When the caveats within the definition of the IHRA are misused

I wanted to share my experience of submitting a motion defining the definitions of Antisemitism (IHRA) and Islamophobia (APPG). But I decided to not add the caveats (mentioned in this Liberal Democrat Voice article by John Kelly).

You can read my speeches and the motion here.

Firstly, the IHRA definition is clear that it is not anti-Semitic to criticise Israel and lastly, I did not want to single out the Jewish community over geopolitics that they have no link with, no control over, and are not responsible for. As we did adopt the APPG definition of Islamophobia without clarification over geopolitics at the same time, I did not find it fair to condition our support to our Jewish community – here – on foreign policy statements on issues happening 3000 miles away from Britain. I did not want to apply a double standard.

This motion was about protecting people in my constituency where we can by educating as to what racism is, as opposed to what we thought racism was.

I thought it would be easy and straightforward between like-minded councillors, and I was ready to face the opposition with challenging questions.

Well, it was not. I faced strong anti-Israel lobbying from all sides, including ours, and including anti-Semitic tropes that I did not take very well. Because of those two caveats, I stood my ground, saying that definitions of racism are continuously misused anyway and we should not be second-guessing if, or how, people may or may not put those definitions to malicious use. We should not tell victims of racism what racism should look like according to our views. Communities told us what racism is, and it is our duty to listen to them without judgment.

This is where I felt uncomfortable. It was an anti-Israel lobby more than a pro-Palestinian one. It is known that Hamas is committing war crimes against the Palestinians, the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad has committed various violations against Palestinian refugees detained in its prisons, including “torture, electrocution and rape”, and lastly the security and army forces in Egypt have begun to establish a concrete wall on the border with the Gaza Strip. But no clarifications were asked about the definition of Islamophobia such as “it is not islamophobic to criticise the Hamas, the Syrian or Egyptian regimes”. Why?

Those caveats were added to respond to the far right misusing the definition to shut down pro-Palestinians voices, not to justify an anti-Israel agenda supported with anti-Semitic tropes.

This article by Azeem Ibrahim describes my views brilliantly:

When real solutions are left out because of hatred of Israel, Palestinians lose.

The far-left only cares about the suffering of the Palestinians when Israel is to blame. They do not offer a critique of specific Israeli policies or seek a means to engage with Israel to mitigate harm in the short term — all the while insisting that they support the Palestinians above all else.

Once Palestinians are oppressed by an actor other than Israel, the anti-imperialist left is no longer interested. So, when evidence emerged that Assad’s regime was imprisoning, torturing, and killing Palestinians who supported the opposition, the supposedly pro-Palestinian left was silent. Their supposed love for Palestinians is, in fact, cover for a bitterly anti-Semitic worldview.

* Please note that all comments on this piece will be moderated given the nature of the subject material.

* Alexandrine Kantor is the Liberal Democrat councillor for Wheatley on South Oxfordshire District Council.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I have explained on my website page https://www.mohammedamin.com/Community_issues/Antisemitism-IHRA-definition-support.html why I support the IHRA definition. My page also says that I think the Home Office Select Committee’s caveats are not strictly necessary, although I regard them as harmless.

    However I do not support the APPG’s Islamophobia definition, for the reasons explained at https://www.mohammedamin.com/Community_issues/Abandon-the-word-Islamophobia.html#APPG

  • Miranda Pinch 24th Feb '20 - 3:49pm

    Alexandrine. I need to make clear that I am not only Jewish, but the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who was horrified at what was being done ‘in her name’ to the Palestinians. I need to also be clear that does not mean that I want to wipe out Israel or hate all Israelis as I have many friends among them with whom I have worked for human rights, equality and international law to apply to all in that region.
    I would be very interested to hear details of the anti-Semitic tropes you describe so that they can be judged as objectively as possible.
    You accuse Hamas of war-crimes and I am certain that they are indeed guilty as charged, but have you asked yourself why? You do realise that Hamas was a product of Israeli policies and not the cause? That Israel helped to create Hamas which was democratically elected? Did you realise that 70% of the 2 million in Gaza are refugees from Israel and 50% are children? Hamas has never been allowed to govern Gaza in any other circumstance. When governments interfere with the politics of others to create what they want, then the result often leads to something worse. If Assad is to blame for attacks on the civilians of Idlib because , even where there are militants among them, the lives of civilians are sacrosanct under international law, then that applies equally to Gaza, where Israel kills and maims with impunity. When the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria were under attack we were as vocal about that.
    All definitions of racism should be about hatred of someone for being whatever they are – Jew, Muslim, Christian or any other religion or ethnicity. I can’t stand our own government here, nor the Saudi, Myanmar, India governments right now along with Israel and the US. All have committed human rights violations and all break international law. But even if what you say is right and Israel is condemned, while the others are not, (not true by the way) does that make the behaviour towards a largely civilian population under occupation , under siege and under oppression acceptable?
    You entirely ignore and forget that there is far more anti-Semitism and racism of all kinds on the Right than on the Left. Continually attacking both the real and interpreted anti-Semitism on the Left allows the Right in and actually increases all racism as we can see in the UK.

  • Jonathan Coulter 24th Feb '20 - 6:07pm

    Alexandrine, I had a similar question to Miranda. Exactly what “anti-Semitic tropes” did you receive and from who? Last June, I experienced horrible abuse from Lib Dems who were advocating for Israel, and have a verbatim record to prove it. How about you?

    You quote Mr Azeem as saying “the far-left only cares about the suffering of the Palestinians”, but is this relevant to a LDV debate among Lib Dems, who are not “far-left”? Palestine has never been an exclusively left-wing cause. It was a Tory, Sir Alan Duncan, who made the boldest statement in his Royal United Services Institute speech of October 2014, condemning the settlements and those British politicians who support them, and complaining that “those who have made a moral stand against Israeli misconduct and in favour of justice for Palestinians have been trashed, traduced and bullied”. Israel did not forget Duncan speech and an Israeli official sought to destroy his career, as revealed in the Al Jazeera documentary “the Lobby” of January 2017

  • Rodney Watts 24th Feb '20 - 7:47pm

    @Alexandrine. Like Miranda I am a Jewish LibDem and her comment and question mostly states my own position. (Thank you Miranda for saving me time!) Jonathan has also made very pertinant points. I really am most interested in your answer to their question, because I guess this will tell us exactly how you distinguished between anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian lobbies.
    @Mohammed Amin. Thank you for your links, and I completely understand your position on the Islamaphobia definition, pointing out that Muslims are not a race. This also applies to Jews! It is a fact that racism is seen in Israel, where we see Ashkenazi discriminating against Sephardi and then Mizrahi. Also, just to widen things away from race, there are Christian Jews, sometimes referred to as Messianic Jews or ‘smolani’, a derogatory word used by the right wing in Israel meaning ‘lefty’. Of course there are Christian Palestinians too.

  • Rodney Watts 24th Feb '20 - 8:17pm

    Sorry Alexandrine, meant to add that I am sure we all agree that the fight against racism or discrimination of any kind should be unconditional. With regard to ‘issues happening 3000 miles away’ and affecting anti-semitism here, I agree. Sadly it doesn’t help that Israel has enacted the Nation State Bill –“Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish people”. In other words apartheid consolidated.

  • David McDowall 24th Feb '20 - 8:47pm

    I share Alexandrine’s disgust at the conduct of Arab governments towards their Palestinian communities. They have little to be proud of. But why are these communities in Arab countries? They were either expelled or fled during the 1948 war. When the guns fell silent, the new state of Israel refused to allow them to return to their homes, as was their humanitarian right. Israel’s refusal was based on its wish to subvert the intention of the UN Partition plan which envisaged a Jewish state within borders which would include a large Arab minority, to one with a minimum of Arabs. It is this determination to minimise the Palestinian presence which governs Israel’ s policy to this day. It explains why Gaza is so overcrowded (almost three quarters are refugee from what is now Israel); it explains the systemic discrimination within Israel to ensure its Palestinian citizens remain in a state of dependency; and it explains why Palestinians in the OPT are confined to apartheid-style homelands. Until Israel decides that all who inhabit the lands it controls should enjoy equal political, economic and social rights, as adumbrated in international law and norms, it is inevitable that popular support for Palestinians shall be cast in terms highly critical of the State of Israel.

  • Leon Duveen 25th Feb '20 - 8:51am

    I would like to congratulate Alexandrine for both this excellent article and for the Motion she had passed by her Council.
    Like Miranda, I am Jewish and the child of someone who escaped the Holocaust. In my case, because my Grandfather had the foresight in 1935 to emigrate with his family from Amsterdam to found a new settlement in Palestine (now Israel), just a few miles south-east of Netanya.
    I too am profoundly disturbed by some of the actions of Israeli Governments, both past & present towards Occupied Palestine and those living under the Occupation. It was a visit I made to a Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip in 1975 that convinced me that Israel has no future holding on to these territories. The Occupation is not only bad for Palestinians, it is a cancer at the heart of Israeli society.
    That said, being opposed to the actions of the Israeli Governments should not be considered antisemitic and there is nothing in the IHRA Definition (with or without caveats) that could be interpreted as meaning that. If it did then many Israelis along with Zionist & other Jews around the world (including me) would be guilty of being antisemitic.
    Those who insist on trying to weaken the IHRA Definition by adding pointless caveats or trying to make out that it blocks justifiably criticism of Israeli Authorities should stop and think about what they are saying.

  • Miranda Pinch 25th Feb '20 - 12:57pm

    One issue with anti-Semitism is Israel and supporters of Israel who eagerly equate Judaism with Israel. It makes it very difficult to separate Israel’s human rights violations from what sounds like an attack on Judaism, but it also demeans Judaism which is much better than Israel’s portrayal. Zionism, Judaism and the State of Israel are frequently cited as the 3 sides of the same coin. When it is argued that being anti-Zionism is being anti-Semitic many forget that there are actually far more Christian Zionists than there are Jewish Zionists!
    I suggest that the HAC caveats make clear that it is not just perception of anti-Semitism that counts, but their intention. People can be careless in stating their views. Yes, there are some who are anti Jewish who need condemnation, but some questions are legitimate such as sources of funding from a foreign power. There are also Israeli Jews, including Holocaust survivors who do equate some of Israel’s behaviour to things they have suffered themselves. As you say there are many different opinions and we need to be able to discuss them respectfully and openly.
    As for Muslim countries, one thing that is often forgotten is that they do not claim to be democratic. Israel asks to be judged against modern European democracies. It needs to be measured on those terms.
    Finally many Muslims are indeed affected by what happens in other countries. It is a large part of what feeds Islamophobia, here and in many other places. Look at the treatment of Muslims in Myanmar, China and India for starters and then consider the way they are perceived here in the UK and some of the language used by our own Prime Minister. Islamophobia is very much on the rise, probably statistically, more so than anti-Semitism.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th Feb '20 - 4:16pm

    Is this article really, here, on here it is so welcome I can barely contain my delight!

    As someone more cross party than most and certainly more than ever, had begun to wonder if this party was for me anymore, so “woke” on the typical leftward causes, not on the injustices the left ignore, and not able to understand or accept any kind of Brexit.

    Here we have from Alexandrine, everything I agree with.

    It was lonely on the comments of John Kelly, everybody who had the views I have seemed to vanish.

    Great to read Leon again, please see my comments on the other thread re your good self.

    And great to read Mohammed, your comments on this having been very welcome on the LBC chats with Maajid Nawaz, please see my article any colleagues might like to read, ” Always Remember,” on Ustinov Prejudice Awareness Forum


  • Toby Keynes 25th Feb '20 - 4:18pm

    Alexandrine, Leon,
    A large part of the difficulty with the IHRA definition is that it inserts itself squarely on one side of a bitter and divisive ethnic nationalist debate, at the same time that it seeks to close down that debate, by including the following as an example of antisemitism:
    “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
    The application of the principle of self-determination for one group (whether ethnic, religious or cultural) at the expense of all other groups that might be directly affected is hugely problematical.
    That is precisely what happens when a country – any country – occupied by more than one ethnic, religious or cultural group is declared the homeland of one of those groups, to the exclusion of all others.
    In the case of Israel, it has led directly to the treatment of many of those occupants and their close descendents as second-class citizens, or indeed as non-citizens with no right to return to live in the place from which their families were driven out around the time of the creation of that state (or indeed since then).
    This was implicit in the original concept of a Jewish homeland, and was made explicit in the Basic Law (effectively part of the Israeli constitution) adopted in July 2018 by the Israeli Knesset, that states: “the State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People, in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination; and that exercising the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.”
    If any other nation were to define itself in these terms, most of us would have no hesitation in describing it as racist and we would not face abuse or sanction for doing so.
    The IHRA definition does include the qualification that “However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
    However, the inclusion of that example is hugely partisan in favour of the state of Israel: it’s about defending a political entity from fair comment, rather than about defending Jewish people from prejudice and abuse.
    And, even with the qualification, the result is that any such assertion is labelled an “antisemitic trope”, regardless of the context, and is more often than not censored or self-censored.

  • Miranda Pinch 26th Feb '20 - 7:00pm

    Alexandrine. You say: ‘As the Palestinian state did not exist prior 1948, I personally don’t think one claim of the land is more valid than the other, and I think saying that Israel’s establishment from 1948 is on stolen land is incorrect and unhelpful.’ May I point out that it was the State of Israel that did not exist until 1948. The huge majority of inhabitants were Palestinians who owned houses, businesses and land which were taken from them by the invading forces. How are the two ‘sides’ equal, when one forcefully displaces the other?
    Yes, Britain has much to answer for. We promised to ensure that the non-Jewish indigenous people would not suffer as a consequence of giving over half of Palestinian land to others and we betrayed them. Instead their land and resources have continued to be taken from them through ongoing violence and suppression . What is it that the Palestinians pretend? They know that Britain deserves much of the blame.
    I have written about Hamas several time and pointed out that they were a product of Israeli policies and not the cause and that they were democratically elected. Israel wanted to destabilise Palestinian politics and they ended up with a result they did not like. The old Hamas Charter did speak of the destruction of Israel, though that has since been revised, but the rhetoric from Hamas is certainly no worse than the rhetoric coming from members the Israeli government calling for the obliteration of the Palestinians . Yes Hamas does commit human rights abuses, but when there are 2 million people in an area smaller than the Isle of Wight 50% of whom are children, is not the greater abuse the deprivation, imprisonment, maiming and killing of those children by Israel who collectively punishes them daily?

  • Andrew Daer 27th Feb '20 - 9:51am

    I think it’s true to say that Alexandrine’s original intention was to flag up the way British Jews living “3,000 miles away” from Palestine feel threatened by people who oppose adoption of the IHRA definitions. I hope I can reassure her that those of us who believe in the Palestinian cause don’t wish to see Jews in Britain denigrated or held accountable for things happening in a such a distant place.
    Unfortunately, the IHRA document specifically states that certain kinds of criticism of Israel are anti-Semitic. We are therefore obliged to insist on caveats which restore the right to criticise, or to put it slightly differently, which prevent (some) people using the IHRA code to shut down criticism of Israel.
    In doing that we are not trying to make anti-Semitism in this country easier to get away with ! If the IHRA document were worded better, and many distinguished lawyers and others have said it’s worded very badly, I’m sure we would we would support it wholeheartedly.
    Regarding the wider issues covered in some of the comments, they sometimes arouse strong feelings; I think it’s a bit unfair to describe powerful rebuttals as “offensive” if they contribute positively to a lively debate.

  • Toby Keynes 27th Feb '20 - 8:03pm

    Alexandrine, you state that my and Miranda’s comments “highlight many things that I’m uncomfortable with.”
    I’m not sure whether this and any of your following remarks are intended as a response to any of my comments.
    You do write of the “right to existence of a de facto state”, which leads me to wonder whether you believes either Miranda or I are calling for its destruction. I certainly am not, and I never have done. Neither, as far as I’m aware, does Miranda.
    Whatever the history of Israel’s creation, it was internationally recognised in the early years. Of course, Israel’s long-standing occupation (and threatened annexation) of conquered territory, in defiance of internal law, is another matter entirely. Illegally establishing “facts on the ground” does not make them legal.
    You also suggest that the Far Left isn’t interested in “many other parts of the world [that] face similar issues such as Kashmir, Kurdistan, Chechnya”.
    That may be true.
    But you’re debating this issue with Liberal Democrats, not the far left.
    For myself, I can assure you that I care very much about these other cases – as I care about Northern Cyprus and the Ukraine.
    I write about the IHRA definition specifically, because it is used to try to close down or limit legitimate debate about one of these cases in particular: Israel Palestine.
    There is no equivalent effort, endorsed by leading British parties and politicians, to vilify and sanction defenders of the rights and freedoms of the people of Kashmir, Kurdistan, Chechnya….or Northern Cyprus and the Ukraine.

  • Toby Keynes 28th Feb '20 - 8:22am


    “We need to be able to talk about Antisemitism without talking about Israel, giving our opinions about the conflict or about its history.”

    Absolutely right.

    The dictionary definition, which the IHRA definition effectively seeks to override, is clear, concise and – yes – definitive, and it does not talk about Israel.

    The IHRA definition is woolly and unclear, and it DOES talk repeatedly about Israel.
    And of course, and this is fundamental, we also need to be able to talk about Israel, giving our opinions about the conflict or about its history, without being accused of antisemitism.

    “The definition says it is not anti-Semitic to criticise Israel. If some decides to interpret it differently, they are the issue.”

    But if the definition lends itself to misinterpretation – or, rather, to very different understandings – then the definition is the issue.

    Why would various bodies feel that they need to qualify the IHRA definition if it served its purpose adequately? Because it is so open to abuse.

    Finally, I absolutely agree that “the fight against racism should be unconditional and not related to geopolitics. And we should challenge anyone pretending otherwise.”

    That is why we should challenge anyone who pretends that we cannot challenge racism in the Israeli government, in its funding principles and in its basic laws with the same freedom with which we could challenge racism by any other state – and we should also challenge any definition that allows them to do so.

  • Miranda Pinch 28th Feb '20 - 9:36am

    Alexandrine. There is nothing wrong with the IHRA definition which simply states: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” the issue is with the examples that come with it. The examples are not just taken as part of the defintion, which they are not, but they are vague and can be interpreted in different ways. It is the examples that are used to close down free speech and criticism of israel. That is why the caveats are needed.
    As said, it is those who support Israel who frequently muddy the waters by conflating the existence of israel with Judaism and Zionism. As there are more Christian Zionists than jewish ones, that is problematic and there are many Jews in both the Diaspora and within Israel who are horrified at the actions of the israeli government. Any ambiguity in the examples is a problem when they are taken as a part of the defintion.

  • Toby Keynes 28th Feb '20 - 3:15pm

    I take Miranda’s point.
    I have been referring to “the definition”, when I actually mean “the examples”.
    The problem, of course, is that the examples are inevitably treated by many as definitive instances that are always inherently antisemitic, rather than as instances some of which might or might not be antisemitic depending on context and intention.

  • Meral Hussein-Ece 28th Feb '20 - 6:28pm

    @Alexandrine- You stayed- “As the Palestinian state did not exist prior 1948, I personally don’t think one claim of the land is more valid than the other…”
    What an extraordinarily statement. Palestine existed as The Palestinian Territories for many hundreds of years. In between 1417-1917 it was part of the Ottoman Empire, where it’s people of all faiths coexisted in relative peace, & equality. Today over 135 nations recognise the Palestinian State, and it is also Liberal Democrat policy. Let’s keep to facts & historical accuracy.

  • Andrew Daer 4th Mar '20 - 6:27am

    Alexandrine, you have made some surprisingly contradictory statements. First, it is clear you strongly object to British Jews being held accountable for things happening in Israel, and wish people would stop conflating the two. Fair enough. So why are you so keen on the IHRA definition and examples, which include the word ‘Israel’ nine times? How does that keep a place that’s 3,000 miles away by your reckoning, and nothing to do with Jews in this country, out of the discussion of anti-Semitism? Most existing definitions simply speak of negative attitudes and behaviour towards Jewish people.
    Second, you object very strongly to the caveats, which some would like to see added to the IHRA document to enable criticism of Israel to take place provided it isn’t anti-Semitic. Your reason, you say, is that those safeguards are already in the IHRA definition, the document you are actively promoting in its original form. If the caveats are simply re-stating what is already adequately covered, why do you object so strongly to seeing them again?

  • Rodney Watts 5th Mar '20 - 6:18pm

    @Andrew Daer. Just happened to view this thread again after submission of FOI requests to a number of Police Forces for more detailed and up-to-date data, similar to that quoted by Alexandrine in support of her motion at SODC. You have made valid points in both comments and I note your kind reassurance to any who are Jewish.
    Miranda has made more than a few valid points and what saddens me is not the the alleged ‘misuse of caveats’ but actually the misuse of the IHRA definition with examples.
    Alexandrine, you recommend Dr David Hirsh’s book on ‘Contempory Left Antisemitism’, but we are LibDems. Also more relevant is the book by Oxford Jewish Academic Jamie Stern-Weiner. Focusing on the IHRA, I recommend the Expert Opinion of Dr Peter Ullrich of Technische Universitat Berlin; https://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/ullrich-ihra-opinion/#sthash.JoP1FQX5.dpbs This link provides a summary and a link to the full Opinion in English.

  • Rodney Watts 7th Mar '20 - 6:22pm

    To save time and possibly hard earned money, if you have already made use of the free first month’s subs. to Audiobook, Deborah Maccoby has reviewed the David Hirsh booK

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