Labour dilutes IHRA antisemitism definition with 'free speech' clause

Exclusive: Party's NEC to be asked to approve Jew-hate definition but with caveat about Israel


Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) will be asked to approve a definition of antisemitism which include a clause claiming to allow “free speech” on the state of Israel at Tuesday’s crunch meeting of the Party’s ruling body, the JC can reveal.

Senior party figures including leader Jeremy Corbyn,  shadow chancellor John McDonnell  and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry will attempt to launch a media blitz claiming the leadership has listened to the concerns the Jewish community after all and has decided to adopt the full IHRA definition.

But the move to include a so-called “free-speech clause” in the code will infuriate Jewish MPs and the vast majority of their supporters in the Parliamentary Labour Party who are themselves expected to vote unanimously to adopt the full IHRA definition - without any caveats - into their own standing orders on Wednesday.

Richard Angell, of the centre-left Progress group, told the JC on Monday that the inclusion of the “ free speech clause” was  “an insult to Jews and the victims of antisemitism.”

He added: “It is not a free speech clause that is being prepared but a ‘right to be racist’ in certain circumstances. No anti-racist party should stand for that.”

Labour’s NEC  working group on antisemitism will recommend the document for approval by the full 32 member NEC on Tuesday. The make-up of the ruling body favours the pro-Corbyn camp who are expected to vote unanimously in favour of the definition.

That means that two Jewish members of the NEC – Momentum founder Jon Lansman and Rhea Wolfson – are likely to have a crucial influence on whether the NEC approves the move if it comes to a vote.

Mr Corbyn and his supporters could even attempt to push the document through without a final vote, suggesting it has already been discussed by the antisemitism working group. But this is unlikely on such a major issue for the party.

On Sunday, Mr Lansman was heard suggesting he had not yet seen recommendations presented to the NEC on the antisemitism definition after he appeared at the Jewish Labour Movement’s one-day conference.

He claimed: “I haven’t seen exactly what they say. I am determined to restore trust with the Jewish community – it is for me personally very important. That’s what I hope the NEC will do on Tuesday”

But he added: “I think the IHRA definition itself makes clear that everything has to be taken in context. I don’t think it does constitute the prevention or threat to people making criticism of Israeli government policy as they would do any other government policy.

“So I don’t think it is the threat that some people see it as.”

But Jewish Labour MP Dame Louise Ellman said: “I suspect the NEC  may well do something that sounds as though they have accepted full definition – but will have some kind of caveat put in it. Maybe put in on the same day or maybe put in on a different day.”

Progress director Mr Angell added: “Labour needs to pass the IHRA definition in full – no caveats, no compromises. It is time Labour prioritised the rights of Jewish people to play their full part in Labour over anti-Zionists’ right to use antisemitic tropes and say the very existence of Israel is a racist endeavour. Simple.”

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