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IHRA and anti-semitism: has the Israeli lobby shot itself in the foot?

We lost the battle over the definition of anti-semitism, but enforcing it won’t be easy for Israel’s enforcers, explains GLYN SECKER

THERE is no doubt that the volley of examples of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism raining down on the Labour Party’s NEC and the leader of the opposition (Loto) team has done damage and forced a public retreat.

The piece de resistance was number 7 — “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.”

This is a cluster bomb all on its own: it wipes out the right of Palestinians to refer to the ethnic cleansing which they suffered in the founding of Israel, bars criticism of the Nation-State Basic Law which has formalised the racial privilege of Jews over Palestinians; curtails the right to free speech within the Labour Party on these racist acts; and becomes a tool for attacking Corbyn and expelling his key supporters.

Or does it? The ball has been kicked into the long grass of disciplinary cases.

The NEC, by committing itself to the principle of free speech to criticise Israel and to support Palestinian rights has inserted a caveat far more powerful than those recommended by the House of Commons select committee on anti-semitism, which limited legitimate criticism to that of the Israeli government. The lawyers’ draft will return for endorsement by the new NEC, which by then will have a clear Corbyn majority.

If the principles of the Human Rights Act are set out so as to underpin the rules, procedures, codes of conduct and supporting documents in the disciplinary process, then the IHRA definition will be subject to such interpretation.

This in effect was the criterion of Hugh Tomlinson QC’s appraisal of the document, the long and the short of which stated that none of the examples could identify anti-semitism unless qualified by the document’s 38-word definition as an expression of hatred of Jews.

In the case of example 7, unless the claim that Israel is a racist endeavour is made as an expression of hatred of Jews, such a claim would not be anti-semitic.

The IHRA definition, hoist on its own petard of its intentionally ambiguous language and sloppy structure, is being hollowed out.

A second bullet to the foot is that with the IHRA definition in place the lobbyists are having to argue that criticisms of Israel’s racists practices are illegitimate, ie that Israel’s racist practices and structures are legitimate. 

They are in a corner of their own making, with no exit.

It was clear that in the weeks running up to the NEC’s decision on the IHRA document the Israeli lobbyists had lined up a new hostile story each day to be run by their allies in the mainstream media, from manipulated photos of wreath-laying to the truly hyperbolic equation of Enoch Powell’s rivers of blood speech with comments on a shortfall in irony. Such hyperbole now has a name — “Sacksism.”

But it is noticeable that it has all gone rather quite over there. Many of the Labour Friends of Israel MPs are beginning to realise that they might have cooked their own goose, with squeals to the leadership to protect them from the democratic expressions of their own constituency parties.

There is huge anger across the party at the unrelenting attacks on Jeremy Corbyn by this anti-semitism campaign fomented by the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and their Israeli backers, including Benjamin Netanyahu, but especially towards the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel, which as Labour Party bodies have embraced the traitorous role of seeking to depose the most popular leader with the most popular programme the party has had since World War II.

They have, in one fell swoop, chilled debate, intimidated lifelong socialist comrades and, most of all, silenced the party on its anti-austerity programme and expunged from the front pages the Palestinians and the atrocities committed against them by Israel.

So where does all this leave us at conference? It is a fact that for a variety of reasons — from right-wing allegiances, to a desperate desire to get back to the main political programme, to horse-trading — the unions have committed to adoption of the entire IHRA document, and thus any challenge at conference by the constituencies would fail.

What would not fail would be that such a conflict on the conference floor would be lapped up by the media, the Jewish Labour Movement would oblige with another wave of media-savvy weepers and they would have just the story they want to define the party as congenitally riven by anti-semitism of the left, and once again obfuscate the party’s political attacks on the Tories and on austerity.

Despite the widespread fury across the rank and file (and there is no shortage of it here within Jewish Voice for Labour) at the fomented attack on Corbyn, on the Palestinians and on our party, we need to control our anger.

Once the new code of conduct is in place, with the underlying Human Rights Act principle of free speech established, and once the democracy review has been implemented, the Loto team and the Corbyn project will be back on track and will regain the initiative and the agenda.

During this period the disciplinary machinery will be improved to represent due process and natural justice (and we must not relax the pressure to ensure that this happens), and malicious cases brought on the basis of the IHRA definition should be exposed and dismissed.

This will be important not only for the party but for the many other parts of civil society where the IHRA definition is being wheeled out — such as local authorities, faith communities and higher education, where, despite having no legal status, it is being brought in by the back door as a legal implement.

It is vital that this conference is the Labour Party’s launch of its election bid, on the issue that matter to the 12 million driven into poverty, to those thrust into insecurity and to the millions who are desperate for social justice. Millions whose first concern is anything but the fomented wave of anti-semitism in the Labour Party.

Glyn Secker is secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour. This article is written in a personal capacity.

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