Labour's Jennie Formby defends allowing party members to call Israel a racist endeavour

The party's new code of conduct denies this is always antisemitic


Labour’s General Secretary has been accused of giving the green light for people to claim Israel is a racist entity, after she defended how the party's new code of conduct does not consider this always antisemitic.

Jennie Formby has written to the Parliamentary Labour Party, backing the party's newly issued code, ahead of a meeting of all Labour MPs in Westminster on Monday night.

The former Unite the Union political director said the code was a “powerful tool”, adding it improved the existing International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition.

Explaining the new 16-point code, Ms Formby addressed the example of “claiming that the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour” which was one area of antisemitic commentary the previous IHRA code condemned.

Ms Formby told Labour MPs: “The intention of the IHRA text cannot be to prevent criticism of the Israeli state or Israeli policy for its differential or discriminatory impact on different ethnic or religious groups, which could be inferred from the phrasing of the sub-example.

“Such criticism is of course not in itself racist, but risks becoming so if criticism is levelled in circumstances where another state pursuing similar policies would not face the same criticism.”

Her remarks immediately provoked anger.

Jewish Leadership Council chair Jonathan Goldstein said: "The IHRA definition is a safety mechanism. Where Labour has changed it is to deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish homeland.

“Where does that lead to should Mr Corbyn become PM?"

Luke Akehurst, director of We Believe In Israel, said: “There's a big difference between criticising the policies or actions of a state and claiming its actual existence is intrinsically racist, thereby denying the people whose state it is self-determination.”

In her letter to Labour MPs, Ms Formby suggest that the new Labour code has used additional examples of antisemitic language and behavaviour – such as use of derogatory words like ‘Yid’ or ‘kike’ -  which the IHRA code did not address.

She also said that Labour MPs such as Chuka Umunna, Sir Keir Starmer and Anna Turley, who have all criticised the party for not adopting the IHRA code, previously sat on the Home Affairs Select Committee, which had itself suggested changes needed to the made to the IHRA code.

On Tuesday, Ms Turley wrote to Ms Formby about her letter to the PLP, protesting that she had been wrongly named within it as having sat on a Home Affairs Select Commmitte that argued changes were needed to the IHRA definition.

Ms Turley confirmed she had been on the Committee one year before the inquiry was announced on April 2016. She said: "This matters because I am wholly opposed to the approach being undertaken by our party to the IHRA definition.”

Ms Formby also wrote: "It has been widely reported that the code asks for antisemitic intent to be proven. This is a misrepresentation.”

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