The Labour Party’s new definition of antisemitism has already had a chilling effect on pro-Palestinian campaigners’ willingness to criticise Israel.
Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell condemned a pro-Palestinian poster campaign after the party’s ruling body agreed it is antisemitic to call Israel a racist state.
Pro-Palestine councillors in Newcastle dodged a crucial debate on the definition just hours before.
Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) agreed last week that it should be deemed 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.
Calling Israel a racist state, or even describing the oppression of Palestinians as racist, could now be seen as antisemitic.
McDonnell said he “completely condemned” posters put up at bus stops in London by pro-Palestine group LDNPalestineAction.
The posters declared, “Israel is a racist endeavour” in defiance of the definition. A spokesperson for Labour’s London mayor Sadiq Khan branded the posters “offensive”.
It is an early sign that the new definition will be used to make legitimate criticism of Israel unacceptable.
Leaders of the Unite, Unison, GMB and Usdaw unions had all called on party leader Jeremy Corbyn to agree to the definition, as did Lansman.
The decision is a humiliating climbdown for Labour’s left wing leadership—and a betrayal of the Palestinians.
The right’s attacks will now intensify. Any Labour member who calls Israel racist or talks about the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians may face disciplinary action.
Newcastle city councillors unanimously agreed to adopt the IHRA definition with its examples on Wednesday of last week. The motion was supported by Labour council leader Nick Forbes.
Newcastle Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) called on the council not to adopt the definition.
Yet several Labour councillors who campaign with the PSC failed to turn up to the meeting. They allowed the motion to pass without opposition rather than face disciplinary action for defying their party’s instructions.
Supporters of Israel want to use the definition to roll back years of growing solidarity with Palestine.
Everyone who supports the Palestinians must be brave enough to stand up against the racist state’s backers.
Ruling protects Israel
There had been speculation ahead of the NEC’s decision about whether it would adopt the definition with caveats that try 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.
It means Labour may now consider it antisemitic to talk about the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that accompanied Israel’s creation.
And it may be deemed antisemitic to support a one-state solution in Palestine.