In contrast to the Labour Party, as a left-wing socialist & green, and a long-time supporter of Palestinian rights, I have no problem accepting full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition and examples of anti-Semitism.
They do not prevent criticism of Israeli policy. If some people try to use them for that purpose they are misinterpreting the IHRA and abusing its meaning.
Although there are now hints that Labour may eventually adopt the complete IHRA,
why has it resisted for so long in the first place?
The main sticking point for the Labour leadership is the erroneous suggestion that the IHRA does not permit legitimate criticism of Israeli policies, such as the unlawful mass settlements on the West Bank, the Gaza blockade, the disproportionate killing of civilians in airstrikes and the recent shooting dead of over 160 mostly unarmed border protesters.
Saying that these criticisms of Israeli policies are anti-Semitic is a misreading of the IHRA; albeit given credibility by some pro-Israelis who have attempted to use it to silence critics and campaigns against Israeli actions.
The most contentious of the 11 examples of anti-Semitism given by the IHRA is this:
“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.”
The first part ought not be problematic. As a historically oppressed and persecuted minority, it should be obvious to any socialist that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination (the principle of self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter) and the right to a homeland – as do the Palestinians.
The second part is more disputable but not the way I read it. Given that the Jewish people have a right to a homeland and have historic ties to the region, it would be wrong and a violation of the IHRA to say that the existence of “a” (ie. any) state of Israel is a racist endeavour. Clearly the very existence of such a state is not, ipso facto, racist. However, the IHRA example does not preclude critics from saying that the current state of Israel does involve elements of racism (not least in the discrimination against Arabs living in Israel, as Israel’s own Or Commission confirmed).
Since the IHRA definition refers only to the principle of the existence “a” state of Israel, and not to “the” actually existing state, criticism of the current state of Israel as racist does not fall foul of the IHRA.
It has always struck me as inconsistent and repugnant that some on the left support the right to self-determination and a homeland for the Palestinians but not for Jews. These double standards undermine the credibility of the left and rightly lead to charges of hypocrisy and worse.
Anti-Semitism does exist among some members and supporters of the Labour Party but they are a tiny, although very vocal, minority. That is, of course, no excuse. Even to have one anti-Semite in a progressive party is wholly unacceptable.
However, in my 22 years in Labour I never once heard a single example of anti-Semitism. All that I ever witnessed was Labour colleagues defending Jewish people against bigotry and the far right.
I do not for one moment believe that anti-Semitism is widespread in the Labour Party or that Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitic. He has, however, allowed his commendable support for the rights of the Palestinians to lead him to praise and welcome anti-Semites, such as Raed Salah, Hamas and Hezbollah.
That is so wrong. He should apologise. If he did so clearly and sincerely, many would respect that and give him a second chance. But, so far, he has failed to say sorry for his actions (only for the hurt he has caused to Jewish people, which is not the same thing). Plus he has taken no discernible action to remedy his wrongs on this score.
On the other side of the political equation, it needs to be said that Conservative government ministers have hosted and praised Middle Eastern tyrants whose regimes actively promote vile anti-Semitism in their schools and media. The offending regimes include Saudi Arabia, which successive British governments have feted and helped sustain through arms and oil deals.
Clearly, Jeremy Corbyn is not the only senior politician who stands accused of colluding with anti-Semites.
Having said that, the wrong-doing of others does not absolve Jeremy of responsibility for his own errors.
This leaves me with a dilemma:
As someone who supports Jeremy’s domestic social justice policies and believes that, unlike the current Prime Minister, his reform agenda would help the many not the few, I want him to make amends so I can support him 100%. To date, sadly, he has not done so.
If Jeremy wants to rebuild trust with the Jewish community, and with anti-fascists and socialist internationalists who have traditionally stood in solidarity with Jewish victims of anti-Semitism, he could start by doing four things:
First, agree the full IHRA definition and examples and express his regret and remorse for not having adopted them in the first place.
Second, apologise for colluding with far right Islamist extremists, like Hamas.
Third, send a personal letter to every constituency Labour party to be read out at branch meetings, urging members to oppose and report anti-Semitism and to meet with local synagogues and Jewish community organisations to hear their concerns.
Fourth, request that time be set aside for Jewish voices to speak at a special session during the Labour Party conference.
If Jeremy makes these or similar moves I hope the way will be open for some degree of redemption and forgiveness. The ball is in his court. Over to you, Jeremy.
- Peter Tatchell is the Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation: PeterTatchellFoundation.org
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