Labour backs full IHRA but adds caveat for ‘freedom of expression’ on Israel

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Labour backs full IHRA but adds caveat for ‘freedom of expression’ on Israel

Party's governing body adopts all 11 examples of the international definition of anti-Semitism, as community welcomes action but says it's long overdue

Activists outside a meeting of the Labour National Executive Committee. Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Activists outside a meeting of the Labour National Executive Committee. Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Labour’s governing body has adopted the international definition of anti-Semitism, with a caveat to ensure “freedom expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians”.

Jewish community groups welcomed the “long overdue” announcement that it had adopted all 11 of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance examples of anti-Semitism, after having previously only accepted seven – but they criticised the addition of a clause on free speech. Community leaders have consistently argued that criticism of Israeli policy is not curtailed by IHRA.

Jeremy Corbyn insisted to the NEC about Labour that Labour was committed to “eradicating the social cancer of antisemitism” and expressed “deep concern and pain” over the loss of confidence among Jewish communities. He said that the full adoption was part of a process of “rebuilding trust and as an act of solidarity with Jewish communities”.

Reacting to the NEC’s decision,  the Jewish Labour Movement said it was “welcome” but had been “soured by further attempts to undermine it”.

They say that Jeremy Corbyn “attempted to have the NEC adopt his ‘personal statement’ that would have inflamed the situation. The only speech that IHRA definition seeks to limit is antisemitism.”

They add, that “many in the Jewish community will continue to doubt the ability of the party to tackle antisemitism without the full and demonstrable support of its leader.”

Board of Deputies of British Jews President Marie van der Zyl said: “The decision by the National Executive Committee to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of Antisemitism in full with all of its illustrative examples had to be the right call. It is very long overdue and regrettable that Labour has wasted a whole summer trying to dictate to Jews what constitutes offence against us. However the adoption of the internationally-recognised definition by itself, can only be the beginning. Action is what matters.”

They said the adoption must be followed by concrete action including taking action against anti-Semites, resolving outstanding cases, tackling the culture of anti-Semitism and addressing Jeremy Corbyn’s prior associations and actions.

Simon Johnson, Chief Executive, Jewish Leadership Council issued a statement, but later retracted it and published a new one. They say: “The JLC’s earlier statement appears to have been based on a disingenuous presentation of what the NEC decided.

“It has now become absolutely clear that the Leader of the Party attempted shamefully to undermine the entire IHRA definition.”

The “free speech caveat” drives a coach and horses through the IHRA definition. It will do nothing to stop antisemitism within the Party. It will do nothing to stop the vitriol being poured at those who put their heads above the parapet to condemn the party for antisemitism, which the Leader has done nothing to stop.”

The IHRA definition does not restrict free speech and it is astonishing that the Labour Leader persisted in misrepresenting that it did.”

A statement from the Community Security Trust welcomed the “belated” move, saying it “shows how unnecessary and damaging their previus refusal to adopt it was”.

“The definition does not prevent free speech unless that speech is antisemitic, so Labour’s ‘clarification’ is superfluous.”

Urging the party to “apply the definition consistency and vigorously”, the statement also calls on Labour to address “all the other concerns raised by the Jewish community leadership.”

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, senior rabbi of the Movement for Reform Judaism took to Twitter, to say the move was a “step in the right direction” before urging Labour “to move from talking to concrete action”.

The progressive leader, who was one of 69 rabbis who wrote to the NEC urging it to adopt the full definition, added that “of course freedom of expression about policies of Israel government is legitimate in a way that is similar to criticism levelled at any other country. Consensus in Jewish UK community is of course for the national rights of Palestinians alongside the national rights of Israelis.

Labour Friends of Israel Director Jennifer Gerber said: “It is appalling that the Labour party has once again ignored the view clearly and repeatedly stated by the Jewish community: that it should adopt the full IHRA definition without additions, omissions or caveats.”

“A “freedom of expression on Israel” clause is unnecessary and totally undermines the other examples the party has supposedly just adopted. Labour appears determined to provide a safe space for antisemites. This decision is a sad reflection on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party and the culture it has instilled.”

Campaign group Labour Against anti-Semitism commented that “there can be no caveats, no conditions and no compromises with racism”, criticising the adoption.

“We are disappointed by the decision of Labour’s governing body, the NEC, to diminish the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism via the attachment of a “clarification” that risks giving racists in the party a get out of jail card.”
During the meeting, Corbyn also sought to reassure members of the NEC that the IHRA definition could not be used to “undermine the rights of Palestinians or their supporters, to identify and campaign about their history or experience of racism”.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The NEC has today adopted all of the IHRA examples of antisemitism, in addition to the IHRA definition which Labour adopted in 2016, alongside a statement which ensures this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians.

“The NEC welcomed Jeremy Corbyn’s statement to the meeting about action against antisemitism, solidarity with the Jewish community and protection of Palestinian rights, as an important contribution to the consultation on Labour’s Code of Conduct.”

The NEC urged organisations to engage in consultation on the Code of Conduct.

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