BLM activist defends ‘UK politics gagged of right to critique Zionism’ tweet

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BLM activist defends ‘UK politics gagged of right to critique Zionism’ tweet

Joshua Virasami told Emma Barnett that the IHRA definition of antisemitism 'disallows genuine conversation' about Israel, but refused to say who was doing the 'gagging'

Jack Mendel is the former Online Editor at the Jewish News.

A leading activist in the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK has defended a tweet which claimed the right to criticise Israel is “gagged” in the UK.

Activist Joshua Virasami made his comments during an interview with BBC Five Live journalist Emma Barnett, where he claimed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism (IHRA) “disallows genuine conversation” about Israel-Palestine.

This comes after communal uproar in June, due to a tweet by the verified Black Lives Matter movement in the UK (BLMUK), which said British politics is “gagged of the right to critique Zionism”.

When Barnett asked Virasami, “who is gagging who?”, he responds: “That’s a good question.”

He said the “tweet was mainly talking about the fact that during the annexation of the West Bank and during the situation where Palestine is being colonised, a conversation is not happening…for many reasons.”

One of those reasons is the IHRA definition – which in many ways does disallow conversations to happen about the true nature of what is going on in Palestine.”

Emma Barnett (Photo credit: Lia Toby/PA Wire)

He admits “many people saw that as an antisemitic tweet”, but when probed by Barnett as to whether he thought it was antisemitic himself, “to infer that politicians are being gagged by some Jewish force to stop criticism of Israel”, he insisted “the tweet didn’t say they were being gagged by some kind of Jewish force”.

Pressing him on the issue, she said it was “inferred”, to which the BLMUK campaigner responded, saying the word gagged “means there’s a conversation is not being allowed to happen.”

Not letting up, Barnett asks “by who?”, Virasami says “It’s things like the IHRA definition.” She continues to ask, “that’s a definition. By who? Who is doing the gagging? The people who wrote that definition of what antisemitism is?”

Joshua Virasami (Twitter)

He repeats his claim that IHRA, “disallows a genuine conversation about what is happening in Israel” before saying “a lot of people, whether that’s business people, and they don’t need to be Jewish, just anybody who has stakes in the conversation on Israel going a certain way might proclaim that any conversation around Israel [is antisemitic]”.

Interrupted by Barnett, who asks: “did you just say ‘a lot of business people?’”, Virasami responded, “I’m saying a lot people have a stake and would like to see any conversation about Israel as antisemitic and any conversation about Zionism is seen as antisemitic.”

Part of what is happening with the IHRA definition is that you can’t have an honest conversation about Israel and Palestine. And so the tweet is literally that, we have been unable to have an honest conversation.”

When told “nobody is stopping you” from speaking about Israel-Palestine, he claims “that’s not true – some people have lost their jobs because of what they have spoken about Israel.”

Moving the discussion back onto the tweet, she asks whether the movement “tarnished” its reputation, “when you’re unable to say who’s done the gagging.”

He replies: “If you want to speak about the tweet, I think it was an insensitive use of the word [gagged]. I think it could have been more alert to the fact that when people hear the word ‘gagged’ it might conjure up ideas.”

“I don’t think the intention at all, as a member of the organisation, was to infer some kind of Jewish cabal, at all.”

The IHRA definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted by 34 governments, and many organisations including political parties, trade unions and football clubs, contains a set of 11 working examples of Jew-hatred.

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