Last week an unprecedented intervention occurred into the debate in the UK over the definition of antisemitism. Over 80 community, professional and rights-based organisations representing black, minority ethnic and diaspora peoples decried what they say is the framing of antisemitism in a way to ‘silence’ Palestinians, and other migrant groups, from speaking about their history.
“As migrant and BAME groups in Britain, we reaffirm our fundamental right to the freedom of expression, and publicly to express our anxieties about the suppression of information on the history and lived experience of our communities.”
They single out Palestinians for special mention:
“We are deeply worried about current attempts to silence a public discussion of what happened in Palestine and to the Palestinians in 1948, when the majority of its people were forcibly expelled. These facts are well established and accessible, are part of the British historical record, as well as the direct experience of the Palestinian people themselves”.
Immense pressure is being pushed, by pro-Zionists and right-wing figures, for the Labour Party to accept completely the guidelines of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) – as they relate to the definition of antisemitism.
However the organisations warn that public discussion of the “injustices” in Palestinian history:
“would be prohibited under the IHRA’s guidelines, and therefore withholds vital knowledge from the public. This silencing has already begun.”
The signatories include national membership organisations and coalitions, trade union and worker’s associations, community associations and groups.
The significance of this intervention should not be understated.
Hardly a day passes in the UK when the national press don’t quote someone – generally from the right-wing of British society – accusing Jeremy Corbyn of being soft on antisemitism. Corbyn has been relentlessly attacked by right-wing press. His supporters have been regularly depicted as cultists, traitors, bufoons, and antisemites. Meanwhile his policies, which are shown to generally have wide support among everyday Brits, when they are actually discussed, are generally ignored by the corporate and establishment press.
Furthermore, voices from black and diaspora communities have almost entirely been excluded by this apparent discussion over racism in the UK. That such an intervention has been made by black and minority groups exposes how insular, self-selecting and vacuous the ‘debate’ on racism has been. The discussion has also almost entirely excluded anti-Muslim bigotry as well as nationalist driven prejudices.
Maurice Mcleod, director of Media Diversified, told me:
“Media Diversified was created five years ago to provide a platform for voices that have been marginalised because of their race, faith or culture. We stand shoulder to shoulder with people around the world who are suffering persecution and oppression”.
“We care fiercely about the protection of minorities and believe that anti-semitism must be addressed with urgency, and in dialogue with Jewish groups and representatives”.
“Our view is that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is good but that some of the examples it provides would restrict the rights of Palestinians and those supporting them to describe their recent history”.
The Migrant Rights’ Network (MRN) also signed the statement.
Rita Chadha, Interim Director of MRN, told me:
“Understanding the lived experience of those affected by displacement because of conflict is of paramount importance. It is the refugees of Palestine that have born witness to the very real need for long term peace. To not be able to talk about the atrocities of the conflict, means silencing the voice of those most in need of peace”
IHRA guidelines and the Labour Party NEC Code of Conduct
The Labour Party’s governing committee, the National Executive Committee (NEC), is expected to vote on September the 4th to decide whether to incorporate the additional examples into its code of conduct.
However, the NEC has excluded some of the examples that the IHRA say “may serve to illustrate” cases of antisemitism. One of the IHRA examples, excluded by the NEC Code[pdf, p2-3], says:
“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine: A blatantly “racist endeavour”
It is worth remembering how the state of Israel was founded. In November 1947 Zionist lobbying and pressure resulted in the UN General Assembly passing the UN partition plan of Palestine.
As the Institute of Middle East Understanding notes the partition plan:
“allocated approximately 55% of the land to the proposed Jewish state, although Zionist Jews owned only about 7% of the private land in Palestine and made up only about 33% of the population, a large percentage of whom were recent immigrants from Europe”.
Between 1947 and 1949 up to 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their towns, villages and homes. Those doing the forcible displacement were settler-colonists, mostly first and second generation immigrants from Europe. Some became internal refugees in Gaza and the West Bank and the rest became refugees in the neighbouring states. Thousands were killed. At least 530 villages were destroyed. The purpose was to create an ethno-religiously pure state. A ‘Jewish state’. This process, known today as ethnic cleansing, is called the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”) by Palestinians. Although the Nakba is in fact a process that occurs to this day, it is symbolically commemorated on the day the State of Israel was formally established, May 14 1948.
The architects of the forced displacement were overtly racist Judeo-European nationalists, known as Zionists. In most respects the state of Israel is a classical settler-colonial project. Israel’s apartheid character was further entrenched by the “nation state law” in July.
Yet, describing this history and the incredibly chauvinistic attitudes of the architects of the ethnic cleansing as a “racist endeavour” would lead to censure and removal from the party, if the further IHRA examples were added to the NEC Code. In fact, many people have already been suspended or removed from the Labour Party in the past two years. Most have been supporters of Corbyn and have been expelled for their criticism of the state of Israel.
Momentum rank and file oppose full IHRA examples
Rank and file members of the pro-Corbyn pressure group, Momentum, met on August 20th to declare their opposition to the adoption of the full list of IHRA examples. They have passed a resolution demanding that all Labour Party members be entitled to a vote on the issue. They also planned a “Mass Lobby of NEC” on September 4th against what they call the:
“Mounting pressure from the pro-Israel lobby, including right wing Labour MPs, backed by the corporate media and the BBC”.
The statement is unequivocal warning that:
“The IHRA definition would return the party to the right which we voted down by a large majority – twice. Therefore, the members, not the NEC, nor the PLP, must decide whether or not to adopt the IHRA examples.”
In a clear recognition of the statement released last week, a petition, put forward by members of the Camden chapter of Momentum, states:
“Palestinians, other people of colour and other antiracists, including Jewish people who oppose Israeli apartheid, have said that the IHRA examples would censor Palestinians’ right to self-determination, criminalise the BDS movement and pose an existential threat to free speech on Israel”
Antisemitism or anti-Corbynism?
Some polling shows that up to 34% of the wider British public have been convinced that the Labour Party has a serious problem with antisemitism. However, that number drops to 13% in the Labour Party itself. 77% of Labour Party members think that antisemitism isn’t a problem in the Party or that it is but is being “deliberately exaggerated to damage Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, or to stifle criticism of Israel”.
A 2016 Jewish Socialist’s Group statement determined that a crisis had been “manufactured” to “weaponise antisemitism” against Corbyn. All of this after Labour Party membership grew massively under Corbyn with more members than all the other UK parties combined.
Not only have the charges of antisemitism not been backed up by any serious evidence; the entire discussion has been done at the complete expense and marginalization of black and ethnic minority voices in the UK.
All of this is occurring during horridly handled Brexit negotiations, brutal austerity policies, massacres being carried out against Palestinian civilians, and the UK backed slaughter in Yemen. That a long time anti-racist and anti-war campaigner such as Jeremy Corbyn is being labelled an antisemite shows how desperate those who oppose his policies are and how low they will go to undermine him and his supporters. The only question is whether those resisting these pressures will be able to prevent Corbyn and the rest of the Labour leadership from capitulating.