Dispute over antisemitism goes mainstream

September 19, 2017
Sarah Benton

1) Labour List, 2) FSoI posts Jewish Voice for Labour’s model letter to councils, 3) repost of Jewish Socialist Group’s critique of the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism

Labour Officials Set To Back Rule Change On Antisemitism In Run-Up To Conference

By Emma Bean, Labour List
September 18, 2017

Labour is set to back the Jewish Labour Movement’s rule change on antisemitism ahead of next week’s conference.

The proposed change is expected to be put before Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) tomorrow, and, dependent on final wording, is likely to get wide reaching support, sources suggest.

The motion’s supporters believe it is key to ensuring the party can win back Jewish voters, which in certain key target seats is thought to have made the difference to Tory MPs clinging on in June.

The rule change would mean a tougher line from the party’s compliance unit on antisemitism, Islamophobia, sexism and homophobia. Presently, members cannot be disciplined simply for “the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions,” and the motion would change that for these examples.

The rule change has been backed in principle by the party’s equalities committee, The Guardian reports.

Mike Katz addressing the 2016 Labour party conference on antisemitism.

The Mirror, 27 Sept 2016, reported he “was given a standing ovation by party members after a fiery speech against anti-Semitism – despite some heckling from the conference floor.

“Mike Katz, National vice-chair of Jewish Labour Movement, pledged to work across the party to make clear “Jews are welcome in Labour.”

“He criticised the Party’s National Executive committee for failing to put forward a rule change that would toughen the party’s approach to hate speech among members.

“He said there had been an “upsurge” in vile hate speech inside the party – and it “is not seen as a welcoming home for Jews.”

The Jewish Labour Movement’s (JLM) vice chair Mike Katz said:

“We need a rule change that is fit for purpose.

“Fix this and we start fixing the relationship between the party and the Jewish community – not just the right thing to do, but it helps us get closer to winning back seats in Jewish areas we narrowly lost out on in June.”

The JLM is the largest and most representative Jewish group within the party.

Alice Perry, NEC representative for local government, said:

“Labour and the NEC are fully committed to tackling all forms of hate and prejudice.

“Jeremy Corbyn has a proud record of standing up to all forms of racism wherever it takes place.”

Labour, despite doing very well in urban areas in June’s snap election, narrowly missed out on all three seats in Barnet – an area of London with a significant Jewish population. Chipping Barnet, Hendon, and Finchley and Golders Green are all seats set to be targeted for the party to take a majority in the Commons.


Tell your council not to adopt the IHRA (mis)definition



This is a copy of a letter sent by Jewish Voice for Labour to a council considering adopting the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism. We hope it may be of use to you if your local council is thinking of proceeding down this misguided path.

Dear councillor

As Jewish members of the Labour Party, and of the new Labour group, Jewish Voice for Labour, we are opposed to adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism due to be tabled before the council on Monday September 18.

We believe the IHRA document sows confusion in the fight against antisemitism and racism, which must be a key priority at this time of rising right-wing hate-mongering against ethnic and religious minorities. We also believe it poses a threat to freedom of expression, which it is a key duty of local authorities to protect.

We understand that councillors may feel obliged to endorse the motion out of a commendable desire to support and defend Jewish constituents, but in our opinion this would be misguided. The short definition of antisemitism contained in the proposed motion is, in our view, poorly worded and indefinite, but it is the rest of the document that seriously concerns us. The greater part of it is made up mainly of examples which do not relate to Jews at all, either individually or collectively. They relate to attitudes to the State of Israel.

We urge you to read the assessment by our friends in the Jewish Socialists’ Group, which can be found below. There is also a full assessment of the legal implications of the definition from Hugh Tomlinson QC here, as well as a scathing critique from (Jewish) former Appeal Court judge Sir Stephen Sedley in the London Review of Books here.

Antisemitism may sometimes be masked by a critical attitude to the State of Israel, that is true. The IHRA definition, though, seems designed not so much to catch speech or actions clearly motivated by hatred of Jews, as to defend the State of Israel against criticism of its violations of human rights, and to justify aspects of its foundation and constitution opposed by many Jews, both within and outside Israel. We know of many disturbing cases of the IHRA document being used to limit criticism of Israel and restrict campaigns in support of justice for Palestinians. The legal opinion from Hugh Tomlinson QC makes clear that public bodies using it in this way, including against the boycott movement, would be open to legal challenge for breaching their duty under the Human Rights Act to defend freedom of expression.

Councillors should be aware that the Labour Party has only adopted the short definition of antisemitism, which was included in the Race and Faith Manifesto during the 2017 general election. We are pleased that the party has not adopted the list of examples which follow the definition in the IHRA document. Nor should your council.

We appeal to you not to allow yourselves to be bounced into an ill-considered decision which will do nothing to oppose real antisemitism, and is likely to have negative consequences for the perception of the Council by many anti-racists and supporters of the rights of Palestinians.

We look forward to the opportunity to engage in productive discussion with council members about these important issues.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
on behalf of
Jewish Voice for Labour

We posted this before on August 3rd, 2016, but it bears reposting.

Fight antisemitism and defend free speech

Statement by the JSG on the uses and abuses of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance “definition” of antisemitism

The Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) is completely opposed to all manifestations of antisemitism. Our group’s founders cut their political teeth in struggles on the streets against antisemitism, fascism and poverty in the 1930s, and we continue to expose and oppose it in all its forms.

The Jewish Socialists’ Group defines antisemitism as: prejudice, hostility and discrimination against Jews, as Jews, and the use of negative stereotypes of Jews.

This hostility takes various forms: physical, verbal and published. Recent reports in Britain show an alarming rise in physical attacks. We recognise that negative stereotypes have historically underpinned the most horrific hostile actions against Jews. The internet in 2017 is awash with neo-Nazi material, some of it pretending to be pro-Palestinian, alleging international Jewish conspiracies, Jewish control of the media and Jewish control of banking systems.

Some sincere anti-racists wrongly regard antisemitism as a past phenomenon, marginal to today’s world, where it has been replaced by other forms of racism. But antisemitism has not been consigned to history. It is intertwined with other forms of racism and must be fought alongside them. It remains central to the ideology of neo-fascist groups in various countries, even where other ethnic/religious groups such as Muslims, African-Caribbeans, East Europeans or Roma are more frequent targets of racist and fascist hostility.

A coalition of forces, under the umbrella of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), has adopted a new definition of antisemitism.

The IHRA defines antisemitism as: “…a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Its basic definition is uncontentious, but the document within which it has been published, deliberately employs a host of controversial and highly contested examples relating to the Israel/Palestine conflict and Zionism as an ideology. Its 11 examples of forms of antisemitism, include seven which refer to Israel.

The IHRA definition of antisemitism is being used to muzzle free speech on Israel/Palestine and on Zionism as a political ideology, which like any other political ideology can be supported or rejected and should be open to question.

Antisemitism, and other forms of racism and bigotry, represent a fundamental attack on the right of equality for all in society. We stand with those working for equal societies around the world. That includes within Israel/Palestine where the Palestinian minority within the Green Line are subject to direct and indirect discrimination. Beyond the Green Line, millions of Palestinians are under a military occupation which curtails many of their fundamental rights, and they are subject to frequent violent harassment from armed Israeli settlers.

We absolutely oppose any hate speech relating to the Israel/Palestine conflict but we support free expression of legitimate political opinion on this conflict, and acknowledge that within Israel itself there are a range of positions expressed both on the conflict and on Zionism.

The IHRA statement has been signed by 30 countries, predominantly European, but also including three in the Americas and one in Asia – Israel itself. These 30 countries include several where antisemitic incidents are on the rise. In some, such as Austria, Poland, Greece and Hungary, politicians and leading commentators have themselves made antisemitic statements in recent years.

The IHRA definition draws very heavily on an earlier definition adopted by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) in 2005. This was dropped by the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency in 2013 precisely because of the way it stretched and twisted that definition to include various legitimate forms of criticism of Israel and opposition to Zionism.

We consider the IHRA definition/statement to be potentially dangerous for Jews. If opposition to Israeli policy and state action can be defined as “antisemitic” in such a manipulative way, then those who rightly continue to stand up for Palestinian rights might start to doubt the credibility of the label “antisemite”. Actions targeting the Israeli state may spread to more general Jewish targets, and genuinely antisemitic statements and actions may be taken less seriously.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is using its name as a shield to defend Israel and Zionism from perfectly legitimate censure.  We worry that this will also engender attitudes of cynicism towards Holocaust remembrance. The processes of scapegoating, discrimination, exclusion, and dehumanisation that led to the Holocaust are present in many societies today, including our own. It is partly through learning about and remembering the Holocaust, and recognising what led to it, that people will be motivated and mobilised to challenge such processes today.

We reject the IHRA’s politically skewed definition/statement on antisemitism.  We encourage any public bodies asked to adopt it to recognise the importance of challenging antisemitism today but to reject this definition. We urge them instead to adopt a simpler, clearer and more accurate definition to support their work opposing antisemitism and other forms of racism, such as the one we provide at the beginning of this statement, and to turn those words into action.

© Copyright JFJFP 2017