Labour will wear the stain of racism if it does not adopt IHRA anti-semitism definition
Jewish Labour Movement chair Luciana Berger MP says supporting the IHRA definition in full is the very least Labour can do to start to repair the serious damage done to its relationship with British Jewry.
Antisemitism is sometimes described as the longest hatred. Scholars place its origins in ancient Egypt about 270 BCE, and it extends through the centuries, through the Greek and Roman empires, into medieval Europe, the Enlightenment, through the pogroms of Tsarist Russia, the unique horror of the Holocaust, and right down to the messages that will appear under this article the minute it is published and tweeted.
This Jew-hatred is expressed in forms old and new: that Jews form a secret, powerful cabal; that Jews are disloyal to their country of residence; that Jews collude to fix prices, form cartels, or start wars; that Jews drink blood; that Jews run the media; that Jews spread disease. Modern versions include the one about the Jews being responsible for 9/11, or British Jews secretly work for the Israeli government.
To counter this swirling morass of hate speech and ever-shifting themes, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance has carefully adopted a working definition of antisemitism, including examples. This definition is the bedrock of various organisations’ fight against antisemitism, including the British Government, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the London Assembly, local councils, Unison, the Co-operative party, the National Union of Students, and many other bodies.
Apart from one obvious one. And that’s the British Labour Party. Having signed up to the IHRA definition in full in 2016 at its Equalities Committee, some of Labour’s leading lights have decided to rewrite the IHRA definition. The process has been badly handled by Labour HQ and Labour’s only Jewish affiliate has been deliberately snubbed.
Leaving to one side the arrogance of such a move, it is a basic principle of antiracism - established by the last Labour government - that the oppressed group defines its own oppression. Jews get to decide what is, and what isn’t, antisemitic. The Labour Party version, unique in the world, does not include all the illustrative examples of modern antisemitism such as accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations. They have been chopped up and diluted. As such, it would allow all manner of hate speech a free pass.
Why would Labour seek to lecture the Chief Rabbi on antisemitism? It is almost as though some people in Labour want to enshrine their right to oppose Israel (as a state, not a government - though IHRA permits them to do the latter) even if it risks emboldening antisemites.
The decision to adopt the new code of conduct returns to Labour’s National Executive at their meeting later today. The Parliamentary Labour Party last night sent a clear message that Labour should support the IHRA definition in full. This is the very least Labour can do to start to repair the serious damage done to its relationship with British Jewry. For many British Jews, the Labour Party is now seen as a hostile environment, a safe haven for Jew haters.
And yet Labour, as the party most historically associated with fighting fascism and racism, should be the natural home for any minority group. This is an entirely needless and avoidable schism. Labour can simply do the same as scores of other organisations, including unions and Labour-led councils, and sign up to the internationally-recognised definition in full. Or it can cause untold hurt and offence to a small ethnic minority, and wear the stain of racism for many years to come.
Luciana Berger is the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Liverpool Wavertree
* A Labour party spokesperson said: "The Labour Party said its Code of Conduct does not propose a new definition of antisemitism and adopts the IHRA definition. It says the Code expands on and contextualises the IHRA examples, including explicit reference to the example of accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home countries and it goes further than the IHRA in saying it is wrong to require more vociferous condemnation of Israeli state actions from Jewish people and Jewish organisations, than from others."