Statement on Antisemitism and the Question of Palestine

Prominent Palestinian and other Arab intellectuals have responded in a public statement to the growing adoption of the definition of anti-Semitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). They object to the way this definition is being deployed to suppress support for Palestinian rights in North America and several European countries, arguing that the Israeli government and its supporters are instrumentalizing the fight against anti-Semitism to delegitimize and silence defenders of Palestinian rights.

The authors of the open letter recognize anti-Semitism as a real and growing problem in North America and Europe, in conjunction with a general increase of all types of racism and far-right movements that they are fully committed to refuting and combating. Further, the authors believe that the fight against anti-Semitism, properly understood, is perfectly compatible with the struggle for justice for Palestinians as an anti-colonial struggle.

The deployment of anti-Semitism in efforts to delegitimize the Palestinian cause perverts and misdirects the fight against persistent and resurgent anti-Semitism. The statement’s signatories understand the struggle against anti-Semitism to be one for political and human emancipation as much as Palestinian resistance is one against occupation and statelessness.

Statement on Antisemitism and the Question of Palestine

We, the undersigned, Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists, and intellectuals, are hereby stating our views regarding the definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and the way this definition has been applied, interpreted and deployed in several countries of Europe and North America.

In recent years, the fight against antisemitism has been increasingly instrumentalized by the Israeli government and its supporters in an effort to delegitimize the Palestinian cause and silence defenders of Palestinian rights. Diverting the necessary struggle against antisemitism to serve such an agenda threatens to debase this struggle and hence to discredit and weaken it.

Antisemitism must be debunked and combated. Regardless of pretext, no expression of hatred for Jews as Jews should be tolerated anywhere in the world. Antisemitism manifests itself in sweeping generalizations and stereotypes about the Jews, regarding power and money in particular, along with conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial. We regard as legitimate and necessary the fight against such attitudes. We also believe that the lessons of the Holocaust as well as those of other genocides of modern times must be part of the education of new generations against all forms of racial prejudice and hatred.

The fight against antisemitism must, however, be approached in a principled manner, lest it defeat its purpose. Through “examples” that it provides, the IHRA definition conflates Judaism with Zionism in assuming that all Jews are Zionists, and that the State of Israel in its current reality embodies the self-determination of all Jews. We profoundly disagree with this. The fight against antisemitism should not be turned into a stratagem to delegitimize the fight against the oppression of the Palestinians, the denial of their rights, and the continued occupation of their land. We regard the following principles as crucial in that regard.

  1. The fight against antisemitism must be deployed within the frame of international law and human rights. It should be part and parcel of the fight against all forms of racism and xenophobia, including Islamophobia, anti-Arab, and anti-Palestinian racism. The aim of this struggle is to guarantee freedom and emancipation for all oppressed groups. It is deeply distorted when geared towards the defense of an oppressive and predatory state.
  2. There is a huge difference between a condition where Jews are singled out, oppressed and suppressed as a minority by antisemitic regimes or groups, and a condition where the self-determination of a Jewish population in Palestine/Israel has been implemented in the form of an ethnic exclusivist and territorially expansionist state. As it currently exists, the State of Israel is based on uprooting the vast majority of the natives – what Palestinians and Arabs refer to as the Nakba – and on subjugating those natives who still live on the territory of historical Palestine as either second-class citizens or people under occupation, denying them their right to self-determination.
  3. The IHRA definition of antisemitism and the related legal measures adopted in several countries have been deployed mostly against leftwing and human rights groups supporting Palestinian rights and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, sidelining the very real threat to Jews coming from rightwing white nationalist movements in Europe and the U.S. The portrayal of the BDS campaign as antisemitic is a gross distortion of what is fundamentally a legitimate non-violent means of struggle for Palestinian rights.
  4. The IHRA definition’s statement that an example of antisemitism is “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” is quite odd. It does not bother to recognize that under international law the current State of Israel has been an occupying power for over half a century, as recognized by the governments of countries where the IHRA definition is being upheld. It does not bother to consider whether this right includes the right to create a Jewish majority by way of ethnic cleansing and whether it should be balanced against the rights of the Palestinian people. Furthermore, the IHRA definition potentially discards as antisemitic all non-Zionist visions of the future of the Israeli state, such as the advocacy of a binational state or a secular democratic one that represents all its citizens equally. Genuine support for the principle of a people’s right to self-determination cannot exclude the Palestinian nation, nor any other.
  5. We believe that no right to self-determination should include the right to uproot another people and prevent it from returning to its land, or any other means of securing a demographic majority within the state. The demand by Palestinians for their right of return to the land from which they themselves, their parents and grandparents were expelled cannot be construed as antisemitic. The fact that such a demand creates anxieties among Israelis does not prove that it is unjust, nor that it is antisemitic. It is a right recognized by international law as represented in UNGA resolution 194 of 1948.
  6. To level the charge of antisemitism against anyone who regards the existing State of Israel as racist, notwithstanding the actual institutional and constitutional discrimination upon which it is based, amounts to granting Israel absolute impunity. Israel can thus deport its Palestinian citizens, or revoke their citizenship or deny them the right to vote, and still be immune from the accusation of racism. The IHRA definition and the way it has been deployed prohibit any discussion of the Israeli state as based on ethno-religious discrimination. It thus contravenes elementary justice, and basic norms of human rights and international law.
  7. We believe that justice requires full support of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, including the demand to end the internationally acknowledged occupation of their territories and the statelessness and deprivation of Palestinian refugees. The suppression of Palestinian rights in the IHRA definition betrays an attitude upholding Jewish privilege in Palestine instead of Jewish rights, and Jewish supremacy over Palestinians instead of Jewish safety. We believe that human values and rights are indivisible and that the fight against antisemitism should go hand in hand with the struggle on behalf of all oppressed peoples and groups for dignity, equality, and emancipation.

List of Signatories (in alphabetical order)

Samir Abdallah
Filmmaker, Paris, France

Soleman Abu-Bader
Professor and Director of Doctoral Program, Howard University, Washington, DC, USA

Nadia Abu El-Haj
Ann Olin Whitney Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University, USA

Lila Abu-Lughod
Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science, Columbia University, USA

Bashir Abu-Manneh
Reader in Postcolonial Literature, University of Kent, UK

Gilbert Achcar
Professor of Development Studies, SOAS, University of London, UK

Nadia Leila Aissaoui
Sociologist and Writer on Feminist Issues, Paris, France

Mamdouh Aker
Board of Trustees, Birzeit University, Palestine

Khalil al-Anani
Associate Professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies and Senior Fellow at Arab Center Washington DC, USA

Mohammad Almasri
Executive Director, Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Doha, Qatar

Mohamed Alyahyai
Writer and Novelist, Oman

Suad Amiry
Writer and Architect, Ramallah, Palestine

Sinan Antoon
Associate Professor, New York University, Iraq-US

Talal Asad
Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Graduate Center, CUNY, USA

Hanan Ashrawi
Former Professor of Comparative Literature at Birzeit University, Palestine

Aziz Al-Azmeh
University Professor Emeritus, Central European University, Vienna, Austria

Zeina Azzam
Poet, Writer and Publications Editor at Arab Center Washington DC, USA

Abdullah Baabood
Academic and Researcher in Gulf Studies, Oman

Nadia Al-Bagdadi
Professor of History, Central European University, Vienna, Austria

Sam Bahour
Writer, Al-Bireh/Ramallah, Palestine

Zainab Bahrani
Edith Porada Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University, USA

Rana Barakat
Assistant Professor of History, Birzeit University, Palestine

Bashir Bashir
Associate Professor of Political Theory, Open University of Israel, Raanana, State of Israel

Taysir Batniji
Artist-Painter, Gaza, Palestine and Paris, France

Tahar Benjelloun
Writer, Paris, France

Mohammed Bennis
Poet, Mohammedia, Morocco

Mohammed Berrada
Writer and Literary Critic, Rabat, Morocco

Omar Berrada
Writer and Curator, New York, USA

Amahl Bishara
Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, Tufts University, USA

Anouar Brahem
Musician and Composer, Tunisia

Salem Brahimi
Filmmaker, Algeria-France

Aboubakr Chraïbi
Professor, Arabic Studies Department, INALCO, Paris, France

Selma Dabbagh
Writer, London, UK

Izzat Darwazeh
Professor of Communications Engineering, University College London, UK

Marwan Darweish
Associate Professor, Coventry University, UK

Beshara Doumani
Mahmoud Darwish Professor of Palestinian Studies and of History, Brown University, USA

Haidar Eid
Associate Professor of English Literature, Al-Aqsa University, Gaza, Palestine

Ziad Elmarsafy
Professor of Comparative Literature, King’s College London, UK

Noura Erakat
Assistant Professor, Africana Studies and Criminal Justice, Rutgers University, USA

Samera Esmeir
Associate Professor of Rhetoric, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Khaled Fahmy
FBA, Professor of Modern Arabic Studies, University of Cambridge, UK

Ali Fakhrou
Academic and Writer, Bahrain

Randa Farah
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Western University, Canada

Khaled Farraj
Palestinian researcher

Leila Farsakh
Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Boston, USA

Khaled Furani
Associate Professor of Sociology & Anthropology, Tel-Aviv University, State of Israel

Burhan Ghalioun
Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Sorbonne 3, Paris, France

Asad Ghanem
Professor of Political Science, Haifa University, State of Israel

Honaida Ghanim
General Director of the Palestinian Forum for Israeli Studies Madar, Ramallah, Palestine

George Giacaman
Professor of Philosophy and Cultural Studies, Birzeit University, Palestine

Rita Giacaman
Professor, Institute of Community and Public Health, Birzeit University, Palestine

Amel Grami
Professor of Gender Studies, Tunisian University, Tunis

Subhi Hadidi
Literary Critic, Syria-France

Ghassan Hage
Professor of Anthropology and Social Theory, University of Melbourne, Australia

Samira Haj
Emeritus Professor of History, CSI/Graduate Center, CUNY, USA

Yassin Al-Haj Saleh
Writer, Syria

Rema Hammami
Associate Professor of Anthropology, Birzeit University, Palestine

Dyala Hamzah
Associate Professor of Arab History, Université de Montréal, Canada

Sari Hanafi
Professor of Sociology, American University of Beirut, Lebanon

Adam Hanieh
Reader in Development Studies, SOAS, University of London, UK

Kadhim Jihad Hassan,
Writer and translator, Professor at INALCO-Sorbonne, Paris, France

Nadia Hijab
Author and Human Rights Activist, London, UK

Jamil Hilal
Writer, Ramallah, Palestine

Bensalim Himmich
Academic, Novelist and Writer, Morocco

Serene Hleihleh
Cultural Activist, Jordan-Palestine

Imad K. Harb
Director of Research and Analysis at Arab Center Washington DC, USA

Khaled Hroub
Professor in Residence of Middle Eastern Studies, Northwestern University, Qatar

Mahmoud Hussein
Writer, Paris, France

Lakhdar Ibrahimi
Paris School of International Affairs, Institut d’Etudes Politiques, France

Annemarie Jacir
Filmmaker, Palestine

Islah Jad
Associate Professor of Political Science, Birzeit University, Palestine

Khalil E. Jahshan
Executive Director, Arab Center Washington DC, USA

Lamia Joreige
Visual Artist and Filmmaker, Beirut, Lebanon

Amal Al-Jubouri
Writer, Iraq

Mudar Kassis
Associate Professor of Philosophy, Birzeit University, Palestine

Nabeel Kassis
Former Professor of Physics and Former President, Birzeit University, Palestine

Salam Kawakibi
Director of Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Paris, France

Muhammad Ali Khalidi
Presidential Professor of Philosophy, CUNY Graduate Center, USA

Rashid Khalidi
Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies, Columbia University, USA

Michel Khleifi
Filmmaker, Palestine-Belgium

Elias Khoury
Writer, Beirut, Lebanon

Nadim Khoury
Associate Professor of International Studies, Lillehammer University College, Norway

Rachid Koreichi
Artist-Painter, Paris, France

Jonathan Kuttab
Human Rights Attorney, author and Nonresident Fellow at Arab Center Washington DC, USA

Adila Laïdi-Hanieh
Director General, The Palestinian Museum, Palestine

Rabah Loucini
Professor of History, Oran University, Algeria

Mehdi Mabrouk
Professor of Sociology, Ex-Minister of Culture, Director of Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Tunis, Tunisia

Rabab El-Mahdi
Associate Professor of Political Science, The American University in Cairo, Egypt

Ziad Majed
Associate Professor of Middle East Studies and IR, American University of Paris, France

Jumana Manna
Artist, Berlin, Germany

Camille Mansour
Researcher and author

Farouk Mardam Bey
Publisher, Paris, France

Mai Masri
Palestinian Filmmaker, Lebanon

Mazen Masri
Senior Lecturer in Law, City University of London, UK

Dina Matar
Reader in Political Communication and Arab Media, SOAS, University of London, UK

Hisham Matar
Writer, Professor at Barnard College, Columbia University, USA

Khaled Mattawa
Poet, William Wilhartz Professor of English Literature, University of Michigan, USA

Yousef Munayyer
Nonresident Senior Fellow at Arab Center Washington DC, USA

Karma Nabulsi
Professor of Politics and IR, University of Oxford, UK

Hassan Nafaa
Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Cairo University, Egypt

Nadine Naber
Professor, Dept of Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago, USA

Issam Nassar
Professor, Illinois State University, USA

Maha Nassar
Associate Professor, School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies, University of Arizona, USA

Sari Nusseibeh
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Al-Quds University, Palestine

Najwa Al-Qattan
Emeritus Professor of History, Loyola Marymount University, USA

Omar Al-Qattan
Filmmaker, Chair of The Palestinian Museum and the A.M. Qattan Foundation, UK

Nadim N. Rouhana
Professor of International Affairs, The Fletcher School, Tufts University, USA

Ahmad Sa’adi
Professor, Haifa, State of Israel

Haider Saeed
Research and Head of Research Department, Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Doha, Qatar

Rasha Salti
Independent Curator, Writer, Researcher of Art and Film, Germany-Lebanon

Elias Sanbar
Writer, Paris, France

Farès Sassine
Professor of Philosophy and Literary Critic, Beirut, Lebanon

Sherene Seikaly
Associate Professor of History, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Samah Selim
Associate Professor, A, ME & SA Languages & Literatures, Rutgers University, USA

Leila Shahid
Writer, Beirut, Lebanon

Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian
Lawrence D Biele Chair in Law, Hebrew University, State of Israel

Anton Shammas
Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA

Yara Sharif
Senior Lecturer, Architecture and Cities, University of Westminster, UK

Hanan Al-Shaykh
Writer, London, UK

Raja Shehadeh
Lawyer and Writer, Ramallah, Palestine

Gilbert Sinoué
Writer, Paris, France

Ahdaf Soueif
Writer, Egypt-UK

Mayssoun Sukarieh
Senior Lecturer in Development Studies, King’s College London, UK

Elia Suleiman
Filmmaker, Palestine-France

Nimer Sultany
Reader in Public Law, SOAS, University of London, UK

Jad Tabet
Architect and writer, Beirut, Lebanon

Jihan El-Tahri
Filmmaker, Egypt

Salim Tamari
Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Birzeit University, Palestine

Wassyla Tamzali
Writer, Contemporary Art Producer, Algeria

Fawwaz Traboulsi
Writer, Beirut Lebanon

Dominique Vidal
Historian and Journalist, Palestine-France

Haytham El-Wardany
Writer, Egypt-Germany

Said Zeedani
Emeritus Associate Professor of Philosophy, Al-Quds University, Palestine

Rafeef Ziadah
Lecturer in Comparative Politics of the Middle East, SOAS, University of London, UK

Khaled Ziade
Author, historian, former diplomat and Director of Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Beirut, Lebanon

Radwan Ziadeh
Syrian Activist and Senior Fellow at Arab Center Washington DC, USA

Raef Zreik
Minerva Humanities Centre, Tel-Aviv University, State of Israel

Elia Zureik
Professor Emeritus, Queen’s University, Canada

A preliminary version of this list was published by The Guardian here.

*Photo credit: Flickr/Stephen Melkisethian