published on The New Arab, July 17, 2018
Dozens of Jewish groups worldwide issued an unprecedented joint statement on Tuesday backing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and saying that criticism of Israel’s actions does not equate to antisemitism.
The initiative was spearheaded by the US-based Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) organisation and 36 Jewish groups from 15 countries – including South Africa, Germany and Brazil – signed the joint statement.
“From our own histories we are all too aware of the dangers of increasingly fascistic and openly racist governments and political parties,” the global letter states.
“The rise in antisemitic discourse and attacks worldwide is part of that broader trend. At times like this, it is more important than ever to distinguish between the hostility to – or prejudice against – Jews on the one hand and legitimate critiques of Israeli policies and system of injustice on the other.”
Central to the pro-Israel effort is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which equates criticism of Israel or pro-Palestine advocacy with antisemitism.
In the US, two bills currently being discussed by Congress seek to criminalise the boycott of Israeli settlements and restrict Palestinian human rights advocacy by defining such acts as antisemitic.
In the United Kingdom, the government and pro-Israel groups have sought to prevent local councils from boycotting Israeli settlement goods.
Pro-Israel groups have also demanded legislation to outlaw “Israeli Apartheid Week” events at UK universities, citing the IHRA definition of antisemitism as justification.
“It is vital that Jewish organisations across the globe stand united against harmful definitions of antisemitism and together for human rights and the freedom to protest. We at JVP are proud to have initiated this historic effort,” said Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace.
The BDS movement for Palestinian rights has demonstrated an “ongoing proven commitment to fighting antisemitism and all forms of racism and bigotry, consistent with its dedication to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, the letter added.
From South Africa to Sweden, New Zealand to Germany to Brazil, for the first time over 30 Jewish organizations worldwide issue statement condemning attempts to stifle criticism of Israel#GlobalJewishStatementhttps://t.co/28yJsOW8KY
— JewishVoiceForPeace (@jvplive) July 17, 2018
“There is no room for hate speech, but equally there must be no suppression of legitimate political protest, nor chilling of critical discussion, as is happening to pro-Palestinian activists in the UK and elsewhere,” Leah Levane, a Jewish Palestine solidarity activist from the UK’s Antisemitism Consortium, said.
The BDS movement began in 2005 following a call by 170 Palestinian civil society groups.
Its supporters take inspiration from the campaign used by international activists to end apartheid in South Africa by isolating Israel politically and economically.