Justice Minister Lord Wolfson insists IHRA definition doesn’t shut down free speech

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Justice Minister Lord Wolfson insists IHRA definition doesn’t shut down free speech

Wolfson tells Jerusalem Post London conference, 'It's calumny, to say that the fight against antisemitism in some way shuts down free speech, it simply doesn't.'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

The panel at the Jerusalem Post Conference in London, 31 March, 2022
The panel at the Jerusalem Post Conference in London, 31 March, 2022

Justice Minister Lord David Wolfson has hit out at claims that the government’s adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism infringes on its commitment to free speech.

Speaking during a session at the Jerusalem Post’s London conference on Thursday, Lord Wolfson said:”It’s calumny, to say that the fight against antisemitism in some way shuts down free speech, it simply doesn’t.”

In an important intervention the parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice told the audience who had gathered at Tottenham Hotspur’s Stadium in north London that the government “believe that Britain ought to be a country of free speech.”

But he said no distinction should be drawn between adopting the IHRA definition and also defending free speech.

The QC added: “Antisemitism is hate speech and all democracies have drawn a line between free speech and hate speech. There are things you cannot say because they are defamatory and there are things you cannot say because they are racist.

“Antisemitism is Jew-hatred. I also do not like the word antisemitism. I call it anti-Jewish racism. I think it is very important to see the fight against antisemitism, as part of the fight against racism.”

Addressing the critics of IHRA – the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of Jew-hate, he said: “There are some people who appear to have a blind spot when it comes to anti-Jewish racism, people who pronounce themselves antiracist in relation to every other form of racism.”

During Thursday’s event, which took place inside one of the stadium’s impressive events suites before an audience of around 300 guests from Israel and the UK, numerous speakers addressed ways in which the riding tide of antisemitism could be stemmed.

Lord John Mann confirmed that the government had set up a new task force of senior ministers and MPs to look into the treatment of Jewish students in UK universities.

The UK’s independent advisor on antisemitism said the working group would “listen” to the voices of Jewish students, at a time of heightened concerns about the leadership of the National Union of Students.

The move, which will include the involvement of Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, had been first mentioned by Boris Johnson in the Commons earlier this month.

Lord Mann also said he was “sick of the excuses” being made by large social media firms for failing to crackdown on antisemtic hate online.

Meanwhile Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked also addressed the conference on the response to the current wave of terror attacks on his country, which have left 11 dead.

“We are doing everything we think we can do to help,” Shaked said.

“Sometimes the politicians push the security forces to do more. We are free to do anything we need.”

Shaked said the wave of terrorist attacks in Israel, seemed to be coming from “lone wolves,” with no specific terrorist organisation behind it.

She appeared to dismiss suggestions that Israel would need to launch another anti-terror crackdown similar to Operation Defensive Shield.

Shaked said “back then it was something totally different. Terrorist organizations and the Palestinian Authority were launching the attacks. Now it’s lone wolf attacks; it’s not organised.”

The conference had begun with a short video address from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. He praised Boris Johnson for his “resolute” determination in challenging antisemitism.

A further video address was shown from World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder.

In a hardline message Lauder claimed Israel should ignore world opinion and do what it believed to be right over the threat from Iran.

Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl was also in attendance to take part of in one of several side panel discussions.

Others to attend the event included the Board’s chief executive Michael Weiger, Jewish Leadership Council co-chair Claudia Mendoza, and Mitzvah Day chair Laura Marks, along with Louis Jacobs, the UJIA chair.

Later Eitan Neishlos, a third generation Holocaust survivor, was joined on stage by Nobuki Sugihara, a second generation Righteous Among The Nation, and Carolin Hhnoecker, a third generation survivor.

Scott Saunders, from March of the Living UK, said those on the platform were “the kind of examples we learn so much from.”

He also mentioned the appalling war in Ukraine and how many of the place names were “familiar” to us today because of their connection with the Nazi atrocities in World War 2.

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