By Nick Clark
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2617

Trade union leaders pile pressure onto Labour to silence criticism of Israel

This article is over 5 years, 10 months old
Issue 2617
Dave Prentis has joined calls for Corbyn to back down in face of antisemitism smears
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis has joined calls for Corbyn to back down in face of antisemitism smears (Pic: Unison)

Trade Union leaders and allies of Corbyn have put increasing pressure on him to adopt a definition of antisemitism that restricts criticism of Israel.

The leaders of three major Labour-affiliated trade unions have called on the party to accept that it is antisemitic to describe Israel as a racist state.

Jon Lansman, founder of Labour left group Momentum, is also reported to have called on Corbyn to back down.

The Labour Party has already adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition. It describes antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews”.

Yet Corbyn and the Labour Party have faced accusations of antisemitism for not accepting examples linked to the definition.

These include “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” as antisemitic.

And it has already been used against Palestine solidarity initiatives, such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and Israeli Apartheid Week.

Now the general secretaries of the Unison, the GMB and Usdaw unions have joined calls for Labour to adopt the IHRA definition “with all its examples.”

Unison leader Dave Prentis accused Labour of “an attempt to rewrite a widely-used, internationally accepted definition of antisemitism”.


He claimed that the examples don’t ban criticism of Israel. “If you’re not capable of criticising Israel without being antisemitic, then you’re an antisemite—and we should make no special exceptions for you,” he wrote.

Prentis pointed out that Unison is affiliated to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). And he said the union’s Labour Link committee “made up of Labour members and activists from across our union” had adopted the IHRA examples.

Yet PSC warns that the IHRA definition has been used to attack BDS and the right to call Israel an apartheid state.

The row has already been used by some to smear the PSC itself as antisemitic.

Unison activists have repeatedly voted to support BDS at a number of the union’s annual conferences.

Votes at the GMB union’s conferences have also banned its officials from going on visits organised by Trade Union Friends of Israel.

Such votes would likely fall foul of the IHRA definition’s examples.

Jon Woods, branch chair Portsmouth City Unison, spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity. He said, “There’s been a big push to make it harder for us to campaign for freedom for Palestine.

“The examples of the IHRA definition do exactly that. If you give ground on this, they’ll keep on coming.”

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