Dear First Minister
We note the letter from the Conservative MSP for Eastwood Jackson Carlaw concerning the Scottish Government’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and the ‘confidence and supply’ agreement with the Scottish Green Party which includes elected representatives of the Green Party in government.
It is noteworthy that Mr Carlaw makes reference to specific clauses of the IHRA definition of antisemitism that he believes debars SGP MSPs from serving in the Scottish Government, in particular that “denying the rights of Jews to self-determination, including claiming the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour”. By highlighting this particular section of the IHRA definition, Mr Carlaw has demonstrated its fallacy as a definition of antisemitism since it refers to a claim about a political entity, not Jews as Jews. Indeed Mr Carlaw’s intervention demonstrates that the purpose of IHRA is precisely to silence criticism of Israel, to prevent critical analysis of Israel as a settler colonial state and to undermine the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel whilst it continues to be in breach of international law. This much has been admitted by Gilad Erdan, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, when he was Israeli Minister for Public Security.
The racist nature of Israel has been recognised by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racism and identified by them and Human Rights Watch, B’tselem (the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), Al Haq (Palestinian Human Rights organisation) and others as apartheid. The right to campaign against Israel, including to call for a boycott of Israel has been recognised as legitimate campaigning and not antisemitic by Lord Bracadale in his report to the Scottish Government on Hate Speech (page 24-25) as well as by the UK Supreme Court, and your own government, only last year, affirmed that “do not wish to mandate how Scottish public institutions, organisations or individuals approach this issue [of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel]”.
The Scottish Government is on record that it “strongly discourages trade and investment from illegal [Israeli] settlements”. Your own, personal endorsement of ending the Scottish Arms Trade with Israel, and your statement, in 2015, that “during the recent conflict in Gaza the Scottish Government wrote to the UK Government urging an embargo on arms sales to Israel” might, in the hands of malicious adversaries such as Mr Carlaw and other apologists of Israeli racism, be regarded as “requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”, which the IHRA definition also ‘defines’ as antisemitism. It is clear that the IHRA definition of antisemitism is not compatible with many of your own positions.
The malicious purpose of the IHRA has been recognised by the originator of the IHRA definition himself, Professor Kenneth Stern, a specialist in antisemitism, and by scholars of Judaism, antisemitism and Holocaust Studies who have developed the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism as an alternative. The IHRA definition does nothing to tackle antisemitism.
The purpose of IHRA definition has also been condemned by Palestinians, whose right to self-determination has been denied by Israel, its military and Lands Authority and Jewish settlers. We draw attention to an open letter on the IHRA signed by 122 Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals.
We recognise that external affairs remain outwith the agreement between the SNP and the SGP, but Mr Carlaw’s attempt to exploit the difference of position between the parties on IHRA and its main purpose of silencing any critique of Israel’s colonisation of Palestine, exposes the fundamental problem with the IHRA definition. Indeed, the ‘definition’ has become a barrier to tackling the real issues of antisemitism and other forms of racism.
Rather than bending to pressure from the Tories, we suggest that this is an opportunity for the Scottish Government to reconsider its adoption of the IHRA definition, to reject it and identify genuinely effective ways to tackle antisemitism.
Chair, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign
13th September 2021