the free speech except in exceptional circumstances but ensure that discrimination, individual harassment in the street and elsewhere and of course violence is very actively pursued.

  • Paul – you can’t find a press release because there wasn’t one. The outcome was clearly leaked by an FB member who was trying to put their own spin on the motion passed. Just as Mark Pack seems to have done in his blog. Bit naughty really.

  • Jonathan Davies 8th Sep '18 - 10:16pm

    The Macpherson report* said the definition of a racist incident should be:
    “A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”.

    If we define racist incidents involving some communities using that definition, and racist incidents regarding another using a different definition, asking questions about the intent of the perpetrator, isn’t that discriminatory?

    [* https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/277111/4262.pdf%5D

  • Helen Dudden 9th Sep '18 - 7:23am

    Hello Paul, I hope you are well.
    A further explanation is given in your web site, could it not have been in the media?
    Having read about certain guests to the Commons, by a certain person, I have felt it belittles our status in the world. Most certainly, I and many others are checked when we go there.
    I also feel, after the many acts of terrorism, there has to be caution in criticism.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th Sep '18 - 1:25pm

    I despair at some aspects of the comments and nitpick attitude. IHRA is not a legal document but a practical statement. It does not prevent free speech it suggests offensive speech, thus explains sensitive reactions.

    Jewish graves are getting desecrated and some worry about their free expression????!!!!

  • Hywel ap Dafydd 9th Sep '18 - 11:00pm

    Thank you Caron and Paul for the explanation.

    I am angry that the Federal Board has adopted a definition of anti-semitism that even it’s original drafter US attorney has said it ‘had originally been designed as a ”working definition” for the purpose of trying to standardise data collection about the incidence of antisemitic hate crime in different countries. It had never been intended that it be used as legal or regulatory device to curb academic or political free speech’ in written evidence to the Congress of the USA.

    In the same document Stern said that it was never intended to be a legal or regulatory device and condemned the use of the definition to silence free speech and noted how it had been used to silence the voices of British academics and students.

    I wonder if the Federal Board were aware of this information in its meeting on Tuesday. Did it research the pedigree of the definition or consider examples of how it has been used.

    From my perspective the adoption is yet another example of the old, ‘something must be done, this is something therefore we must do it’ trope.

    I am first and foremost a Universal Rights campaigner who believes in the sanctity and welfare of life.

    I do not believe in a hiarachy of discrimination. Yet the Federal Board has taken the first step towards creating one.

    I have spent the last week distraught at the prospect that the organisation that I have been a member of for more than half my life has adopted a document that for my campaigning for the rights and welfare of a dispossessed and oppressed people could define me as anti-Semitic.

    I am left asking myself how much more is this party going to abuse my integrity.

  • Hywel ap Dafydd 10th Sep '18 - 1:28am
  • Denis Mollison 10th Sep '18 - 9:09am

    I agree with Hywel. The so-called `IHRA definition’

    1 – was not meant to be used to define anti-semitism, only as a guide for data-gathering
    [just as the `Macpherson’ definition of `a racist incident’ is not meant to identify culpable racist incidents, only incidents that need investigating]

    2 – It was originally produced in around 2004 for the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), now the European
 Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), but never adopted by either body; EUMC’s director described it as ‘should be viewed as “work in progress” … with a view to redrafting’.

    3 – may not have been discussed in full by the IHRA: it has been reported that they only discussed the definition, not the controversial examples; though these appear in its press release, it is only the (waffly but harmless) definition that is in highlighted as `adopted’

    4 – has been taken to pieces in analyses by various eminent legal experts, including Hugh Tomlinson, David Feldman and Stephen Sedley

    5 – has been used in the UK to suppress pro-Palestinian activities at universities

    That it has got so far is a tribute to those who are determined to confuse opposition to the Israeli government’s policies with anti-semitism.

    That confusion is actively pursued at the highest level, as when Netanyahu addressed the US Congress earlier this year: “I speak on behalf of the Jewish people and the Jewish state when I say to you, representatives of America, thank you.”

    We would do far better to stick to the non-contentious simple definition – anti-Semitism is discrimination against Jews for being Jews.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Sep '18 - 2:08pm

    Friends here need to do better than quotes from JVFL, a fringe group of very active Corbyn supporters of longstanding allegiace to very staunch detestation of Israel and support for BDS and the sort of group whose stance is as far from objective as possible, formed to back Corbyn.

    Why anybody worries about a document with no legal basis yet does have a practical use, is beyond me.

    Stern has not rubbished hs own definition. He made it clear he intended it to be created for very practical and data purposes and it is not as appropriate on University campus debates. This is because, as anybody on the centre left to centre right know who are in any way knowledgable on US political scenario, the far left and right wing obsessives there dominate and trample on discourse.

    We have no problems of this sort to the same degree. But we do have a problem with growing viscous abuse in person and online, towards Jewish people in our country.

    It is inappropriate to talk of exceptionalism, this is not that. Racism towards people because of their colour is different and similar but not the same. Nobody talks of religion, position, money, banking, noses, Israel, when being hideous to BAME victims. This does not lessen it, it analysises it and leads to the view that politics is fluid, it adapts to needs. If not it is pointless.

    I suggest colleagues put this in the context of things they may not realise, like the extent of abuse online, the desecration of graves in person, the name calling, the insideousness.

    Some posts above are over the top, your freedom to express detestation of the policies of one government, are not at issue, what is, at issue, is the protection and sensibility of our fellow citizens and residents of these islands, who, unlike any other group, have been expelled from them once.

  • David Evans 10th Sep '18 - 4:32pm


    You say “Jewish graves are getting desecrated and some worry about their free expression????!!!!”

    I say liberals should worry about both.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Sep '18 - 6:39pm


    Yes, however, my several points here and online in articles is the IHRA attempts to avoid a culture that leads to the desecration of graves, but does not attempt to stifle free speech, just antisemitic insults.

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