Palestine solidarity campaigners have welcomed new rules on anti-Semitism passed by the British Labour Party’s ruling executive this week.
Left-wing group Jewish Voice for Labour gave the new rules a cautious welcome, saying in a statement that the code of conduct “offers a constructive framework for moving forward in this difficult area.”
But Israel lobby groups were furious on Wednesday, as details of the new rules emerged.
The new Labour code of conduct on anti-Semitism strips out several of the most damaging clauses of the controversial “working definition” on anti-Semitism published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
The new rules still endorse parts of the definition within the IHRA document. Yet they reject or rewrite some “examples” cited in that document of what allegedly constitutes anti-Semitism.
Last year the leading human rights lawyer Hugh Tomlinson criticized the definition as “unclear and confusing” saying it did not have “the clarity which would be required” from a legal definition of anti-Semitism.
The IHRA document claimed as examples of anti-Semitism, “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” and “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
The latter clause was particularly criticized by Palestine solidarity campaigners and groups like Jewish Voice for Labour, as it risked legally defining support for a unitary democratic state for Palestinians and Israelis alike as “anti-Semitic.”
In March, a delegation of anti-Palestinian groups and lawmakers (including Labour Friends of Israel’s Joan Ryan) lobbied the British prime minister, calling on her to ban the annual Israeli Apartheid Week from UK campuses
To back up their demands, they cited the IHRA definition, saying it provides “examples of behavior that qualifies as anti-Semitic, one of which is to claim that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
Former appeal court judge Stephen Sedley wrote last year that “the IHRA definition offers encouragement to pro-Israel militants whose targets for abuse and disruption in London have recently included the leading American scholar and critic of Israel Richard Falk, and discouragement to university authorities which do not want to act as censors but worry that the IHRA definition requires them to do so.”
Jewish Voice for Labour stated that the new Labour code of conduct encouraged “free speech on issues to do with Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians, and with Zionism.”
But the group cautioned that “much will depend on how this code of conduct is applied in practice, particularly in disciplinary cases. We are cautiously optimistic.”
Palestine Solidarity Campaign director Ben Jamal told The Electronic Intifada that he cautiously welcomed the new code of conduct, although it is imperfect and should not have embraced the seriously flawed IHRA document.
“The IHRA definition is deeply controversial,” Jamal said, “because of its conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.”
He said it was important that Labour had rejected the examples in the IHRA document which pro-Israel groups use to “assert that calling Israel an apartheid state or calling for peaceful action to respond to its human rights abuses via boycott, divestment and sanctions are inherently anti-Semitic.”
This “not only demeans the struggle against anti-Semitism in which all should be involved but also prevents action to address the injustices perpetrated against Palestinian people,” he said.
But veteran Palestine solidarity activist and anti-Zionist blogger Tony Greenstein sounded a note of skepticism on Friday, telling The Electronic Intifada there were “really serious problems” with the new code of conduct.
He said that although he welcomed the fact the document had some caveats protecting activists, it was still essentially a “cut down version” of the IHRA document.
He said that Labour should reject the IHRA document and ask, “Why do you use it, when there is a simple definition of anti-Semitism which suits everyone, which is ‘hostility to Jews as Jews’?”
Greenstein has in the past stated that the IHRA document should be more accurately described as a “redefinition” of anti-Semitism.
As problematic, he pointed to paragraph 12 of the new code of conduct, which states that “the Jewish people” have a “right to self-determination” (albeit without reference to Palestine or Israel).
Greenstein said this is in practice an “anti-Semitic formulation” since it “assumes that Jews are a people apart.”
Israel lobby reaction
The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council criticized Labour. In a joint statement, the two groups alleged that the new rules “only dilute the definition and further erode the existing lack of confidence that British Jews have in their sincerity to tackle anti-Semitism within the Labour movement.”
Stephen Pollard, editor of the right-wing, anti-Palestinian Jewish Chronicle, went into overdrive, strongly hinting that the document may as well have been written by “not AH [Adolf Hitler], but Nazis generally.” Pollard argued that it was “a cynical exercise in Jew hatred” and shows Labour is “institutionally anti-Semitic.”
The lobby group demanded she overturn the collective decision of the ruling executive and “abandon this definition, without haste, and make clear that [Labour] has already adopted and [is] actively using IHRA.”
As The Electronic Intifada revealed in April, the JLM has acted as a proxy for the Israeli embassy, with its director privately admitting to working closely “very well” with disgraced Israeli embassy spy Shai Masot.
Writing furiously in the New Statesman on Friday, two JLM officers called the code of conduct a “bastardized version” of the IHRA “that requires intent [of anti-Semitism] to be proven.”
- IHRA definition of anti-Semitism
- Jewish Voice for Labour
- International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
- Joan Ryan
- Israeli Apartheid Week
- Labour Party
- Jennie Formby
- Palestine Solidarity Campaign
- Ben Jamal
- Tony Greenstein
- Labour National Executive Committee
- Stephen Pollard
- Jewish Chronicle
- Jewish Labour Movement
- Mike Katz
- Adam Langleben
- Labour witch hunt