OPEN LETTER: IHRA definition of antisemitism, turning words into action

Dear friends,

As you well know, on 22 July 2020 the Minister of the Presidency and First Vice-president of the Spanish Government, Mrs Carmen Calvo, announced the government’s decision to support the working definition of anti-Semitism of the IHRA.

The IHRA declaration points out that any show of generalised hatred or delegitimisation against Israel or its citizens and the application of a double standard against them could be considered as anti-Semitic. Thus, carrying out boycott activities of delegitimising campaigns, like the BDS, that seek to discriminate against those who support the Jewish state and against its companies and citizens are included in anti-Semitic behaviour. With the approval of said text, any public financing of those groups and giving coverage to their activities could be formally considered in Spain as Jew-hating.

That announcement of the Vice-president Calvo was received, as could not be otherwise, with satisfaction by all the organizations whose primary purpose is the fight against anti-Semitism. Logically, as we pointed out in its day, that first step had to produce as soon as possible a declaration of the Government or a vote in Parliament that formalised said support. This is the usual way it has happened in the 31 countries that have joined the IHRA definition and the examples it details.

Apart from a formal reason, the reality of a government that speaks with several voices, on many occasions contradictory, and the very casual and little detailed manner in which the Vice-president announced the support for the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism made us ask for a degree of formality to prevent it from merely being a propaganda gesture for the gallery without any backup or formal implications.

We shouldn’t forget that there are reasons for a certain scepticism, as Podemos, one of the partners of the current government, frequently resorts to demonising the Jewish collective, Israel, and the party’s leader and now Vice-president of the Government, Pablo Iglesias, has directed programmes in the Iranian public television in Spanish where he has broadcasted extremely serious anti-Semitic libels. Neither was it a reason for being confident the 72 resolutions of boycott against Israel, its citizens and companies approved by local governments in Spain, and which have been declared illegal by the courts thanks to the initiative of ACOM, boycotts that were approved with the votes of the parties of the Spanish Government: PSOE and Podemos.

Unfortunately, on the first occasion for the Spanish Government to make a statement and stand by its adherence to this definition with tangible actions, the executive has done absolutely nothing.

On 1 September we warned about a course with a marked anti-Semitic bias organised by the Public University of Navarra with the insulting title of “Apartheid in Palestine and the criminalisation of solidarity”.

Appealing precisely to the IHRA declaration, we argue that:

1- An activity organised by groups that promote anti-Semitism should not be allowed in a public university.

2- The evident nature of political activism of said activity should no be legitimised as a teaching activity in a state academic institution.

3- The freedom to teach, like the freedom of expression, has its limits: the law. In Spain, inciting hatred, the apology of terrorism, and anti-Semitism are crimes. This course is organised by an organization that rejects the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism apparently supported by the government. And in this activity participate people who have made it their job to lead anti-Semitic activities thus defined.

The governments of Spain and Navarra should have intervened to cancel this course. None of the two have even made a statement, despite the requirements from international organizations such as the World Jewish Congress, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Combat Antisemitism or the European Jewish Congress.

For this reason, just as that announcement in July received a warm welcome from everyone, we ask you to add your voice to denounce the dissociation between what the Government preaches about the fight against anti-Semitism and the measures it takes to such effect. If this Government intends to be taken seriously and that we believe in its manifested intention of fighting this scourge, it must turn its informal gestures into formal steps and tangible acts, beginning by this Jew-hating act in a public university.

Thank you very much for your attention.