Labour NEC’s antisemitism code is more fit-for-purpose than the IHRA code

It’s inevitable that some people, presented with a complex issue at short notice, do not have time to read the texts or think seriously about the issues and base their opinion on what other people or organisations say.

In the case of Labour’s proposed new code of conduct on antisemitism they have been saying: “Why not import the IHRA code?  That’s what all the mainstream Jewish organisations say. What’s the harm in just accepting it?”

“Why not import the IHRA code?”

In fact the Labour Party has always accepted the IHRA definition in full.  And, as you can see from the two codes printed side by side below, the proposed Labour Party code also accepts 90% of the examples given by the IHRA.  Where it differs, it is in the direction of greater clarity and precision – necessary in a disciplinary code – and protecting freedom of speech.

“That’s what all the mainstream Jewish organisations say”

Well, yes, but 40 Jewish organisations have signed a global letter urging governments not to accept the IHRA code, including in the UK Jewish Voice for Labour, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Independent Jewish Voices and Free Speech on Israel. In addition Labour’s code is supported by Brian Klug, well-known academic and Fabian author, who is Jewish, as are two members of the NEC working party that drew up the new code, Jon Lansman and Rhea Wolfson.  What is also true, but less frequently pointed out, is that many of those who oppose the new code are not Labour.

“What’s the harm in just accepting it?” 

There’s already evidence that organisations will use the loose wording of the IHRA guidelines to stop people saying things that are critical of Israel and have no antisemitic intent. This is already happening. Four examples are given below.

“It would be antisemitic to refuse.”

It is vital that in defending the human rights of Jewish people and fighting antisemitism, we don’t (intentionally or unintentionally) prevent Palestinians and their supporters from defending their own rights.

We print the two codes side by side and provide all the necessary links so that you can make your own mind up in full knowledge of the facts:

Quotes

Richard Burden MP: “If the two documents were looked at side by side without any preconceptions,most people would be hard pressed to say whether one is stronger or weaker than the other.

“We rightly say we must listen carefully when Jews seek to define the oppression they face, so how can we refuse to do the same when Palestinians speak out about theirs?”

Dr Brian Klug: “Examples that are seen to be problematic in terms of protecting free speech must be dealt with separately, which is what the new code does…. Labour is right to discuss the complexities that arise ….and critics are wrong to say that the code simply omits them.  In contrast, critics have not acknowledged these complexities since the code was released.”

Jon Lansman: “The [Labour Party] code fully adopts the IHRA definition, and covers the same ground as the IHRA examples, but it also provides additional examples of antisemitism while giving context and detailed explanations to ensure it can be practically applied to disciplinary cases within the party.

“The only part of the IHRA working examples that is not explicitly referenced relates to claims about the state of Israel being a racist endeavour (this is a subset of an example, not a standalone one). Of all the elements in the IHRA examples, this is the one that runs the greatest risk of prohibiting legitimate criticism of Israel. It cannot possibly be antisemitic to point out that some of the key policies of the Israeli state, observed since its founding days, have an effect that discriminates on the basis of race and ethnicity.”

Former Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stephen Sedley: “There is no legal bar on criticising Israel. Yet several of the “examples” that have been tacked on to the IHRA definition (by whom is not known) seek to stifle criticism of Israel irrespective of intent. The House of Commons select committee on home affairs in October 2016 advised adding: “It is not antisemitic to criticise the government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.”

Links

IHRA code
Labour’s NRC draft
EU leads criticism after Israel passes Jewish ‘nation state’ law
Richard Burden: Why I’m Concerned About The IHRA Definition Of AntisemitismLabour’s code of conduct isn’t antisemitic – it’s a constructive initiative Brian Klug
Labour’s antisemitism code is the gold standard for political parties Jon Lansman
As Jews, we reject the myth that it’s antisemitic to call Israel racist

The two codes compared

Are all the IHRA examples in the NEC’s examples?

IHRA

IHRA points a-e,i and k are replicated exactly in Labour’s code (though not always in the same position).

a. Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

b. Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

c. Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

d. Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust)

e. Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

f. Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

g.  Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

h. Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

i. Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

j. Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

k. Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Labour’s NEC

a. Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

b. Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

c. Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

d.Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of Nazi Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).

e. Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

f. Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

g. Classic antisemitism also includes the use of derogatory terms for Jewish people (such as “kike” or “yid”); stereotypical and negative physical depictions/descriptions or character traits, such as references to wealth or avarice and — in the political arena — equating Jews with capitalists or the ruling class.

h. Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

What about points f,g,h and j?

Points f,g and h are covered elsewhere in Labour’s guidelines, though not in exactly the same words. IHRA’s point j is addressed in Labour’s paragraph 16, but more narrowly defined.

IHRA

f. Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

g. Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

h. Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

j. Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Labour’s NEC

14. It is wrong to accuse Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

12. The Party is clear that the Jewish people have the same right to self-determination as any other people. to deny that right is to treat the Jewish people unequally and is therefore a form of antisemitism.

14. It is wrong to apply double standards by requiring more vociferous condemnation of such actions from Jewish people or organisations than from others.

16. Discourse about international politics often employs metaphors drawn from examples of historic misconduct.  It is not antisemitism to criticise the conduct or policies of the Israeli state by reference to such examples unless there is evidence of antisemitic intent.  Chakrabarti recommended that Labour members should resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine in particular.  In this sensitive area, such language carries a strong risk of being regarded as prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Party within Clause 2.I.8.

Are all Labour’s points covered by IHRA?

Labour’s NEC

f. Classic antisemitism also includes the use of derogatory terms for Jewish people (such as “kike” or “yid”); stereotypical and negative physical depictions/descriptions or character traits, such as references to wealth or avarice and — in the political arena — equating Jews with capitalists or the ruling class.

 

IHRA definition: what happens?

Example 1

 

The EU published guidelines for the labelling of Israeli products produced in the Palestinian occupied territories in 2015.

But the Board of Deputies of British Jews condemned the EU’s publication of the labelling guidelines saying: “They epitomize the double standard of treating Israel in a different way than other countries involved in territorial disputes.” https://www.bod.org.uk/board-president-condemns-eu-labelling-guidelines-for-territories/

It appears that in the Board of Deputies view that the EU is guilty of ‘double standards’ and ‘treating Israel differently’, and this would mean that the EU itself would have breached the IHRA guidelines, and the EU’s actions could naturally be interpreted as antisemitic.

The EU would argue the Palestinian territory is occupied (not disputed) territory, but the fact that the Board of Deputies sees the EU guidelines as discriminatory is deeply concerning. It demonstrates the IHRA guidelines could be used argue that states can’t use sanctions against the State of Israel.

Example 2

The Board of Deputies has also accused the National Union of Students of falling short of an IHRA guideline by “applying double standards by requiring of [the state of Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

When the NUS NEC voted to support the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and sanctions (BDS) the Board of Deputies  condemned the NUS saying: “Once again, a divisive motion by the NUS NEC has singled out Israel”

Similarly, when academics wrote jointly to the Guardian to support an academic boycott in 2015, the Board of Deputies  issued a statement saying: “We would ask why these academics are singling out Israel in such a discriminatory  fashion?”

With no modification, this argument could be used against any individual or any group or government, or non-governmental body that supports the BDS campaign. 

Example 3

The Israel-Britain Alliance and the organisation We Believe in Israel have already tried to use IHRA guidelines to limit freedom of speech in universities. Many student groups hold events as part of Israeli Apartheid week, drawing attention to the many examples of segregation in Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories.

Israel Britain Alliance and We Believe in Israel  issued a petition to the Government claiming that ”Israeli Apartheid Week also contravenes the International Definition of Antisemism that the Government adopted last year, which states that “claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist and illegitimate endeavour is antisemitic.”

But the examples of segregation are real and fit the UN definition of apartheid. The fact it is shocking is simply a reflection of the facts. To ban students from holding these events would be an unacceptable infringement of their freedom of speech and of Palestinians’ right to protest against their treatment by Israel. 

Example 4

The IHRA guidelines could be used as a way to suppress the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

When Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry recently called for a Palestinian right to return, Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan MP called on the Labour Party to “urgently clarify” these remarks. The claim of an intergenerational Palestinian right of return ……would effectively turn Israel into a Palestinian state and destroy the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.”

So IHRA guidelines if used in this way would restrict Palestinians’ right to demand a return to their homes and to seek political support for this endeavour.

Model resolution in support of Labour’s antisemitism code

Jewish Voice for Labour has drafted this model motion:

This CLP welcomes the NEC Code of Conduct on Antisemitism as giving clearer and stronger guidance than previous codes and definitions on what antisemitism is and what it is not.

We note that the NEC code

  1. states emphatically: “Labour is an anti-racist party. Antisemitism is racism. It is unacceptable in our Party and in wider society. “
  2. fully incorporates the 38-word International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism and clarifies the controversial aspects of guidance notes attached to it
  3. emphasises the vital distinction between
    i) antisemitism, properly understood as hostility or hatred directed at Jews; and
    ii) legitimate criticism of the state of Israel or the ideology of Zionism
  4. confirms that opinion about Israel, Palestine and Zionism may be judged to be racist where there is evidence of antisemitic intent. This is consistent with the MacPherson recommendations in the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.
  5. commits to protecting freedom of expression, including contentious opinions, as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998. This includes opinions about Israel and its policies, and about political strategies seeking to influence them.
This CLP therefore calls on the NEC to:
  • resist pressure to replace the Code of Conduct with the IHRA definition and associated guidance;
  • include a broader range of Jewish opinion in any further consultations; and
  • mobilise to fight the alarming rise of racism of all kinds in the UK and abroad.
Supporting argument

The shortcoming of the IHRA document have been the subject of multiple critical comments from Jewish scholars and commentators since it was first adopted by the Conservative Government in December 2016. These are Jews who really care about combating antisemitism, and freedom of speech, and dealing with rising far-right racism of all kinds. The latter two seem to be of no concern to those attacking the Labour leadership.

Since the Code was made public we have seen the Global Jewish Statement, released to media on July 17, in which 40 Jewish organisations in 15 countries oppose the IHRA for its negative impact on a clear understanding of antisemitism and its role in suppressing solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Brian Klug, a leading authority on antisemitism, discusses the Labour NEC code of conduct, comparing it favourably with the IHRA document and explaining why the latter is being held up as a sacred text.

The Institute of Race Relations explains that the MacPherson principle specifically does not give members of an ethnic or religious the sole right to determine what is or is not racist conduct.

This briefing from Jewish Voice for Labour was sent to all Labour MPs and NEC members.

Antony Lerman, another leading authority on antisemitism, discusses the NEC code and reaction to it.

Portraying British Jews as one monolithic bloc all determined to police what may or may not be said about Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians is dangerous and wrong. Such a portrayal is antisemitic!

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