In relation to racism and antisemitism, the NEC motion on disciplinary procedures agreed on the 19th Sept 2017 states:
“The NEC shall take account of codes of conduct currently in force and shall take into account any incident which in their view might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on […] race, religion or belief as conduct prejudicial to the party: these shall include […] racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia or otherwise racist language, sentiments, stereotypes or actions, bullying or any form of intimidation towards another person on the basis of a protected characteristic, as determined by the NEC […].”
The first phrase begs the question, which codes of conduct, written by whom? Clearly this presents an opening for the pro-Israel Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) to insert the discredited International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism with its full list of 11 examples, seven of which relate not to Jews but to Israel. This definition is designed to silence criticism of Israel’s abuse of Palestinian human rights by categorising such criticism as antisemitic.
Any attempt to incorporate the examples in the IHRA document into a Labour Party a code of conduct should be opposed.
The second matter in this paragraph refers to racism, prejudice, bullying or intimidation in relation to the protected characteristics of another person. Protected characteristics are defined in the Equalities Act 2010. They include race, religion, belief and nationality. (ref.1)
There have been few legal cases to set precedent, but one notable case was an Employment Tribunal where the judge ruled that neither Zionism nor political or moral criticism of Israel qualified for protection as protected characteristics (Fraser v. UCU Feb 2013):
- “It seems to us that a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel or any similar sentiment cannot amount to a protected characteristic. It is not intrinsically a part of Jewishness […]”
This may be a significant case although Tribunals do not set precedents. (ref 2)
The third matter in the motion pertinent to this subject is:
“The NCC shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions except in any instance inconsistent with the Party’s aims and values, agreed codes of conduct, or involving prejudice towards any protected characteristic”.
This is the crucial clause. It is undemocratic because it contains a catch 22: once a code of conduct has been adopted it would be set up to acquire a protected status because to criticise it or to organise for its removal would be defined by this clause as prejudicial, and the proposer of any such motion would become liable to disciplinary procedures. This is Orwellian and should not be allowed to stand.
Of course, also key to this clause is the nature of the codes of conduct.
Then there is the contradiction with the qualifying principles of a Protected Characteristic set out by the Convention on Human Rights:
“It [a Protected Characteristic] must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and must not conflict with the fundamental rights of others” (2)
This is relevant to the IHRA definition. As observed by retired appeal court judge Sir Stephen Sedley:
- The first and second of these examples (of the IHRA definition) assume that Israel, apart from being a Jewish state, is a country like any other and so open only to criticism resembling such criticism as can be made of other states, placing the historical, political, military and humanitarian uniqueness of Israel’s occupation and colonisation of Palestine beyond permissible criticism. (3)
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
The party rules should ensure freedom of expression for all members and fair disciplinary procedures based on natural justice. That is why Jewish Voice For Labour is backing a motion proposed by Hastings and Rye CLP (4).
It is important that before this NEC rule change is implemented it is referred to the membership for consultation, and that any relevant code of conduct is drawn up to reflect the full range of members' opinion.
is General Secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour.