BBC Radio 4 presenter John Humphrys apparently told listeners a complete untruth on 4 September. Humphrys claimed that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism has
been accepted by almost every country in the world
The definition is a matter of crucial debate. Later the same day, Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) was voting on whether to adopt the IHRA definition with all its examples.
Contrary to Humphrys’ claim, only eight countries have fully accepted the IHRA definition: the UK, Israel, Austria, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania and Macedonia.
So Humphrys’ assertion paints Labour as isolated if the party doesn’t adopt the IHRA definition. In reality, the definition is not internationally accepted.
On 4th September, the NEC accepted the definition wholesale, with an accompanying statement that apparently protects freedom of speech.
The definition ‘shields Israel’s far-right regime’
Aside from how accepted it is, many people have argued that the definition is dangerous. 24 Palestinian organisations, trade unions and networks in the UK have said:
This non-legally binding definition attempts to erase Palestinian history, demonise solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality, suppress freedom of expression, and shield Israel’s far-right regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid from effective measures of accountability in accordance to international law.
Examples, particularly “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”, are ripe for being used as a weapon to smear critics.
IHRA member countries
The IHRA has 31 member countries. They agreed on the definition but only in their capacity as members of the IHRA.
Even if you were to include those member countries, that’s only one sixth of global nations. Hardly “almost every country in the world”, as Humphrys tells thousands of listeners.
And of those 31 countries, only 26% even recognise Palestine as a state. The lack of Palestinian representation on the IHRA seems to be why the definition was waved through.
“We deserve better”
On social media, people aren’t pleased with the BBC:
Humphrys is either a liar or just ignorant to say the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism has been adopted by almost every country in the world when it has been adopted by a minority of countries. You just can't believe anything put out by #bbcnews we deserve better! #r4today
— Barry Hodges (@Ennor1) September 4, 2018
You'd never know from the BBC and other broadcasters that the man who originally drafted the IHRA working document on anti-semitism is deeply unhappy with the way it's now being misrepresented and used for party political purposes. #r4today #bbcnews
— Briefcase Michael (@BriefcaseMike) September 4, 2018
Kenneth Stern was a lead EUMC author of the working definition in 2005. He has fiercely criticised what the definition has become, saying that he never intended:
to provide a framework for eviscerating free speech or academic freedom, let alone labelling anyone an antisemite.
Such inaccurate statements going out on the BBC are increasing pressure on Labour over the ‘antisemitism crisis’. While there are genuine incidents of antisemitism in Labour and across society, the recent claims are predominantly a smear campaign. We must fight this onslaught tooth and nail.
–Complain to the BBC.
Featured image via BBC Newsnight/ YouTube