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When the Notion of “Israel’s Right to Exist” is Used to Target Palestinian Rights Advocates with Unfounded Allegations: Expert Reports 

UK-based organisation CAGE published two expert reports signed by leading scholars, Professor John Dugard SC [1] and Professor Avi Shlaim [2] on the notion of “Israel’s right to exist”. 

As observed in several cases of suppression of Palestinian rights advocacy, this concept is often very broadly interpreted by pro-Israel actors and raised to purport allegations of antisemitism. It has been used, to list a few examples, to repress: 

  • Palestinian rights advocates carrying banners in protests showing the map of historic Palestine, a very common display in Palestinian culture and solidarity movement; 
  • Individuals and organisations expressing about the historical turning point that constituted the Nakba; 
  • Individuals and organisations expressing on the concept of settler colonialism in relation to Israel. 

These two reports challenging the prevailing narrative on the notion of “Israel’s right to exist” and replacing it in a legal context are useful tools to rebut common unfounded claims made against Palestinian rights advocates. 

Read the report by Professor Avi Shlaim

Read the report by Professor John Dugard

The reports are part of CAGE’s legal action against UK’s former Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, who sent a very controversial guidance to schools in May 2021, when Palestinian civilians were facing violent military attacks by the Israeli army. After forcing British Higher Education Institutions to adopt the biased IHRA definition of antisemitism, Williamson also urged schools not to work with organisations that “reject Israel’s right to exist”, without explaining the meaning of it. Read more.  

[1] Professor John Dugard has been a Senior Counsel in Australia for over twenty years, and is an associate at Doughty Street Chambers, renowned for their human rights and civil liberties work, and international law legal consultant at the Hague. He has spent time at the United National International Law Commission and International Court of Justice and served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Additionally, he has written extensively about international law and apartheid, including in Palestine. 

[2] Professor Avi Shlaim is a former professor at the University of Oxford. His academic expertise is the international relations of the Middle East, focusing primarily on the Arab-Israeli conflict, a subject on which he has been published widely over the years. He has also written specifically about the question of Israel’s right to exist and the dynamics of antisemitism within the discourse on anti-Zionism and the Israel-Palestine conflict. As such, it is clear that these two individuals are well suited to provide expert evidence in a judicial review of this nature and on the subject of Israel-Palestine more broadly. 

Image from Unsplash courtesy of Yousef Salhamoud

Read more (external link)


Useful links

Freedom of Expression / Right to Boycott

What is BDS?

• Transnational Legal Theory, 3-4 (2019), Michiel Bot, The right to boycott: BDS, law, and politics in a global context, pp. 421-445

• Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC): “Right to BDS” Statement

Shrinking Space

• Journal of Palestine Studies, 49-2 (2020), Ben White, Delegitimizing Solidarity: Israel Smears Palestine Advocacy as Anti-Semitic, pp. 65–79

• Article Harward Law Review, 1360, Wielding Antidiscrimination Law to Suppress the Movement for Palestinian Rights, 10 February 2020

Defunding and Deplatforming

• Charity & Security Network Issue Brief, Financial Services Deplatforming Hurts Aid, Peacebuilding

Business and Human Rights

• Business and Human Rights Journal, 4 (2019), Marya Farah, Maha Abdallah, Security, Business and Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, pp. 7–31

• Business and Human Rights Journal, 3 (2018), Valentina Azarova, Business and Human Rights in Occupied Territory: The UN Database of Business Active in Israel’s Settlements, pp. 187–209