The Labour Party’s ruling body has adopted a definition of antisemitism that restricts criticism of Israel.
The decision by the party’s national executive committee (NEC) on Tuesday is a betrayal of the Palestinians. It is the result of relentless smearing by the right, and is a humiliating climb-down for Labour’s left wing leadership.
After months of accusations of antisemitism against the left and party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has finally given in to the right’s demand. It has now accepted that it is antisemitic to describe the state of Israel as “a racist endeavour”.
This is attached as an example to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism which Labour had already adopted.
In practice this would mean that calling Israel a racist state, or even describing the oppression of Palestinians as racist, would be seen as antisemitic.
There had been speculation ahead of the NEC’s decision about whether it would adopt the definition with caveats that attempt to protect the right to criticise Israel.
In the end, the NEC is said to have added the phrase, “This does not in any way undermine the freedom of expression on Israel and the rights of Palestinians.”
Yet the definition does precisely that. A proposal by Corbyn to add a statement protecting the right to call Israel racist was rejected.
Corbyn’s statement said it should not be considered antisemitic “to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict”.
The BBC’s Laura Keunssberg reported that this was rejected as “unacceptable to much of the committee”. If this is true, it means Labour may now consider it antisemitic to talk about the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that accompanied Israel’s creation.
It would also mean Labour may view it as unacceptable to call Israel, or its founding ideology of Zionism as racist, or to compare it to apartheid South Africa.
And it would mean it may be deemed antisemitic to support a one-state solution in Palestine, where Arabs and Jews could live together with equal democratic rights.
Even so, the right are angry that the definition includes any reference to Palestinian rights at all.
Labour MP Margaret Hodge—who proudly called Corbyn a “fucking antisemitic racist” tweeted, “Why dilute the welcome adoption IN FULL of the #IHRA definition of #Antisemitism with an unnecessary qualification?”
And a statement from Jennifer Garber, director of Labour Friends of Israel, said, “A ‘freedom of expression on Israel’ clause is unnecessary.
“This decision is a sad reflection on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party and the culture it has instilled.”
The right’s attacks will now intensify, and the definition will now be used against Corbyn’s supporters.
Any Labour Party member who calls Israel racist, supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign, or talks about the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians may now face disciplinary action.
And there will now be a re-doubled effort by supporters of Israel to push the definition into trade unions, universities and councils. If not fought it could lead to an even bigger setback for anyone who campaigns in solidarity with the Palestinians.
Some 200 people protested outside Labour Party headquarters in central London today ahead of the NEC’s decision.
Glyn Secker from Jewish Voice for Labour, one of the protest’s organisers, told Socialist Worker, “Anyone who supports the Palestinian cause will be likely to be thrown out of the Labour Party.
“It will also mean that Palestinians in the Labour Party will not be able to talk about their own experiences.”
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi from JVL said it would severely restrict criticism of Israel. “You may criticise Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, you may criticise the worst excesses of the occupation,” she said.
“But you may not as Palestinians or those who support them, describe the history of Zionism.”
She called on the NEC to “listen to the Palestinian voices that you are being called upon to suppress”.
Other speakers at the protest called on supporters to continue resisting attempts to silence solidarity with Palestine, whatever the NEC’s decision.
Rob Ferguson from Free Speech on Israel said, “We need to take note of what is at stake here. The eyes of the Palestinians are watching us today.”
And British Palestinian human rights lawyer Salma Karmi-Ayyoub said, “There is an Israeli-state spearheaded campaign to destroy the Palestinian cause.
“Whatever happens on the NEC today, the battle starts now.”