Antisemitism in the UK Contents

2Defining antisemitism

Why define antisemitism?

11.The Chakrabarti inquiry into antisemitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party declined to provide a definition of antisemitism. The report states that there is “no need to pursue an age-old and ultimately fruitless debate about the precise parameters of race hate.”24 In his evidence to us, Jeremy Corbyn MP said:

Antisemitism is where you use epithets to criticise people for being Jewish; where you attack Jewish people for what they are. It is completely unacceptable, and I would have thought it was very obvious what antisemitism is, just as much as it will be very obvious what Islamophobia is if you criticise Muslim people for what they are and what they are alleged to believe in, whether they believe in it or not.25

12.However, it seemed to us that that it would be extremely difficult to examine the issue of antisemitism without considering what sort of actions, language and discourse are captured by the term, and that defining the parameters of antisemitism was central to the question of what should be done to address this form of hate. As a starting point for our recommendations, we decided that we should aim to establish a definition which achieves an appropriate balance between condemning antisemitism vehemently, in all its forms, and maintaining freedom of speech—particularly in relation to legitimate criticism of the Government of Israel.

The Macpherson definition

13.The Macpherson report, published in 1999 as a result of the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, recommended that the definition of a racist incident should be “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”, and asserted that crimes and non-crimes of this nature must be “reported, recorded and investigated with equal commitment”.26 This interpretation has been adopted by the Government and justice agencies, although an incident will only be prosecuted as a crime if it meets certain legal tests, such as for the existence of sufficient evidence.27

14.CST addressed this issue in its 2009 Antisemitic Discourse Report. When collecting its data on antisemitism, CST “defines incidents against Jews as being antisemitic only where it can be objectively shown to be the case, and this may not always match the victim’s perception as called for by the Lawrence Inquiry.”28

15.In its 2014 discourse report, however, CST excluded the conditions outlined above and instead invoked the report of the 2006 All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism. That report argued that it is “not acceptable” for an individual to say “I am not a racist”, if their words or acts are perceived to be racist, concluding that “it is the Jewish community itself that is best qualified to determine what does and does not constitute antisemitism”.29 Nevertheless, CST’s 2015 Antisemitic Incidents Report notes that the organisation excluded 43% of the potential incidents reported to it, because there was no evidence of antisemitic motivation, language or targeting.30

The IHRA and EUMC Definition

16.The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is an intergovernmental body that aims to generate and sustain support for Holocaust education, remembrance and research. In May 2016, IHRA’s 31 member countries (including the UK) adopted the following ‘Working Definition’ of antisemitism:

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.31

This was based broadly on the Working Definition of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), which has since been replaced by the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).32

17.Like the EUMC’s definition, the IHRA goes on to list a number of contemporary examples of antisemitism, including:

—Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

—Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective—such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

—Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

—Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).

—Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust [see below for example].

—Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

—Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

—Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

—Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.

—Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

—Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.33

Figure 1: An example of Holocaust denial – a Christmas card sent to an MP in December 2015

Source: CST34

18.In his evidence to us, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, pointed out that the IHRA had adopted the EUMC definition “with a tiny change in wording”, and stated that “we do regard the EUMC working definition as helpful, comprehensive and fit for purpose”.35

19.The College of Policing’s guidance for UK police forces quotes the EUMC definition in full.36 The Government also endorsed it in a statement by Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles MP, the UK’s Special Envoy for post-Holocaust issues, in March 2016.37 The statement acknowledges the absence of an agreed international definition and asserts that it is for the victim to determine whether a crime against them was motivated by a particular characteristic (the Macpherson definition), but it also reproduces the College of Policing’s guidance (the EUMC definition), “for those seeking a definition of antisemitism”.38

Criticism of the IHRA/EUMC definition

20.In a sub-report commissioned for the 2015 All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, Professor David Feldman claimed that the EUMC definition has largely fallen out of favour, in part due to continued controversy regarding its application to the State of Israel and its policies.39 The representatives of the ‘Friends of Palestine’ groups whom we met informally also raised this issue, voicing concern that criticising policies that they regard as discriminatory against non-Jewish citizens could be categorised as “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” (by denying the Israeli Government the right to ensure a continued majority Jewish population in Israel), or as “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”. They believed that it is vital that free speech is maintained in the context of public debate about the Israeli Government, the Palestinian National Authority, and the rights of Palestinian and Israeli citizens.

21.We also heard concerns from the Friends of Palestine that the charge of “requiring of [Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” could be applied to any activist who chooses to take a particular interest in Israel for any number of reasons (for example, due to personal experience of volunteering in the region). Other witnesses questioned why an individual would reserve more opprobrium for Israel than the countries surrounding it, or other countries around the world, with the implication that such a focus may be rooted in antisemitism. For example, Sir Mick Davis, Chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), questioned why there have only been nine Early Day Motions (EDMs) in the House of Commons on North Korea since 2010, compared with 97 EDMs that were critical of Israel. When challenged that MPs would expect a higher standard of Israel than North Korea, Sir Mick responded: “It is an interesting proposition that you should expect high standards of Israel but not of other countries”.40

A proposed amended definition

22.The Macpherson definition that, for recording purposes, a racist incident is one “perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person” is a good working definition, which provides a strong basis for investigation. As such, the perceptions of Jewish people—both collectively and individually, as an alleged victim—should be the starting point of any investigation into antisemitism. However, for an incident to be found to be antisemitic, or for a perpetrator to be prosecuted for a criminal offence that was motivated or aggravated by antisemitism, requires more than just the victim’s perception that it was antisemitic. It also requires evidence, and it requires that someone other than the victim makes an objective interpretation of that evidence. The difficulty of making such a determination in the face of conflicting interpretations underlines the importance of establishing an agreed definition of antisemitism.

23.It is clear that where criticism of the Israeli Government is concerned, context is vital. Israel is an ally of the UK Government and is generally regarded as a liberal democracy, in which the actions of the Government are openly debated and critiqued by its citizens. Campaigners for Palestinian rights have informed us that they would expect similar standards of conduct from the Israeli Government as they would demand from the UK Government. It is important that non-Israelis with knowledge and understanding of the region should not be excluded from criticising the Israeli Government, in common with the many citizens of Israel who are amongst its strongest critics, including human rights organisations in that country.

24.We broadly accept the IHRA definition, but propose two additional clarifications to ensure that freedom of speech is maintained in the context of discourse about Israel and Palestine, without allowing antisemitism to permeate any debate. The definition should include the following statements:

25.We recommend that the IHRA definition, with our additional caveats, should be formally adopted by the UK Government, law enforcement agencies and all political parties, to assist them in determining whether or not an incident or discourse can be regarded as antisemitic.

Opposing ‘Zionism’

26.In an article for The Daily Telegraph in May, the Chief Rabbi criticised attempts by Labour members and activists to separate Zionism from Judaism as a faith, arguing that their claims are “fictional”.41 In evidence to us, he stressed that “Zionism has been an integral part of Judaism from the dawn of our faith”. He stated that “spelling out the right of the Jewish people to live within secure borders with self-determination in their own country, which they had been absent from for 2,000 years—that is what Zionism is”. His view was that “If you are an anti-Zionist, you are anti everything I have just mentioned”.42

27.Similarly, CST and the JLC describe Zionism as “an ideological belief in the authenticity of Jewish peoplehood and that the Jewish people have the right to a state”.43 Sir Mick Davis, Chairman of the JLC, told us that criticising Zionism is the same as antisemitism, because:

Zionism is so totally identified with how the Jew thinks of himself, and is so associated with the right of the Jewish people to have their own country and to have self-determination within that country, that if you attack Zionism, you attack the very fundamentals of how the Jews believe in themselves.44

28.However, there is evidence to suggest that many British Jewish people do not associate Zionism simply with support for the existence of Israel. Research published in 2015 by City University found that 90% of British Jewish people support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and 93% say that is forms some part of their identity as Jews, but only 59% consider themselves to be Zionists. The researchers observed that some respondents believed that people who are critical of the current Israeli Government’s policies should not identify as Zionists, even if they fully support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.45

29.Regardless of the precise definition of ‘Zionism’, it is clear that the word ‘Zionist’ is used frequently as an insult against those who defend the actions of the Israeli Government, or even against those who speak out against antisemitism. In too many instances, it has been used as a proxy for the word ‘Jew’.46 The report of the 2006 All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism argues that “criticism of Zionism is not in itself antisemitic”, but that an “antisemitic discourse” has developed in some quarters that “views Zionism itself as a global force of unlimited power and malevolence throughout history”.47

30.In evidence to us, the Leader of the SNP in Westminster, Angus Robertson MP, shared his views on how criticism of the Government of Israel sometimes transitions to anti-Zionism, and then to antisemitism. He said that in pursuing support for “the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people”, some individuals start using “language and imagery” that has been used before, drawing on “tropes” such as “repeated accusations from the 20th and 19th centuries about Jewish ownership of the press or the financial system and so on”. He described how some people move from referring to “the Government of Israel” to talking about “Israel”; then to “Zionists”, and then “some people start talking about Jews”; adding that “at some point along that line it morphs into antisemitism”.48

31.Such is the toxicity of the word “Zionist” that when we met campaigners from the ‘Friends of Palestine’ groups, several of the attendees told us that they never use it. In many of the incidents of abuse that we have seen on social media, including those shared by John Mann MP,49 Chair of the APPG Against Antisemitism, replacing the word “Zionist” with “Jew” would render them blatantly and virulently antisemitic. For example, in an email received in May, Mr Mann was told:

[What] we DO not appreciate are the Zionists who use powerful connections to increase their own wealth—by war, dodgy business deals, political pressurisation, media mis-information and mis-direction, etc.50

A further sample of the messages he has received is set out below. We have decided to publish these in order to illustrate explicitly the sort of antisemitic language pervasive online, much of it using the word “Zionist” as a term of abuse. It is concerning that Mr Mann was the victim of further vilification, including from members of his own party, after his attempts to challenge Ken Livingstone’s comments.

Table 1: A sample of messages received by John Mann MP during 2016


Method of Communication




@johnmannmp why don’t you admit you’re a Zionist wh*re then??



RT (Don’t buy ‘allegedly’.) John Mann’s a wee Zionist sh*te. I support Ken’s right to free speech. NOT anti-Semitic.



John Mann MP really is a prize ZIo servile tw*t



@**** @JohnMannMP shouting lies like an unhinged Zio Attack dog isn’t dignified



@JohnMannMP On the edge of my seat. lulz It’s time for Zio-Puppet Hour w/ John Mann !



@JohnMannMP YOU ARE A ZIO NAZI! P*LL*CK! The only people conducting a holocaust nowadays is Israelis. SHAME!



I wonder how much the Zionist lobby is paying @JohnMannMP for this utterly shambolic display. Disgraceful.



@JohnMannMP How much are your jewish paymasters paying you then mate? Enough to buy some land on a Palestinian olive grove perhaps?



@JohnMannMP getting really joed off with my MP constantly calling everyone anti semitic, how much is the Jewish lobby paying you?



@JohnMannMP Why are you so obsessed with pleasing the Jewish lobby? Should you not be serving the English you represent?



@JohnMannMP “Anti-semitism” just seems to be noticing Jewish power. How does it feel to take your 30 silver shekels to betray your own kin?



F**k me those Jewish lobby purse strings are being pulled harder and harder aren’t they? #Livingstine #johnmannmp


you should be suspended but you won’t as I believe you’re a Jew. You sound like one, you look like one, and you are one.



“maybe mark regev (who is a c … ) stuffed a envelope in your pocket for this loyalty?”; “of course there are good people in israel but they never get anywhere near the reins of power, only the nazi b*st*rds get there”; “so the current government in israel has terrorism in it’s DNA.”

Source: John Mann MP written evidence (SEM0008)

32.‘Zionism’ as a concept remains a valid topic for academic and political debate, both within and outside Israel. The word ‘Zionist’ (or worse, ‘Zio’) as a term of abuse, however, has no place in a civilised society. It has been tarnished by its repeated use in antisemitic and aggressive contexts. Antisemites frequently use the word ‘Zionist’ when they are in fact referring to Jews, whether in Israel or elsewhere. Those claiming to be “anti-Zionist, not antisemitic”, should do so in the knowledge that 59% of British Jewish people consider themselves to be Zionists. If these individuals genuinely mean only to criticise the policies of the Government of Israel, and have no intention to offend British Jewish people, they should criticise “the Israeli Government”, and not “Zionists”. For the purposes of criminal or disciplinary investigations, use of the words ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zio’ in an accusatory or abusive context should be considered inflammatory and potentially antisemitic. This should be communicated by the Government and political parties to those responsible for determining whether or not an incident should be regarded as antisemitic.

25 Oral evidence taken on 4 July 2016, Q378

26 The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry: Report of an Inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, February 1999

27 CPS website, Prosecution Policy, Racist and Religious Crime—A Summary of CPS Prosecution Policy, accessed 10 August 2016

29 All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, September 2006

31 IHRA Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial, Adopted Working Definition of Antisemitism, 26 May 2016

32 The FRA does not provide the EUMC’s Working Definition on its website, and its spokesperson told Jewish News in 2013 that the agency “has no mandate to develop its own definitions”, noting that the EUMC definition was never considered an “official document”—see Jewish News, EU drops its ‘working definition’ of anti-Semitism, 5 December 2013

33 IHRA Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial, Adopted Working Definition of Antisemitism, 26 May 2016

35 Oral evidence taken on 14 June 2016, Q3

36 College of Policing, Hate Crime Operational Guidance, 2014, page 35

37 Foreign & Commonwealth Office and The Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles MP, A definition of antisemitism, 30 March 2016

38 Foreign & Commonwealth Office and The Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles MP, A definition of antisemitism, 30 March 2016

39 Professor David Feldman, Sub-Report for the Parliamentary Committee Against Antisemitism, 1 January 2015, page 4

40 Oral evidence taken on 14 July 2016, Qs 473, 482 and 483

42 Oral evidence taken on 14 July 2016, Q418

43 Community Security Trust and the Jewish Leadership Council, submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry, June 2016

44 Oral evidence taken on 14 July 2016, Q470

45 Miller et al., The Attitudes of British Jews Towards Israel, November 2015

48 Oral evidence taken on 21 June 2016, Q71

49 John Mann MP written evidence (SEM0008)

50 Ibid

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

14 October 2016