What is the IHRA definition of antisemitism? And why has Labour outraged Jews by rejecting it?

How we reached the point where Jeremy Corbyn was branded 'antisemitic' and 'racist' to his face by one of his own MPs

July 20, 2018 15:31

British Jews are furious the Labour party refused to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and adopted its own instead. The refusal has pushed Labour to the brink of a civil war with its Jewish parliamentarians and members.

But what is the difference? And how did it take us to the point where Jeremy Corbyn was branded “antisemitic and a racist” to his face by one of his own MPs?

The IHRA definition

A total of 31 countries have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, as well as more than 130 UK local councils, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary. Eight of the 31 countries have enshrined it in law. The definition was an offshoot of one created in 2005 by the European Union’s Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia, then the EU’s leading anti-racism body. When EU directives changed the role of the agency, it no longer promoted the definition, and the IHRA stepped into the breach.

What Labour left out when it chose its own version

The IHRA definition specifies eleven “contemporary examples of antisemitism”, while making it clear that there may be others.

These are:

  1. Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  2. Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
  3. Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
  4. Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
  5. Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  9. Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.
  10. Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  11. Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Labour’s definition omits or redefines a number of these. First, it omits describing the “dual loyalties” trope as antisemitic. Accusing Jews of having dual loyalties was a tactic of both Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. The IHRA defines this clearly as an example of contemporary antisemitism.

Labour’s definition relegates it to further down the document, where it is merely described as “wrong”.

Labour also decided to omit two examples of how criticism of Israel can be antisemitic: Claiming the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour and comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

In fact, Labour’s definition directly contradicts the second example, saying: “Discourse about international politics often employs metaphors drawn from examples of historic misconduct. It is not antisemitism to criticise the conduct or policies of the Israeli state by reference to such examples unless there is evidence of antisemitic intent.”

Claiming Israel is a racist endeavour is not, as has been claimed, the same as saying that Israel has acted in a racist manner, or has racist policies. Describing Israel’s very existence as a racist endeavour means you believe that everything about Israel, from its very beginning, has been racist.

There are many ways to criticise Israel which do not fall foul of the categories mentioned in the IHRA definition. The IHRA definition specifically says that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

Despite this, claiming Israel is fundamentally a racist endeavour is nowhere to be found in Labour’s definition of antisemitism.

Antisemitic intent

In some examples set out in the Labour definition, the text says that mentioning something is not antisemitism “unless there is evidence of antisemitic intent.”

This contradicts the Macpherson principle, which states minorities should be allowed to define the racism they face. But one QC has noted: “It’s not just a breach of Macpherson. There is no requirement in discrimination law to show intention to discriminate to prove you have been discriminated against or harassed on grounds of race/ ethnicity. [Labour] are laying themselves wide open to discrimination claims.”

How British Jews reacted

Labour’s definition has seen a rare level of opposition from within the Jewish community.

A total of 68 Rabbis, from all religious denominations, signed an open letter imploring Labour’s National Executive Committee to adopt the full IHRA definition.

And some of Israel’s most vocal critics within the Jewish community have spoken out against Labour’s definition. Yachad UK, the left-wing advocacy group, noted the “overwhelming attachment that Jews feel to Israel”.

Why did Labour do this?

Two years ago, Labour indicated that it would accept the full IHRA definition. But a few months ago, when Jewish representative organisations met with Mr Corbyn over antisemitism, one said: “The Labour leader… would not commit to adopting the IHRA definition in full."

Some key allies of Mr Corbyn have made comments in the past which could amount to antisemitism according to the IHRA definition. Seumas Milne, Mr Corbyn’s communications director, referred to the creation of Israel “a crime” during an address to a rally in 2009.

Mr Milne and others would not be in trouble for past comments, if Labour adopted the full IHRA definition.

There was no suggestion that people be called to account retroactively for previous statements. But they would not have been able to make similar comments so freely in future.

July 20, 2018 15:31

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