In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need a definition of anti-Semitism. In a perfect world, anti-Semitism wouldn’t still exist in the 21st century, let alone be a national crisis plaguing the Labour party. In a perfect world, if anti-Semitism did still exist, we wouldn’t need a definition, we would use the Macpherson principle, and trust those who were the victims of a hate crime.
Sadly, our world is far from perfect. Therefore, there is a working definition of anti-Semitism. It is used by the Crown Prosecution Service, College of Policing, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, National Union of Students, and 124 local authorities, including scores of Labour-held councils such as Haringey and Greater Manchester. It was created by a body consisting of 31 countries, 24 of which are EU member countries. Each country is represented by an Ambassador and a group of experts. For the UK that includes the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. And, perhaps most importantly, it is the definition the Jewish community use to define anti-Semitism. It’s called the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – IHRA – working definition. Sounds good right? Apparently not.
The Jewish community have clearly outlined their own definition of Jew hatred. Yet this week, the Labour party decided it knew Jewish identity better than the Jewish community, and decided to ignore the Jewish communal representatives begging the party to use the definition it had adopted in late 2016. In drawing up guidelines in a way that has left Labour’s Jewish representatives feeling sidelined, the party has directly contravened the practice established by the Macpherson report of allowing minorities to define the prejudice they face. Instead, the Labour party decided to write its own definition. One that requires proof of intent, which goes directly against the Macpherson principle, which Labour wrote into law when it passed the Equality Act. This isn’t required for any other type of hate crime. One that ignores the experts, and has led to Stephen Pollard of the Jewish Chronicle calling the Labour Party “institutionally anti-Semitic”.
What’s more, Jeremy Corbyn and the National Executive Committee have already adopted the IHRA definition. We’re baffled as to why this discussion is being rehearsed – and rehearsed so badly.
However, it is not only the wording of the “definition” that is problematic, it’s the way this came about. When sexual harassment hit the headlines, the Labour party rightly changed procedures to ensure that cases were dealt with sensitively and appropriately. It’s not for us to judge if they got it right, but what is clear is the speed that this was dealt with, as it should have been.
The Labour party has been in what seems like an intractable conflict over anti-Semitism in its ranks for what feels like decades. In reality it’s been nearly three years. Consistently, throughout this period, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Jewish affiliate of the Labour Party since 1920, and the Jewish community have patiently explained the importance of getting this right, culminating in the representatives of the community literally writing the roadmap for the Labour party.
Take the Jewish Labour Movement as a specific example. On Jennie Formby’s appointment as general secretary, she was told by Jeremy Corbyn that the anti-Semitism crisis was her number one priority. When she met with the only Jewish affiliate of the Labour Party three hours later, we’d set out what needed to happen. Some things were long term and process based. Some things were quick and easy, such as publishing the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism on the Labour Party’s website. However, we feel that almost all of the suggestions made by the Jewish Labour Movement were dismissed out of hand or hidden by process.
Two representatives of JLM believed they had been invited to attend the NEC Working Group on Anti-Semitism. A body that JLM should have always had permanent representation on. Instead, they were left waiting in the lobby and barred from entering, having apparently had the invitation rescinded. A week later JLM attended the meeting, to be told we were giving evidence. Again, almost all of this was ignored.
The NEC Working Group presented three papers to Labour’s NEC this week and told by Labour’s general secretary that JLM had signed them off, including the new version of IHRA. This is definitively not the case. For three years JLM have been telling the Labour Party to adopt IHRA, not some bastardised version that requires intent to be proven. In numerous conversations over the past three months we made it very clear that there can be no watering down of the IHRA definition. Ivor Caplin and our other NEC member did not agree to the guidelines on Monday. To suggest they did is incredibly misleading. JLM did not approve those papers, and if we had, we deserve to resign, our membership would never forgive us for betraying them.
We’ve been members of the Labour party for over 35 years collectively. We are Jewish and we are Labour through and through. We’ve been councillors and stood for election as MPs. We never thought our party would tell us it knows the racism we face better than we do. It’s been just over 100 days since more than 2,000 members of our community protested in Parliament square, and yet it feels like we are no further forward. If anything, we’ve moved backwards. The party needs to start acting in good faith and delivering outcomes which show it takes this crisis seriously, rather than paying it shallow and shoddy lip service.
Mike Katz and Adam Langleben are Officers of the Jewish Labour Movement, Labour’s Jewish affiliate since 1920, representing over 2000 Jewish members and supporters of the Labour Party
In response to this article, a Labour source told the New Statesman: “Jennie Formby met with the JLM met on Monday and showed them the Code of Conduct, and they did not raise concerns. These guidelines cover all the same ground as the IHRA examples, but they go further, providing more examples and details so they can actually be applied. That is why they were so positively received by all wings of the Party and unanimously agreed in the meeting.”
A Labour party spokesperson said: “These are the most detailed and comprehensive guidelines on antisemitism adopted by any political party in this country. They draw on the IHRA examples and other sources to provide practical examples of anti-Semitism which can be applied to complaints cases and used in political education programmes to foster deeper understanding of anti-Semitism among members.”