Thursday, 31 May 2018

Palestine campaigners welcome hate crime recommendation and call on Scottish Government to reject the IHRA ‘definition on antisemitism’

Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) welcomes Lord Bracadale’s rejection of the IHRA’s ‘working definition of antisemitism’ and his opposition to the creation of “a statutory aggravation to cover hostility towards a political entity”.

In the light of Lord Bracadale’s analysis, commissioned by the Scottish Government, SPSC calls on the Scottish Government to reject the IHRA ‘working definition on antisemitism’ as publicly as it adopted it.

Lord Bracadale was appointed by the Scottish Ministers in January 2017 to undertake a review of hate crime legislation in Scotland; his final report and recommendations were published today.

One of the questions for his consideration was whether an aggravation should apply “where an offence is motivated by malice and ill-will towards a political entity which the victim is perceived to be associated with by virtue of their racial or religious group?”.

He concluded that:

“I accept the arguments advanced by those respondents who contended that hate crime legislation should not extend to political entities as protected characteristics. I consider that such an approach would extend the concept of hate crime too far and dilute its impact. The freedom of speech to engage in political protest is vitally important. For these reasons I do not recommend extending the range of protected characteristics to include political entities.”

To illustrate his reasoning, Lord Bracadale refers to a case involving five SPSC members:

“In one case, members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign shouted slogans during a concert at which the Jerusalem string quartet was performing. These included “they are Israeli army musicians”; “genocide in Gaza”; “end genocide in Gaza”; “boycott Israel”. The accused were members of a political organisation which campaigns against Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories and advocates boycott. The content of their remarks was political in nature, including a call for a boycott. The evidence did not permit the inference that their comments were made because they presumed the musicians to be Israeli or Jewish.”

As well as SPSC, the Faculty of Advocates, the Glasgow Bar Association, Law Society of Scotland, Fife Centre for Equalities, Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, and the Senators of the College of Justice also opposed an extension of hate crime legislation to include hostility to a state body.

Bracadale reported concerns that:

“A new aggravation in this area would be difficult to legislate for and potentially contentious, and would therefore introduce complexity and uncertainty into the law. In addition, a new aggravation would be open to interpretation and abuse for political ends, and open to change over time, depending on the political climate.”

“A further argument was based on freedom of speech. Freedom to hold differing political views, and to debate those views, was fundamental to a democratic society and should be protected. This included freedom to subject political entities and foreign states to legitimate criticism. A new aggravation of this type could, therefore, have unintended consequences regarding the curtailment of freedom of expression and freedom of political debate.”

He goes on to discuss:

“The right to engage in legitimate political protest is fundamental in a democratic society. There is a tension between, on the one hand, freedom of expression, which protects legitimate political protest, and, on the other hand, conduct which is racially aggravated. In the abstract, it can be difficult to distinguish political protest or criticism from racially/religiously aggravated conduct. In chapter 5 I examine the significance, in the context of stirring up of hatred offences, of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). What emerges is that context and content of the conduct in any particular case is critical. Freedom of expression carries with it duties and responsibilities.”

“There is an obligation to avoid, as far as possible, expressions of opinion or belief that are gratuitously offensive to others and thus an infringement of their rights (for example freedom of religion), and which therefore do not contribute to any form of public debate capable of furthering progress in human affairs.”

Campaigners noted that the introduction to Question 7 in the consultation document referred almost exclusively to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘working definition on antisemitism’ which was adopted by the Scottish Government in 2017.

Mick Napier of Scottish PSC said:

“Solidarity with the Palestinian people against the settler colonial project of Zionism is not going to be criminalised in Scotland anytime soon, despite the Scottish Government’s adoption of the definition that Bracadale has rejected. Bracadale has recognised the assault on free speech that adoption of the IHRA bogus definition of antisemitism would entail and has decisively rejected the claims of those who seek to criminalise Palestine solidarity, above all BDS campaigning. We must remain ever vigilant against those in and out of the Labour Party who seek to silence supporters of Palestinian freedom, who work to smear those who oppose an ethno-religious state in Israel/Palestine.”

“The Scottish Government should urgently review its 2017 adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism in the light of Lord Bracadale’s findings.”

Send a letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Communities Minister Angela Constance to ask that the Scottish Government repudiate the IHRA definition as publicly as they adopted it. 

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