Backlash over Labour’s attempts to resolve anti-Semitism row
Jewish groups say the party ‘appears determined to provide a safe space for anti-Semites’.
Labour has been accused of giving racists a “get out of jail card” in a backlash over its latest move to deal with the anti-Semitism row engulfing the party.
The party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) adopted all of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) examples of anti-Semitic behaviour.
But it has faced heavy criticism for issuing an accompanying statement that it says will ensure the move does “not in any way undermine freedom of expression” on Israel or the rights of Palestinians.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also been attacked after reports he wanted the NEC to accept a clarification that said it should not be considered anti-Semitic to describe Israel as racist.
Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) said the party “appears determined to provide a safe space for anti-Semites”.
Critics had claimed that the wording of the IHRA examples could prevent criticism of the Israeli government’s actions against Palestinians but the leadership faced intense pressure to accept them in full.
LFI’s response to the NEC’s decision - “A “freedom of expression on Israel” clause is unnecessary and totally undermines the other examples the party has supposedly just adopted.” pic.twitter.com/TKV1jOgNpH— LFI (@_LFI) September 4, 2018
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, deputy leader Tom Watson and shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer were among the senior figures in the party to call for the move in recent weeks.
But the statement on freedom of expression has infuriated campaigners.
LFI director Jennifer Gerber said: “It is appalling that the Labour Party has once again ignored the Jewish community: that it should adopt the full IHRA definition without additions, omissions or caveats.”
She added: “A ‘freedom of expression on Israel’ clause is unnecessary and totally undermines the other examples the party has supposedly just adopted.”
Labour Against Anti-Semitism said the move “appears to be about protecting the freedom of racists to present vile views”.
A spokesman said: “There can be no caveats, no conditions and no compromises with racism.
“We are disappointed by the decision of Labour’s governing body, the NEC, to diminish the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism via the attachment of a ‘clarification’ that risks giving racists in the party a get out of jail card.
“The NEC has been told repeatedly that it needs to adopt the IHRA in full, without caveats or conditions, if it wants the Labour Party to begin the process of dealing with its anti-Semitism crisis.”
Marie van der Zyl, Board of Deputies of British Jews President, said accepting the examples had been “long overdue”.
“We need to see firm action taken against anti-Semites and those who bring the party in to disrepute by denying the problem of anti-Semitism,” she said.
“In addition, Jeremy Corbyn needs to apologise for past anti-Semitic comments and affiliations.”
Rival groups engaged in noisy protests outside Labour’s HQ as the NEC met to discuss how to defuse the row that has simmered for months.
Shadow Cabinet minister and NEC member Rebecca Long-Bailey insisted the party was not trying to “water them down” when it agreed a statement alongside the examples.
“We made that clarification today at the meeting to state quite clearly that the intention of IHRA isn’t to limit discourse on the political situation between Israel and Palestine,” she said.
Mr Corbyn told the meeting that Labour was committed to “eradicating the social cancer of anti-Semitism” and spoke of the “deep concern and pain” across the party over the loss of confidence among Jewish communities.
He said adopting the examples was part of the process of “rebuilding trust and as an act of solidarity with Jewish communities”.
The Labour leader said clarifications were needed to ensure the rights of Palestinians or their supporters were not undermined.
ITV political editor Robert Peston posted a copy of a statement he said Mr Corbyn wanted endorsed by the committee that said it should not be regarded as anti-Semitic to “describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact”.
LFI said it showed that Mr Corbyn was “part of the problem not the solution”.
The full IHRA text with the 11 examples and an accompanying statement on the protection of freedom of speech and Palestinian rights was adopted by consensus.
The party will re-invite Jewish organisations to take part in its ongoing consultation on its code of conduct.
A Labour spokesman said: “The NEC has today adopted all of the IHRA examples of anti-Semitism, in addition to the IHRA definition which Labour adopted in 2016, alongside a statement which ensures this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians.
“The NEC welcomed Jeremy Corbyn’s statement to the meeting about action against anti-Semitism, solidarity with the Jewish community and protection of Palestinian rights, as an important contribution to the consultation on Labour’s Code of Conduct.”
Unite leader Len McCluskey said: “There has been a great deal of work and discussion to get the party to this position, a position that reaffirms our party’s complete determination to drive anti-Semitism from our ranks and protect the right to free speech.
“The manner and outcome of today’s debate is a credit to our party and Jeremy Corbyn. It puts Labour in the position now to continue its discussion with the communities at the heart of these matters, which I sincerely hope can now proceed on a positive and mutually respectful footing.”