A Member of UK Lawyers for Israel Provides “Expert Opinion” to Support a Teacher Sanctioned for AntisemitismPublished on Mon Oct 24 2022
UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) member, Lesley Klaff, provided “expert witness” testimony in support of a pro-Israel teacher accused of posting antisemitic material. Her testimony contradicts UKLFI’s usual position on anti-Zionist commentary. In April 2022, she testified to a Panel for the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) that the IHRA definition of antisemitism is not to be interpreted strictly, but rather on a case-by-case basis, and that it should not be used to sanction people or restrict their freedom of speech.
Lesley Klaff’s testimony in support of someone who made vile, antisemitic sentiments appears to deviate from UKLFI’s modus operandi. However, the teacher’s political position as a pro-Israel supporter gives context to her sudden determination to stand behind him.
Edward Sutherland, religious education teacher and ex-Convenor of the Confederation of Friends of Israel in Scotland (COFIS), used a pseudonym to post antisemitic material on Facebook in a fruitless attempt to “bait” and “expose” Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) members as racist, hoping that the antisemitic slurs would elicit supportive responses from SPSC. This case is just the latest in a line of attacks carried out by pro-Israel groups, utilising fake profiles to defame Palestinian rights advocates and silence any criticism of Israel’s apartheid regime and Zionism as a political ideology. The antisemitic commentary included plainly offensive statements, such as: “[l]ooks like a certain Zio’s big nose is out of joint”.
Lesley Klaff’s testimony that such commentary “was not unequivocally antisemitic” and that there is a clear distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism diverges drastically from UKLFI’s usual approach to anti-Zionist commentary.
UKLFI is a legal advocacy and campaigning organisation based in the UK that has been attempting to smear and disrupt the work of Palestinian human rights groups and their partners for years. Since the UK government adopted the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism in December 2016, UKLFI has strongly advocated for a rigorous implementation of the definition and its examples. UKLFI has stressed on multiple occasions that anti-Zionism and criticism of the state of Israel constitute antisemitism, and so has Lesley Klaff.
However, in this case, Klaff has interpreted the IHRA definition in an entirely different way. According to the minutes of Sutherland’s hearing, initially published on the GTSC’s website – the page has since been removed but the link is still available here – Klaff declared that:
Zionism relates to being pro-Israel as a political entity, and antisemitism as being anti-Jewish in a racial and religious sense. With no ‘concrete’ determination of antisemitism within the IHRA definition, consideration of any comments as being antisemitic required account to be taken of the context and all of the circumstances in each case.
The IHRA definition had never been intended for use as a tool to sanction people nor as a means to take away their livelihood or free speech, or indeed to effect discipline.
Lesley Klaff’s testimony reveals manipulation and insincerity in how the IHRA definition is used by pro-Israel organisations not as a tool to combat antisemitism but, rather, a tool to censor Palestinian rights advocacy through the false conflation of criticism of Zionism with antisemitism. It, therefore, seems fitting that a UKLFI member acknowledges that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism purely in support of a pro-Israel individual who posted abusive antisemitic content online in an attempt to thwart Palestinian rights advocacy. The genuine offensiveness of Mr Sutherland’s comments, which were upheld as antisemitic in spite of Lesley Klaff’s testimony, brings into question UKLFI’s motivations, and that of some of its members, when putting forward the general stance that anti-Zionism equals antisemitism. This case highlights the inconsistency underpinning UKLFI’s equation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism and its exploitation of antisemitism for political gain.