Labour needs to realise Jews' identity is inexorably linked to Israel

Yachad's Hannah Weisfeld responds to Jon Lansman's claim Labour was right to reject the IHRA definition of antisemitism

July 13, 2018 16:05

In the seven years of Yachad’s existence we have mobilised thousands of British Jews to campaign, including against impending demolitions of Palestinian communities and against the detaining of Palestinian minors in Israeli military courts in the West Bank. We’ve decried racism when it has reared its ugly head in Israel.

We’ve taken on other Jewish communal organisations when they have claimed to have a mandate from the community to publicly support policies of the Israeli and American governments that are not remotely conducive to peace.

We are also the organisation that funded the research on British Jewish attitudes to Israel  which Momentum founder Jon Lansman cited in his article defending Labour's new antisemitism code.

Lansman cites key statistics from the research including that 75% of British Jews believe that settlements are a major obstacle to peace. He questions whether those Jewish communal organisations that have criticised the Labour party for not adopting the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism - the IHRA's - really represent the community given widespread misgivings about policies of Israel's government. The insinuation is that the IHRA definition stifles criticism of Israel, and there are many Jews who are critical of Israel, and therefore they too must have a problem with the IHRA definition.

Lansman is correct that there are many Jews who are critical - to different degrees – of policies of the Israeli government. Yachad has not once shied away from criticising the Israeli government but has always felt the IHRA definition reflects the vast majority of Jewish opinion. It makes it explicitly clear that it does not see harsh criticism of Israel as antisemitic. It is entirely possible to criticise Israel and fight antisemitism at the same time.

Lansman claims Labour had to remove the part of the IHRA definition that gives saying "the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour" as an example of antisemitism. He writes removing this would allow those who have been mistreated by Israel to define for themselves what that mistreatment is. "It cannot be right," he asserts, "that one vaguely worded subset of one IHRA example can deny other oppressed groups their right to speak about their own oppression."

Yet, when Jewish communities call for Labour to adopt the IHRA definition of antsemitism they are not allowed to define their own oppression.

The statistic from the research into British Jewish attitudes towards Israel that Lansman did not mention, is the overwhelming attachment that Jews feel to Israel. A total of 93% of the community say Israel forms some part of their identity as Jews. It is hardly a surprise that the community at large will take the statement that a core part of their identity is a racist endeavour to heart.

Lansman’s defence of Labour's rejection of the IHRA definition is that its definition goes further. If that is the case, perhaps it could have adopted an approach of IHRA ‘plus’, rather than what seems to be IHRA ‘minus’ with the party’s own additions.

While trust remains at rock bottom between the Jewish community and the party, it would have helped build confidence. Instead, it is now all too easy to believe that Labour has refused to adopt the full IHRA definition because it does not want to confront antisemitic members of the party.

The 7% of the Jewish community that do not perceive Israel to be relevant to their Jewish identity are entitled to hold that opinion. No one has the right to tell them anything different. But if the Labour party wants to bring a close to the sorry saga of how to deal with antisemitism, it needs to accept that for the vast majority of Jews their identity is inexorably linked to Israel and its right to exist.

Hannah Weisfeld is the founder and director of Yachad

July 13, 2018 16:05

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