Next week the UK Labour Party’s governing body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), will be voting on whether to adopt the examples put forth by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in its definition of antisemitism. The four examples omitted at present are: 1) Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel; 2) Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis; 3) Applying double standards to Israel by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation; and 4) Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
I wrote to all 26 NEC candidates to seek their views. Of the 15 that came back, 6 were for adopting the full IHRA definition with the examples, 7 were for no change, and 2 were unsure. Of those in favour, I posed the question “If it’s passed and I said Israel is a racist state, would I get expelled?”
The first respondent, Cate Vallis (National Policy Form Scottish candidate), said she found the view that Israel was a racist state “offensive”. I said there was no particular anti-Semitism problem in the Party. She found that “offensive” too. I said it had been manufactured to beat JC. I said that expulsions of folk like me is probably what Netanyahu wants, that he’d be happy if the British Labour Party imploded; he knows that if JC got into power, the UK would no longer let him get away with doing as he pleases. Again “offensive”.
She went onto say “There have been countless complaints from Jewish members that they feel unsafe in the party, that their points haven’t been taken seriously and that the leadership haven’t stood up for them… To be truly the party of equality, we must take the concerns of Jewish members seriously and address them”
But are those concerns about actual anti-Semitism, which is hostility to or prejudice against Jews, or anti-Zionism, which is different? Zionism believes in the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. Many Labourists oppose Zionism because they see in Israel its impact on non-Jews, specifically Palestinians and Arabs. MPs such as veteran Frank Field, who resigned the whip recently, mix the terms up, which is unhelpful and extremely damaging for Labour’s reputation.
An NEC candidate in support of the full IHRA, Mary Wimbury, said “uniquely denying the Jewish people a right to self-determination is problematic”. But are Jewish people the only ones who have such rights in Israel? What about the Arabs they displaced? Why should the Jews there have a greater right than they do? Is it because they suffered in the holocaust? Because two wrongs don’t make a right.
And in terms of the 3rd clause, I don’t see Israel as a democratic nation, either. Haaretz noted that the number of Arabs in Israel (including Gaza and the West Bank) will exceed that of Jews by 2020. If it were a true democracy, the country would shortly be ruled by Arabs, a prospect so terrifying to Jewish leaders that they can only maintain their control through denying the 4.4 million Arabs living in the occupied areas the right to vote in national elections.
Another NEC candidate, Luke Akehurst, said he wanted the full IHRA, because if he did not get it, then he would have to agree that the concept of Israel is racist – and that it would mean that:
– he was a racist, as he was a Zionist and ran a Zionist organisation as his day job, and hence should be expelled
– the 93% of British Jews who identify with Israel are all racists and ineligible to be involved in the Labour Party
– the Jewish Labour Movement would be ineligible for affiliation to Labour after 100 years
– Zionists like Nye Bevan and Harold Wilson would retrospectively be judged to be racists
I pointed out that there was absolutely no reason he would be at risk of expulsion for omitting the 4 examples. It may make him feel uncomfortable, of course, to have to sit at meetings with those that say the apartheid that exists in Israel is driven by misguided Zionism, but that is not the same as being himself ejected for being a Zionist.
By thinking in this way, Luke conflates Labour continuing to leave out the 4 examples with the misunderstanding that by so doing, the Party will be declaring that Israel is a racist state – which is plainly not the case. Leaving out those 4 examples just means that others who feel as I do won’t be expelled for saying the State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
And contrary to Luke’s view, omitting the IHRA examples would not mean the Jewish Labour Movement (or JLM) would be ineligible for continued affiliation to Labour. Although they are Zionists, they would not be excluded – but they may fear criticism for their unstinting support for Israel, something that would be painful for them. But their views and methods deserve to be challenged, if they are racists (in that they believe Jews should have more rights than Arabs).
The JLM have been working to nobble NEC members and have convinced a few to vote their way. This group is also affiliated to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Zionist Federation of the UK and organise within the World Zionist Organisation alongside their sister party in Israel, Havodah – the Israeli Labor Party. But as affiliates, they should surely support Labour’s core commitment to social justice. So does the JLM support giving Palestinians living in Gaza (and therefore in Israel) the vote? If not, and they support the two-state solution, why aren’t they campaigning for Israel to enable that?
If they do neither, they are racists, because they support discrimination against those of a different ethnicity, of denying them basic democratic rights. Amazingly, one black NEC candidate, Marianna Masters, sent me her JLM pledge certificate, telling me that “I have been very open in my support of the NEC adopting the full IHRA definition of antisemitism! As a black woman, I would be insulted if the definition of racism was messed around with to suit any agenda!” So clearly the JLM are masters of doublethink, having convinced a black candidate that Israel should not be criticised as an apartheid state.
And Luke’s statement that not adopting it means that “93% of British Jews who identify with Israel are all racists and ineligible to be involved in the Labour Party” really makes no sense. There is nothing in the clause being omitted that makes those Jews who identify with Israeli racists. However, if they turn a blind eye of the unequal treatment of Arabs in Israel, then prospective Jewish Labourists should be asking themselves how they reconcile their views with the aims of the Labour Party, whose platform emphasises greater state intervention, social justice and the strengthening of workers’ rights.
What did the Momentum rep on the NEC, Jon Lansman, say? “I did argue at the start that it would have been politic to have included the IHRA definition together with its examples in the document before continuing as now. I think it likely that we will consider that again, following the NEC’s unanimous agreement to reopen discussion about the code, in order to better reflect Jewish community concerns.” Looks like he’s taken the bait, too.
Cate Vallis had complained of “countless” complaints from Jewish members feeling unsafe in the party. I’m surprised they feel unsafe, because I don’t know of anybody attacking them for being Jewish, though they may be getting criticised over their support for Israel. Which relates to point 1 in the omitted clause, where the IHRA claims it’s anti-Semitic to accuse Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel. And if they feel they’re on the defensive over that, then maybe that’s necessary, because they’re trying to defend the indefensible.
I think many of us in the Labour Party are beginning to think adopting point 4 is the really big problem, though, for those articulating that “the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” would be liable for expulsion, on the grounds that they were anti-Semitic.
So why would I say such a contentious thing? Because many Israeli laws explicitly or implicitly discriminate on the basis or creed or race, in effect privileging Jewish citizens and disadvantaging non-Jewish, and particularly Arab, citizens of the state. These include the Law of Return, laws making military conscription mandatory for certain religions only, the Ban on Family Unification, and many laws regarding security, land and planning, citizenship, political representation in the Knesset, education and culture. In July the Jewish nation law defined Israel as the national home of Jewish people and downgraded Arabic from an official language, leaving Hebrew as the sole national language. If the Jewish right to self-determination means riding roughshod over the rights of others, then for the Labour Party to ignore this social injustice would be for it to go against one of its founding planks.
If Arabs are second-class citizens, and not equal with Jews before the law, then clearly Israel is a racist state. The country was established on the land of 750,000 Palestinians forcibly expelled in 1948 and founded on discrimination towards Arab people on the basis of religion and ethnicity. If that’s not a racist endeavour, I don’t know what is. Clearly Israel now has a right to exist, but it needs to make payments or accommodations with the Arabs who were driven from their homes, amend the unfair laws, give Arabic the same status as Hebrew, and stop building illegal settlements and bulldozing Arab homes. (It engages in ethnic cleansing with impunity. Haaretz notes vigilantes attack Arabs in the street and the Government, bar one man, stays quiet).
And it needs to either give Palestinians a vote in the Knesset or accept that Gaza and the West Bank are not part of Israel and help them to be truly independent. Until it does those things, it is a racist state.
I am fearful that the IHRA will be adopted in full, because it is likely be used to silence those who criticise Zionism, leading to never-ending witch-hunts as well as ongoing self-censorship, on dealing with what are the roots of the Israel/Palestine problem. And the longer that Labour battles itself over this, the harder it will be to realise its manifesto and change the UK for good.
Readers might be wondering how things will go in the September vote. Of the existing NEC candidates, I’ve had but 4 replies: 3 for no change and Jon Lansman for the full one. Given that the big unions (Unison, GMB, USDAW) want the full IHRA, it will be up to smaller unions and the MPs to control the outcome. I am not positive it will be to my favour, so, after 30 years activism, I better start packing my bags. Party members who want to keep me in Labour should vote for Peter Willsman, Stephen Guy, James Craigie, Gary Spedding, Ann Black and Darren Williams. My blog at tinyurl.com/labourihra explains more.