Socialist Worker

Labour reserves the right to criticise Israel - while fighting antisemitism

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2612

Huge protests in August 2014 in Britain showed the level of anger against Israeli apartheid

Huge protests in August 2014 in Britain showed the level of anger against Israeli apartheid (Pic: Socialist Worker)


The Labour Party’s leadership has infuriated the party’s right wing by adopting a definition of antisemitism that does not silence criticism of Israel.

In a new code of conduct, Labour uses the main text of the definition of antisemitism set by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

It correctly defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews”.

Yet crucially the document does not adopt examples associated with the IHRA that harshly restrict criticism of Israel.

Enraged

One example—“claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour”—has been used to target campaigns against Israel.

The Labour leadership’s refusal to include this example enraged the right. MPs Keir Starmer, John Woodcock, Ian Austin and Anna Turley all attacked Jeremy Corbyn.

So did right wing organisations such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which represents conservative opinion among a section of Jewish people.

A statement claimed that Labour had denied “the Jewish community” a say over what antisemitism is.

Guardian newspaper columnist Jonathan Freedland claimed, “Labour now holds its members to a lower standard of anti-racism than the law demands.”

But Labour’s code of conduct is precise and unequivocal in its condemnation of antisemitism. It even adds to and fleshes out some of the IHRA’s definitions.

Yet it also clearly distinguishes antisemitism from legitimate criticism of Israel—two things defenders of Israel try to conflate.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism claimed Labour’s new rules are “driven by the Corbyn faction’s obsessive hatred of the Jewish state”.

The campaign calls the Palestine Solidarity Campaign antisemitic.

And it said Labour had given “the green light to its members and supporters to express antisemitism disguised as discourse about Israel”. In fact the code of conduct bans “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”. It also warns Labour members against comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany.

It is clear that “discussion of the circumstances of the foundation of the Israeli state (for example, in the context of its impact on the Palestinian people) forms a legitimate part of modern political discourse”.

Considered

It bans use of the word “Zionist” as a code word for Jew. It adds, “It is not antisemitism to refer to ‘Zionism’ and ‘Zionists’ as part of a considered discussion about the Israeli state.”

Jewish Voice for Labour welcomed the new rules. A statement said the code of conduct is an “effective way of dealing with the issue of antisemitism in Labour and society at large”.

But it warned, “Much will depend on how this code of conduct is applied in practice, particularly in disciplinary cases.”

No one should now be expelled from Labour for criticising Israel, or speaking out against its defenders.


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