Britain’s Labour Party adopted an internationally accepted definition of anti-Semitism on Tuesday, trying to defuse a row that has deepened rifts and heaped pressure on its leader at a time when the government is struggling over Brexit.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran campaigner for Palestinian rights, has been criticised by members, lawmakers and Jewish leaders for not fully adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.
The code has been devised in the wake of a row that saw Jewish groups protest outside Parliament – and states explicitly that “anti-Semitism is racism. It is unacceptable in our party and in wider society”.
But it also says that criticism of Israel and its policies should not automatically be deemed anti-Semitic.
The code of conduct makes clear that even “contentious” comments “will not be treated as anti-Semitism unless accompanied by specific anti-Semitic content… or by any other evidence of anti-Semitic intent”.
It says: “The party will encourage considered and respectful debate on these difficult topics, but will not tolerate name-calling and abuse.”
The new guidelines endorse the working definition of anti-Semitism as set out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
They include a list of behaviours likely to be seen as anti-Semitic – drawn from the IHRA’s set of examples.
This includes calling for the killing of Jews, making allegations of a Jewish conspiracy or control of the media and economy, Holocaust denial or the “blood libel”.
However, the code has provoked further controversy, as it does not include four behaviours identified as anti-Semitic by the IHRA:
:: Accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home country;
:: Claiming that Israel’s existence as a state is a racist endeavour;
:: Requiring higher standards of behaviour from Israel than other nations; and
:: Comparing contemporary Israeli policies to those of the Nazis.
The code of conduct says it is not always apparent whether particular words or actions are anti-Semitic, with “particular difficulty” surrounding the relationship between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel.
According to the guidelines, Labour “is clear that the Jewish people have the same right to self-determination as any other people” and to deny this constitutes anti-Semitism.
But debating the circumstances of the Israeli state’s foundation in 1948 and its impact on the Palestinian people “forms a legitimate part of modern political discourse”.
It says that “care must be taken when dealing with these topics” and it is wrong to hold Jewish people responsible for the actions of Israel or demand they are stronger in their condemnation of such acts.
While the code states it is not anti-Semitic to refer to Zionism or Zionists in debate about events in the Middle East, it is “not permissible” to use Zionist or “zio” as “a code word for Jew”.
A Labour Party spokesman said the guidelines were “the most detailed and comprehensive guidelines on anti-Semitism adopted by any political party in this country”.
But the Jewish Labour Movement, which is co-chaired by Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger, has rejected the code and called for it to be abandoned quickly.
In a letter to NEC chair Jennie Formby, Ms Berger and her co-chair Ivor Caplin said: “The perception from the new definition will be that the Labour Party are seeking to overturn the longheld view and definition of the Jewish community.
“The Party should abandon this definition, without haste, and make clear that it has already adopted and actively using IHRA.”
Jonathan Goldstein, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, and Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said it was “for Jews to determine for themselves what anti-Semitism is”.
“The UK Jewish community has adopted in full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Definition of Antisemitism, as have the British government, Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament, 124 local authorities across the country and numerous governments around the world,” they said in a joint statement.
“It is impossible to understand why Labour refuses to align itself with this universal definition.
John Mann, a Labour MP who has backed Jewish colleagues in the past, said: “The Macpherson definition of racism has been accepted until now by every mainstream political party in Parliament. The Labour NEC are the first to refuse to accept it, which has huge consequences.”
Liz Kendall added: “IHRA definition of anti semitism is used by U.K, Scottish & Welsh Govts, 124 local councils & Crown Prosecution Service. In @UKLabour we should be holding ourselves to the same high standards.”
Labour Against Anti-Semitism labelled the code of conduct a “racists’ charter” that will hinder efforts to tackle the problem.
The campaign group said: “The recommendations omit significant aspects of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism (that the NEC had already adopted in full in December 2016) and misrepresent other aspects, leaving a toothless document that will only encourage Jew-hate in the Labour Party to flourish further, unchallenged and unpunished.”
– Reuters / Sky