IHRA statement: Retreating now will only make things worse

IHRA statement: Retreating now will only make things worse

On September 4th Labour’s NEC will be voting – again – on whether to adopt word-for-word all the examples attached to the IHRA definition of antisemitism, or stick to the different version adopted in a Code of Conduct in July.

Pressure is unrelenting from the PLP (which is almost certain to vote overwhelmingly on 5th September for the unedited version), from the media and hard line friends of Israel, both inside and outside the Party.

Some important players in the Party have already declared their support for the change, although there is no indication that they have consulted with even their executives, let alone their members. Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary, penned an article for the New Statesman arguing for it, followed by Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary and Paddy Lillis of USDAW. Jon Lansman, regarded as the leader of Momentum, has not denied that he supports such a change, despite having previously described Labour’s code as “the Gold Standard”. Unfortunately, this fits well with the record of Momentum in refusing to challenge – and sometimes encourage – the weaponisation of antisemitism, throwing Corbyn supporters like Pete Willsman to the wolves for no good reason.

In the run up to the NEC meeting, the media has been rolling out further claims that Corbyn has committed various anti-Semitic acts. Facts and reason rarely have much to do with such claims, such as when he is condemned for attending the wedding of someone who the Mail claims went on to deny the holocaust 4 years later (!), or when they clearly don’t bother to check when and at whose graves Corbyn lay wreaths. Such a cavalier attitude to facts has been common to many of the attacks over the last few years.

The reasons why the IHRA “working examples” should not be adopted in full have been well-rehearsed (and ignored by those who insist there can be no compromise or negotiation on the matter). They essentially boil down to the fact that while you might still be “allowed” to criticise the actions of Israeli individuals, such as soldiers who kill unarmed Palestinians, you cannot generalise and describe Israel as a racist or apartheid state, even after the recent passage of the Nation State Law, which codified such policies. And there is at least doubt as to whether you could argue for polices such as BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions) which put real pressure on Israel to change course.

The opponents of Corbyn have shown repeatedly that it’s not a matter of facts, reason or, least of all Labour’s electoral interests, which motivate them. It is not primarily about dealing with the small number of cases of antisemitism in the Party (assertions of an epidemic are never backed up with facts). There is a visceral hatred of him and his politics, bringing together those who see his anti-austerity politics as a threat to their class interests, those who reject his socialist, internationalist policies (particularly his support for the Palestinians), and those in the PLP who see him as an outsider who is leading the Party into conflict with the establishment, where they prefer not to rock the boat. The PLP right have shown time and again that they would rather damage Labour’s electoral chances than see Corbyn become PM. That rumours regularly circulate about them plotting to leave or link up with the Lib Dems (or anyone else that would have them) is hardly surprising.

The argument from Prentis and others is that adoption of the `working examples’ in full will defuse the conflict between the Party and “the Jewish community”. Yet this flies in the face of all the evidence. Every time the Party has retreated and apologised, or expelled or suspended someone for antisemitism, they have been emboldened, not sated. Their prime target is not those who have been expelled, they are merely stepping stones on the way to their real target, Corbyn.

The Board of Deputies (mainly made up of Zionists and Tories) and hardline Zionists are clear that their aim is to see Corbyn removed as Labour leader. Even capitulation on support for the Palestinians will not satisfy them. They have been ruthless in their pursuit of this aim, denouncing Jews who disagree with them as the wrong kind of Jews (and even the wrong kind of holocaust survivor), refusing to meet Corbyn if Jewish organisations which disagree with them are present, and making clear that the examples are not up for negotiation. They do not want negotiation or compromise, they want capitulation. Everyone who challenges the Zionist narrative and its representatives is fair game, in particular those Jews who disagree. Silencing dissenting Jews is crucial to silencing the challenge to Israel.

Adopting the IHRA “working examples” will not put an end to the attacks. Firstly, it would be claimed that the Party only did so under pressure and didn’t really mean it. But more, every socialist who argues support for the Palestinians, that Israel is racist, will be accused of being anti-Semitic including UNISON, since BDS is its official policy (Dave Prentis please note). Not only would it be used to attack hundreds of individuals, but to close down serious policy discussion across the movement – an attack on democracy in the unions and the Party. The allegations of antisemitism would be far higher than to date. The idea that retreating would allow us to get on to “real politics” (as if internationalism is not an integral part of “real” politics) is an illusion. The only way to stop the attacks is to stand up to them.

Anyone who thinks this is really about antisemitism needs to explain why Israel considers countries like Hungary as their best friends, despite their clear use of antisemitism (and their adoption of all the working examples with the IHRA definition).

Jeremy Corbyn himself has shown in recent days a willingness to face down allegations against him. He has refused to apologise for laying a wreath at the grave of Palestinians and Tunisians killed in Tunisia in an Israeli airstrike in 1985, and went further when he responded to an attack by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu by saying “What deserves unequivocal condemnation is the killing of over 160 Palestinian protesters in Gaza by Israeli forces since March, including dozens of children.”

That is the response needed to face down the attacks from the Zionists – reject their false accusations and defence of Israel, establishing Labour as a clearly internationalist Party standing in solidarity with the Palestinians, while dealing with any racism in its ranks (unlike those who accuse it of fostering antisemitism). The Party needs to line up with the Palestinians and with those Jews who challenge the claim of the Board of Deputies and others to speak for all Jews and send a clear message that it rejects their slurs.

The LRC calls on all Labour’s NEC members to stand by the Code of Conduct adopted in July and reject the notion of crumbling in the face of an attack by our opponents.