Labour’s new an­tisemitism code is both clear and ro­bust

The Guardian - Journal - - Opinion - Jon Lans­man

The Labour party in­tro­duced a code of con­duct on an­tisemitism last week, stronger than any­thing of its kind adopted by any po­lit­i­cal party in this coun­try. This comes af­ter our adop­tion of the In­ter­na­tional Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Al­liance’s (IHRA) full def­i­ni­tion of an­tisemitism in 2016 and Labour’s an­nual con­fer­ence vot­ing over­whelm­ingly to strengthen its rules against an­tisemitism and racism. Some have wel­comed this pro­gres­sive move, but Labour has been crit­i­cised by some MPs and Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tions for not sim­ply re­pro­duc­ing the IHRA’s work­ing ex­am­ples word for word. How­ever, far from low­er­ing the bar for what con­sti­tutes an­tisemitism, Labour’s code lifts the bar. It re­quires a higher stan­dard of be­hav­iour than the IHRA ex­am­ples do and should be seen as the new gold stan­dard.

I have been vo­cal in talk­ing about my ex­pe­ri­ences of an­tisemitism and in call­ing out the blind­ness to an­tisemitism and the un­con­scious bias against Jewish peo­ple that per­vades our so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing when it ap­pears on the left. I have ar­gued for a long time that Labour must lead the way in tack­ling this evil within our own party, and press other po­lit­i­cal par­ties to fol­low suit. That’s why I was so pleased to sup­port this code when it was unan­i­mously ap­proved by Labour’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, of which I’m a mem­ber. Van­dalised graves in Hamp­shire

The code fully adopts the IHRA def­i­ni­tion, and cov­ers the same ground as the al­liance’s 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. Three of the four ex­am­ples that the party has been falsely ac­cused of omit­ting are ex­plic­itly dis­cussed in the code. It states that Jewish peo­ple should not be ac­cused of be­ing more loyal to Israel than other coun­tries; that Israel should not be held to higher stan­dards than other coun­tries; and that mem­bers should not use Hitler, Nazi and Holo­caust metaphors, dis­tor­tions or com­par­isons.

The only part of the IHRA work­ing ex­am­ples that is not ex­plic­itly cited re­lates to claims about the state of Israel be­ing a racist en­deav­our. Of all 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 poli­cies of the Is­raeli state, ob­served since its found­ing, have an ef­fect that dis­crim­i­nates on the ba­sis of race and eth­nic­ity.

Labour’s code ex­plic­itly says that deny­ing Jewish peo­ple the same right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion as any other peo­ple is dis­crim­i­na­tory and there­fore an­tisemitic, and it makes clear that all coun­tries should be held to the same, in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised stan­dards. This ex­pla­na­tion and con­tex­tu­al­i­sa­tion is es­sen­tial to en­sur­ing that peo­ple are able to make le­git­i­mate crit­i­cisms of Israel, while pro­hibit­ing com­ments that dis­crim­i­nate against Jewish peo­ple or deny their right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion.

If le­git­i­mate crit­i­cism of Israel were to be curbed, that would in­fringe on the rights of other op­pressed groups, who have suf­fered at the hands of dis­crim­i­na­tory state poli­cies. The Pales­tini­ans have ex­pe­ri­enced decades of oc­cu­pa­tion, gross hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and war crimes. The Be­douins have had their homes de­stroyed, the lat­est ex­am­ple be­ing the de­mo­li­tion of Khan al-Ah­mar. And eth­nic mi­nori­ties within Israel, such as the Su­danese and Eritrean refugees who have been de­tained and de­ported, have been treated ap­pallingly.

I’ve just been in Israel, where I met peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds and or­gan­i­sa­tions and of var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sions. Those I met, Jewish as well as Pales­tinian cit­i­zens of Israel, spoke about racist state poli­cies, in re­la­tion to the oc­cu­pa­tion and set­tle­ments, and within Israel it­self – the seg­re­ga­tion of hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment as well as sys­tem­atic eco­nomic dis­ad­van­tage. The Pales­tinian mi­nor­ity within Israel is as en­ti­tled as Jews in Bri­tain to de­fine the dis­crim­i­na­tion they have ex­pe­ri­enced as racism. Such crit­i­cisms can­not, and must not, be si­lenced.

It can­not be right that one vaguely worded sub­set of one IHRA ex­am­ple can deny other groups the right to speak about their own op­pres­sion. That doesn’t mean there aren’t con­texts in which claims about Israel be­ing a racist en­deav­our are an­tisemitic or made with an­tisemitic in­tent. But the al­liance’s word­ing is not suf­fi­ciently clear.

I re­gret that, for some Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tions, the IHRA word­ing is so sacro­sanct it can’t be ex­panded and built upon, con­tex­tu­alised, and turned into a prac­ti­cal, us­able doc­u­ment for a po­lit­i­cal party. It does raise the ques­tion whether these or­gan­i­sa­tions, which claim to speak for the di­verse Jewish com­mu­nity, do speak for the 75% of Bri­tish Jews who say “the ex­pan­sion of set­tle­ments on the West Bank is a ma­jor ob­sta­cle to peace”, or for the 61% who back pur­su­ing peace with the Pales­tini­ans as one of their top three pri­or­i­ties for Israel.

I don’t think these or­gan­i­sa­tions, many of which failed to come out against the Black­shirts, or those that wel­comed the pres­i­dency of Don­ald Trump, have the cred­i­bil­ity to crit­i­cise a po­lit­i­cal party’s ro­bust and far-reach­ing code of con­duct. The only real dif­fer­ence be­tween the IHRA ex­am­ples and Labour’s code is that the lat­ter pro­vides clar­ity, con­text and de­tail, whereas the for­mer is vague and open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

Con­flat­ing le­git­i­mate crit­i­cism of Israel with an­tisemitism is dan­ger­ous and un­der­mines the fight against an­tisemitism. Clear guide­lines are es­sen­tial to en­sure an­tisemitism isn’t tol­er­ated, while pro­tect­ing free speech on Israel’s poli­cies. This is what Labour’s code of con­duct pro­vides. We should be cel­e­brat­ing it. is di­rec­tor of Birthrights, a child­birth char­ity


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