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TWENTY-FOUR Palestinian civil society groups, including the biggest Palestinian trade unions, have called on the labour movement not to endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism.
Their statement argues that the definition “aims to silence criticism of Israeli policies that clearly violate Palestinian human rights.”
Certainly there is a strong case for arguing that some of the attached examples constrain criticism of Israel within unreasonable bounds.
A ban on asserting that the Israeli state is a “racist endeavour,” as one of the examples suggests on the grounds that to do so is to deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination, could turn into a ban on attacking the state as racist — which is a justifiable charge based on its denial of the right of return to Palestinians while welcoming Jews from any part of the world, its recent Nation-State law saying Jews have “exclusive” rights of self-determination in Israel and numerous examples of ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
A ban on holding it to standards not demanded of “any other democratic nation” raises endless problems around the definition of democracy, a question on which socialists may differ from the liberal Establishment, as well as the difficulties inherent in drawing exact parallels between situations in different parts of the world.
Defenders of IHRA will argue that we misinterpret the definition if we believe it rules out criticism of Israel. But if they are right the evidence suggests that it is being misinterpreted and will continue to be — as even its original drafter Kenneth Stern acknowledges when he points to the “chilling” effect it has had on freedom of speech.
To assume all accusations will be made in good faith and all disciplinary hearings conducted fairly is to ignore the context of a row in which people who had never heard of the IHRA definition before this summer are now prepared to slander Labour as racist if it refuses to swallow it whole, examples and all.
Whether or not adopting the IHRA definition is the best way to tackle anti-semitism in Labour should be up for honest debate. Sadly the debate so far has been anything but honest.
Those using allegations of anti-semitism as a stick to beat Jeremy Corbyn are not interested in factual accuracy.
Hence the claim that he was honouring the Munich bombers when he laid a wreath in Tunisia, when they are actually buried in Libya, or the editing of the video in which he referred to zionists not understanding English irony to remove a section in which he discusses Jewish involvement in the labour and trade union movement — the inclusion of which would undermine the claim that his remarks were directed at Jewish people in general.
Corbyn’s enemies know a corporate media just as hostile as they are to the socialist insurgency he leads will amplify their accusations and is unlikely to investigate the substance behind them.
Organisations hostile to Corbyn, such as the Jewish Leadership Council, receive significant airtime and column inches while those sympathetic, such as the Jewish Socialists’ Group, do not. We shall see how much coverage the Palestinian groups’ declaration receives.
This is a specific example of a much wider problem — a media which constantly quotes business leaders and seldom trade union leaders, which elevates opaque “think tanks” such as the Taxpayers’ Alliance to the status of impartial experts while ignoring labour movement centres like the Institute of Employment Rights and which seeks to discredit any voices it does not control.
That disdain for the alternative oozed from Monday’s Financial Times, which accused Corbyn of trying to “tame” the media with his proposals to democratise social, broadcast and print platforms.
The Labour leader’s commitment to a free press is questioned because of his association with the “communist-leaning” Morning Star.
The FT goes out of its way to assert that social media is the main source of fake news, a position which ignores the complete indifference to the truth major titles have displayed in their coverage of Labour since Corbyn became its leader (and on many other topics, from the Zinoviev letter to the Hillsborough disaster, throughout history).
The Morning Star makes no claim to impartiality — it is a socialist paper owned and controlled by working-class people both directly through individual shareholdings and through trade union shareholdings. It fights for them.
Its existence goes some way towards stopping the most powerful in our society being the only ones entitled to a voice.
But the structure of media ownership and control in Britain still makes it far too easy for the richest to drown out the rest. Corbyn is right on media reform, and should stick to his guns.
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