Labour farce as it attaches 'free speech' clause to IHRA antisemitism definition

Groups condemn clause on criticising Israel - but some welcome climbdown


Labour’s attempt to end the bitter row over adopting the internationally recognised definition of Jew-hate ended in farce on Tuesday afternoon after its ruling body adopted it alongside a statement saying it will not "in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of the Palestinians.”

A party spokesman said the National Executive Committee also welcomed a statement by Jeremy Corbyn calling for “action against antisemitism, solidarity with the Jewish community and protection of Palestinian rights as an important contribution to the consultation on Labour’s code of conduct”.

The party has been in a standoff with the Jewish community over the summer, after it refused to adopt all the examples of Jew-hate given in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, including ones that relate to criticism of Israel.

Though headlines said the party had now adopted the IHRA definition, Labour Friends of Israel director Jennifer Gerber called the NEC’s decision “appalling” and claimed the “freedom of expression" clause “totally undermines the other examples the party has supposedly just adopted”.

Richard Angell, director of the centre-left Progress group, said: “The Jewish community made it clear and simple to Labour: pass the IHRA definition in full – no caveats, no compromises.

"Jeremy Corbyn and the Momentum-dominated NEC have just failed the most basic test.

"A ‘right to be racist’ protection when debating the Middle East is not just wrong, it harms the cause of peace but it will also continue a culture where Jewish people cannot feel at home in Labour.

“Today’s decision is an insult. Labour does not know better than Jewish people about antisemitism.

“The four hours it took for today’s retrograde step to appear shows there are committed anti-racists at Labour top table but those apathetic to antisemitism won out, again. The NEC has bought the Labour Party into disrepute.”

The UK delegation to the IHRA’s group of experts, who worked on the antisemitism definition, warned last month that any attempt to “modify” the code meant it was no longer what they had approved.

After Tuesday’s meeting, sources told the JC there had been an angry clash between pro-Corbyn factions and the moderate group on the NEC led by Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson.

They claimed the Labour leader wished to include a statement suggesting “it should not be considered antisemitic to describe, Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict” into the code.

But he withdrew this when it was met with an angry reaction from a majority of NEC members.

This would explain why statement issued by Labour immediately after the meeting was so short and without full explanation of what had actually been agreed.

One senior Labour moderate told the JC that the pro-Corbyn wing of the party would now seek to harden up the anti-Israel emphasis on the antisemitism definition during promised further consultations  as part of Labour’s ‘democracy review’.

Ms Gerber added: “It is appalling that the Labour party has once again ignored the view clearly and repeatedly stated by the Jewish community: that it should adopt the full IHRA definition without additions, omissions or caveats.

“The IHRA definition has been adopted in full by 31 countries, including the UK, as well as over 130 UK local councils, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary.

“A 'freedom of expression on Israel' clause is unnecessary and totally undermines the other examples the party has supposedly just adopted. Labour appears determined to provide a safe space for antisemites. This decision is a sad reflection on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party and the culture it has instilled.”

Board of Deputies of British Jews President Marie van der Zyl said Labour's decision to adopt all the IHRA examples was "very long overdue".

She added it was "regrettable that Labour has wasted a whole summer trying to dictate to Jews what constitutes offence against us".

Simon Johnson, Jewish Leadership Council chief executive, welcomed Labour's adoption of the IHRA examples but criticised the "nitpicking" by adding the free speech clause.

He said: "The IHRA definition does allow vocifercous criticism of Israel and does nothing to interfere with free speech."

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