Labour rejects full IHRA antisemitism definition - but is accused of 'fudge' for pledging review

Senior source: 'This is utterly pathetic. What has been agreed are contradictory things'


Labour has approved its controversial new guidelines on antisemitism and rejected the broader International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of Jew hate – but also called for "further review" of the matter.

After a stormy two-hour long debate, the party's governing body, the national executive committee (NEC) ruled, without a vote, that the decision taken last week by a party sub-committee to back the new code of conduct was final. Jeremy Corbyn was in the room and supported the move.

But the NEC also backed further review, amid an intensifying standoff with the Jewish community.

One senior Labour source called the decision “a classic fudge.” They added: “This is utterly pathetic. What has been agreed are contradictory things.”

Despite the objections of some of NEC members present, including Parliamentary Labour Party representative George Howarth, Mr Corbyn said he backed the decision to adopt Labour's own antisemitism code over the IHRA alternative.

MP Joan Ryan, chair of Labour Friends of Israel, said: "I am appalled at the NEC's decision which, once again, undermines the claims of Labour's leadership that it intends to tackle the problem of antisemitism.

"The NEC has decided to prioritise the rights of those who wish to demonise and delegitimise the state of Israel over the struggle against antisemitism.

"This shameful action is antithetical to Labour's values and its history, and we will campaign relentlessly until it is overturned and the IHRA definition and all its examples are adopted by the party."

Tuesday’s meeting at the Labour Party’s headquarters in central London was dogged by bitter rows sparked by comments by pro-Jeremy Corbyn NEC member Pete Willsman, who told room: “Some of the people in the Jewish community are Trump fanatics – I’ll take no lectures from them.”

In a move that will now infuriate leading Jewish communal groups and religious leaders, Labour’s NEC approved the new 16-point antisemitism code after an often angry debate.

Tempers flared as Mr Willsman made his remarks and later also insisted that the 68 British rabbis who had signed a letter opposing the new antisemitism code had put out a message that was “simply false.”

Mr Willsman also said: “In 50 years I have never seen any antisemitism in the Labour Party. I met an Auschwitz survivor who said the same.”

Mr Willsman finished his speech by demanding NEC members put their hands up if they believed there was antisemitism in the party.

Several onlookers told the JC that Rhea Wolfson, one of the Jewish NEC representatives looked “distressed” after Mr Willsman ended his talk. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was also present but sources say he sat in silence and unmoved as Mr Willsman spoke.

Sources have told the JC that Jon Lansman, the founder of the left-wing Momentum group was “visibly angered” by Mr Willsman’s comments.

Mr Lansman told the meeting that he regretted the lack of consultation with the Jewish community and, even though he voted in favour of the new code, suggested putting in place a review mechanism for October in which the code could be reassessed with more input from Jewish people. He said that its critics “include some of the most progressive rabbis in the country, including the Yachad group who have been vilified by sections of the Jewish community.”

He added he was “sorry we didn’t consult JLM more about the code.”

But he insisted the guidelines were “a very good code of conduct” and said he would “continue to defend it in public.”

NEC member Rachel Garnham openly attacked the IHRA guidelines saying they “conflate criticisms of the state of Israel with antisemtism.“

She added: ”I’m proud to have a leader who has shown unswerving support to the Palestinian people.”

Meanwhile Rhea Wolfson attacked the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council, saying that “most people do not identify with the JLC or the Board Of Deputies, they identify with their own synagogues.”

She added: ”We need to look at the bodies we are engaging with and who we are leaving out.”

Jim Kennedy said: ”Many people have said to me our code is actually better than the IHRA definition. “

But speaking out against adopting the new code, deputy leader Tom Watson said: ”We can’t just close this issue down, we are under a microscope because of our procrastination on dealing with antisemtism.”

Eddie Izzard added: ”We should adopt IHRA unamended. “If we adopt an amended version it will continue to be held against us. We should continue to consult the Jewish community until we get to a better place on this.”

James Asser said; ”We cannot be politically tone deaf - we’re either getting this wrong or haven’t explained ourselves properly.”

Speaking against the new guidelines Margaret Beckett, the MP for Derby South, said: “We don’t need to convince ourselves about our code of conduct – we need to convince the Jewish community and we haven’t.”

But speaking in favour of the new code, MP Keith Vaz, the BAME Labour NEC rep, referred to the case of Ken Livingstone whom he said was treated “very badly” by the party.

Mr Vaz referred to the former London Mayor’s defence of Naz Shah, the Bradford West MP accused of antisemitism, and claimed: “All he did was come to the defence of a BAME colleague who was being slaughtered by the media.”

Had the NEC eventually voted on the new code, a split within the GMB trade union was also apparent.  A source confirmed both GMB members of the NEC had been expected to oppose the new code.

“There is a Yorkshire v London spat going on in the GMB union at the top at the moment,” said the insider. 

One Jewish MP told the JC the decision was “one of the worst ever made by the Labour Party.”

They added: “This is a decision the leadership of Labour will come to regret. They have failed to  understand the full ramifications of what they have just voted to approve.”

Labour's new code clearly states that "antisemitism is racism" and brands such conduct "unacceptable in our party and in wider society".

But controversially, it makes clear that "contentious" comments about Israel "will not be treated as antisemitic unless accompanied by specific antisemitic content".

Critics say this could be used to allow some former Labour party members previously expelled over antisemitism to be allowed back in.

Barry Rawlings, the Labour leader on Barnet Council, said the NEC decision "could be interpreted as institutional racism".

Barnet has the most Jewish residents of any council area in Europe. Labour failed to win control of its council at the local elections in May.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The NEC upheld the adoption of the Code of Conduct on antisemitism, but in recognition of the serious concerns expressed, agreed to re-open the development of the Code, in consultation with Jewish community organisations and groups, in order to better reflect their views."

In a joint statement, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Board of Deputies and the Community Security Trust called Labour's promise of further consultation an "insult". 

“The decision taken by the NEC today to adopt a watered-down definition of antisemitism will be regarded with a mixture of incredulity and outrage by the overwhelming majority of the UK’s Jews," they said.

"The suggestion that they will now consult with the Jewish community is an insult, given the complete lack of meaningful consultation up until now.

"This is a sad day for the cause of anti-racism in this country. Labour, for so long a Party that put equality and inclusion at the centre of its values, has decided to claim that it understands antisemitism better than the victims of this vile prejudice and to set its face against the clear views of the Jewish community.

"The strength of feeling across the breadth of the Jewish community could not have been clearer and many will see this as a deliberate provocation, built on misrepresentations of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism and double standards for the treatment of British Jews."

They called Labour's code on antisemitism "self-serving" and "a weaker, flawed definition whose main purpose seems to be to protect those who are part of the problem".

They concluded: "(Labour's) failure to consult with the Jewish community until now is a betrayal of basic anti-racist principles. On its current trajectory, Labour is failing British Jews and it is failing as an anti-racist party."

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