Tory conference fringe includes claim IHRA definition ‘restricts’ debate on Israel

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Tory conference fringe includes claim IHRA definition ‘restricts’ debate on Israel

Panellist and Birkbeck professor Eric Kaufmann says he would 'totally agree' with claim made by audience member that IHRA definition of antisemitism 'does restrict what people can say about the Israel/Palestine conflict'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Eric Kaufmann, second right, and Marc Glendening on panel at Tory Party fringe event
Eric Kaufmann, second right, and Marc Glendening on panel at Tory Party fringe event

A fringe event at this year’s Tory Party conference has included claims that the IHRA definition of antisemitism “restricts” debate over Israel and the Palestinians.

At Sunday’s joint Taxpayers Alliance and Institute of Economic Affairs event at the Birmingham conference panellist Eric Kaufmann openly backed claims made by an audience member that there is “no doubt” IHRA “does restrict what people can say about the Israel/Palestine conflict.”

Kaufmann, a professor at Birkbeck, responded to the suggestion saying:”IHRA – I totally agree with you.”

The audience member had referred to the decision by former education secretary Gavin Williamson two years ago to force universities to adopt the IHRA definition, or risk losing their funding.

He said this was a “strong, tough move against antisemitism”, but then raised his concern about the definition’s impact on free speech.

The same event also featured repeat attacks on the government’s proposed Online Safety Bill, over claims that it impacts on free speech.

At one stage, the panellist Marc Glendening, head of cultural affairs at the Institute of Economic Affairs, openly challenged claims teenagers, including Molly Russell, who took her own life aged 14, after viewing self-harm images online, could be harmed by what they viewed on the internet.

He said “the whole notion that you could be made unsafe by looking at a computer screen I would challenge.

“There is no way being exposed to a particular viewpoint or seeing some unpleasant imagery can actually harm you.”

Glendening was then challenged over his views by another panellist, who raised the tragic case of Molly Russell, who father said was harmed by the images she viewed on the internet.

“I disagree,” he said, when presented with the father’s claim. “I think there are a range of other issues there. There is not a deterministic relationship between what a person, whether teenager or adult, sees online and what they do.”

Glendening suggested Online Safety legislation was a result of the “centre right” adopting the views of the “new left.”

But in an interview with The Times, new culture secretary Michelle Donelan accused social media companies of “abysmal” conduct in relation to the death of 14 year-old teenager Russell.

She said:”If Instagram applied its own terms terms and conditions, it’s my understanding Molly Russell wouldn’t have been fed the content she was.”


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