IHRA and the Labour Code of Conduct

23 Jul 2018 by Mark Gardner

This blog will detail the differences between the internationally recognised standard International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and the Labour Party’s new antisemitism Code of Conduct.

The IHRA definition of antisemitism can be read here and the Labour Party Code of Conduct on antisemitism can be read here.

Summary

Labour’s new Code includes them having rewritten (and therefore rejected) the widely recognised IHRA definition of antisemitism. In particular, sections regarding Israel, Nazi Germany and Jewish loyalty have been relegated and altered by Labour. 

Throughout the Code, there is not a single mention of how antisemitism actually occurs, not in Europe, not in Britain, nor in the Labour Party. There are useful mentions of antisemitic theory (such as acknowledging the ‘socialism of fools’), but the Code also speaks at great length about how Israel can be campaigned against.

The new Code was passed at the NEC on 17 July despite widespread opposition from Jewish groups, including unprecedented interventions from a unique coalition of Rabbis and the Chief Rabbi. The new Code was rejected by the Parliamentary Labour Party, which backs the IHRA definition.

The behaviour of the Leaders Office brazenly contravenes basic anti-racist principles. No form of racism can be eliminated when the target group is essentially treated, in full public glare, in an exclusionary manner by those who are themselves fundamental to the problem.

The controversy has sparked a wave of antisemitism directed against those deemed to be opponents of Jeremy Corbyn.

Some of those claiming that the new Code improves upon IHRA, argue that the examples of antisemitism that IHRA says “might” be antisemitic, are now toughened by the Code to read as being “likely” to be antisemitic. However, this just highlights that IHRA is nothing like the impediment to free speech that its critics claim it to be; because the sections of IHRA rejected or relegated by Labour’s Code are merely listed as things that “might” be antisemitic in certain contexts.

Background

On 24 April 2018, following the unprecedented ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration, representatives of the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and CST met with Jeremy Corbyn MP, Seumas Milne, Jennie Formby and Andrew Gwynne MP.

Together, the Jewish representatives stressed the need for the Labour leadership to communicate, to build trust with them and the Jewish community. We cited the Macpherson Report, saying it had led the Police to listen openly to constructive critics in order to build relationships with minority communities. It was clear from this and from the specific discussion of IHRA, what the communal reaction would be if IHRA were rejected or rewritten.

There is disagreement as to whether or not Labour did previously endorse all of IHRA. In the 24th April meeting, Milne insisted they had only endorsed the so-called core paragraph. Others disagree: e.g. Ann Black, former chair of disciplinary disputes panel, publicly states it was fully adopted, at Jeremy Corbyn’s request, by the NEC equalities committee in December 2016. Milne also made it clear in the meeting with communal leaders that his objection to IHRA lay in the second half of its seventh bullet point example, which states:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that this existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

The Labour Leader Office’s subsequent behaviour and new Code should be understood with the above objection fully in mind.

After the 24 April meeting, there was no formal contact from the Leaders Office to any of the Jewish communal bodies that were at that meeting, not even a ‘thank you for meeting with us’. Nothing was heard until the night of 3 July, when Jennie Formby (Labour’s General Secretary) emailed, asking for “feedback” on the new Code of Conduct. This feedback was sent, stating that the rejection and rewrite of IHRA was deeply unacceptable.

The request for feedback was preceded by a sentence claiming “I met Ivor Caplin and Cllr Neil Nerva from JLM yesterday to go through these papers before they were taken to the meeting today, which was a very positive and helpful meeting”. This implied that the BoD, JLC and CST feedback should take into account that the Jewish Labour Movement had been consulted on the paperwork and had approved it. JLM says this is inaccurate, has objected to how it was consulted and has rejected the Code. 

The Code was adopted by the NEC on 17 July, on the procedural basis of it having been approved at a meeting of an NEC subcommittee prior to the Code being sent to Jewish community leaders. This renders Jennie Formby’s “feedback” request for the 17 July meeting as having been irrelevant. 

Labour has spoken of its “adopting” and “adapting” IHRA. The chair of IHRA at the time the definition was adopted has made it clear that the definition is one document. It is not a pick and mix selection of components. To adapt it is to reject it.

IHRA allows criticism of Israel

The reason that is repeatedly given for the rejection of IHRA, or in Labour’s case for it to be rewritten, is that it supposedly endangers the right to criticise Israel. This is a gross misrepresentation of what IHRA actually states, and implies that those who back IHRA do so in order to curtail freedom of speech, rather than to oppose antisemitism.

IHRA is a relatively simple document because it is primarily intended for use by police officers to help them identify behaviours that may turn out to be antisemitic. It consists of a core paragraph and eleven explanatory illustrative bullet points. (Some relate to Israel, four of which are what Labour’s Code has altered.)

IHRA has straightforward caveats that guard against it being misused to curtail freedom of speech. They are plainly expressed:

“Criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

“Contemporary examples of antisemitism…could, taking into account the overall context, include…”

These caveats are repeatedly ignored or misrepresented by IHRA’s critics.

The Labour Code of Conduct

The new Code is comprised of 16 sections, which are discussed and explained below.

Sections 1 to 4 are an Introduction, summarising the 2018 Labour Party Rule Book.

Section 3 includes mention of the Chakrabarti Report, saying “The NEC has adopted the Chakrabarti Report and agreed to implement it”. No mention is made of the Jewish community’s rejection of the Chakrabarti Report as being utterly inadequate and wholly compromised. No mention is made of the fact that the Report is two years old and that the problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party has worsened considerably since it was published.

Sections 5 to 8 are headlined as “Antisemitism: principles”.

Section 5 states that “the NEC has endorsed the definition produced” by IHRA in 2016. It then quotes the core IHRA paragraph about antisemitism being a hateful perception of Jews as if this is proof of the endorsement of the definition. The chair of IHRA at the time of the definition’s adoption has stated that it is one single document. It is not, as many have argued, a core paragraph with optional examples to then be selected from. This misunderstanding (whether accidental or deliberate) repeats throughout the new Labour Code. Either the definition is endorsed, or it is not. It should be noted that Labour are the only ones to both claim to adopt the definition and to then have adapted it, to do away with the examples that they object to.

No explanation is given as to why the IHRA definition exists (there is no description of contemporary antisemitism, including the condition of European Jewish communities, which motivated the initial drafting and usage).   

Section 6 says that IHRA “on its own does not provide clear guidance about the circumstances in which particular conduct should or should not be regarded as antisemitic. The publication of the IHRA definition was accompanied by a series of examples to guide IHRA…”

The above repeats the incorrect notion that IHRA can be taken in parts, rather than as a whole, but it does so in order to now pick apart the Israel-related examples. If, at this point, the Code simply quoted IHRA’s clear caveat about each guideline (including the Israel-related ones) depending upon overall context, it would have little if any excuse for all the changes that it then makes to IHRA.

Ironically, this section 6 also concedes that IHRA does not outlaw anything (including therefore anti-Israel criticism), but it does so without making any reference to IHRA’s caveats. Instead, the Code says [IHRA] on its own does not provide clear guidance about the circumstances in which particular conduct should or should not be regarded as anti-Semitic”. This now forms the basis for the Code to be more proscriptive than IHRA regarding what is and (importantly for the Code authors) is not antisemitic.

Section 7 is lengthy. It portrays arguments against IHRA as some kind of principled discussion, rather than a politically motivated attempt to falsely allege that IHRA’s purpose and content is to render anti-Israel “criticism” illegal. It misleadingly characterises the argument as being one “of much academic and legal debate”. The overwhelming majority of Jewish community organisations and leaders accept IHRA without any further debate, in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. The debate over IHRA is political and the strength of the debate reflects the strength of the anti-Israel and/or anti-Zionist and/or antisemitic ideological motivations of those leading the charge against it. This is not to say that all opponents or discussants fit such categories. Some critics plainly do not, but the heat of the argument derives from ideological motivations that have long opposed mainstream Jewish perspectives and fears.

Section 7 talks at length about how “the expression of even contentious views in this [Israel] area will not be treated as antisemitism unless accompanied by specific antisemitic content…or by other evidence of antisemitic intent…[the Party] will not tolerate name-calling and abuse”. Again, it would have been far simpler if the Code merely said that IHRA contains a strong “context” caveat and Labour will ensure it is applied: but this would not have achieved its need to satisfy far left anti-Israel campaigners. Instead, the introduction of the need for “evidence of antisemitic intent” transforms the way in which antisemitic language is measured. It demands a level of proof that is far higher than that used by the IHRA definition and provides an easy get-out clause for anybody in Labour who uses antisemitic language. Anti-discrimination law rightly emphasises discriminatory and detrimental outcomes, rather than trying to divine deep-seated, concealed motivations. Labour’s Code makes no mention of antisemitic impacts and outcomes.

Section 8 is lengthy, explaining that “What follows is a series of guidelines”. It explains that these “draw on a number of sources, including the IHRA working examples”, the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) antisemitism report of October 2016, Chakrabarti and other material. Halfway through this lengthy paragraph is the Code’s first mention that IHRA does actually state the need for context. It is extraordinary that this caveat is not explicitly mentioned before now.

The Code now has a sub-heading “Antisemitism: guidelines”, after which sections 9 to 16 are given. Importantly, section 9 says “The following are examples of conduct likely to be regarded as antisemitic. They are in part derived from the IHRA working examples.” Section 9 now lists simple sentences and paragraphs, numbered from “a” to “g”, as straightforward examples of behaviours that are “likely to be regarded as antisemitic”.

The first five examples, “a” to “e” are, word for word, the first five IHRA bullet points (what the Code refers to as “IHRA working examples”). 

Example “f” takes all of the ninth IHRA “working example”, which says that antisemitic imagery should not be used to characterise Israel. It then adds more detail, including use of “yid” and “equating Jews with capitalists or the ruling class”.

Example “g” is exactly the same as IHRA’s eleventh and last point.

Section 9, examples “a” to “g” is straightforward and easy to use. Precisely for this reason, it sits in stark contrast to the rest of the Code, which reduces and equivocates and obscures the remainder of IHRA, namely its sixth, seventh, eighth and tenth examples, all of which mention Israel.    

Section 10 states “To those examples [i.e. the easy to use “a” to “g” ones] the Party would add the making of unjustified reference to the protected characteristic of being Jewish”.

The tone of the Code now changes. Where the section 9 “a” to “g”, and section 10 guidelines are clear and helpful, sections 11 to 16 talk at length about Zionism, Israel, the right to criticise and so on. The four remaining IHRA examples (six, seven, eight and ten) are, to varying extents, discussed within these sections: but unlike “a” to “g” are not acknowledged as deriving from IHRA. Indeed, the Code makes no further mention of IHRA.

The remaining IHRA examples are now, by definition, not considered as “likely” to be antisemitic. They subsequently appear as follows:

IHRA example six:

“Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations” appears in section 14 of the Code, but with the opening changed slightly to read “It is also wrong to accuse”. This sentence about loyalty is taken from the IHRA definition, but it has been excluded from the list of language, taken from the IHRA definition, that section 9 of Labour’s Code says is “likely to be regarded as antisemitic“. This is clearly a deliberate decision to take this example out of that list. The reason is revealed in the wording, “it is also wrong to accuse…”. In other words, it falls shy of the threshold “likely to be regarded as antisemitic” and is merely “wrong”.

IHRA example 7:

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”. As already noted, in the 24 April meeting, Seumas Milne stated that the 2nd half of this sentence was his objection to IHRA. Sections 13 and 16 of the Code should be read and understood with Milne’s objection, and objective, in mind. They both provide sufficient scope to describe Israel as a racist endeavour. This, despite IHRA example seven referring to “a State of Israel” (i.e. the theory and principle of a state) and not “the State of Israel” (i.e. the reality of the actual Israeli state).

Section 12 of the Labour Code states that Jews “have the same right to self-determination as any other people” and that to deny that right is a form of unequal treatment, “therefore a form of antisemitism”. However, it then defends “considered debate and discourse about the nature or content of the right of peoples to self-determination.” In other words, the Labour code says it is not antisemitic to argue that the “nature” of Jewish self-determination is racist. This is perverse and opens up a whole new antisemitic discourse about the “nature” of Jewish identity and national self-expression.

Section 13 then asserts the right to discuss “the circumstances of the foundation of the Israeli state”, “differential impact of Israeli laws or policies on different people within its population or that of neighbouring territories” and to compare “the conduct of Israel” to international law and the conduct of other democratic states. This is a straw man: there is nothing in the IHRA definition that would preclude critical discussion of Israeli laws, policies or conduct, or of the actual circumstances of its creation (as opposed to the principle of “a State of Israel”).

IHRA example 8:

“Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” The Code says nothing about this being antisemitic or even “wrong”. Instead, section 13 inverts the IHRA wording, saying it is not racist to hold Israel or other country against international requirements or standards “expected of democratic states”. No explicit mention is made of it being discriminatory, or wrong, to hold Israel to higher standards than those expected of other democratic nations. Section 14 says “it is wrong to apply double standards by requiring more vociferous condemnation of such actions from Jewish people or organisations than from others” – but this applies only to Jewish people or organisations, not to Israel. Thus Labour’s code effectively deletes IHRA’s example of people treating Israel with double standards.

IHRA example 10:

Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”. Section 16 of Labour’s code merely says “Labour members should resist” this, before adding “such language carries a strong risk of being prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Party”. This would have fitted very easily into the “likely” to be antisemitic behaviours taken directly from IHRA, so why is it omitted and moved to a separate section? The answer lies in the first half of section 16 which reads: “Discourse about international politics often employs metaphors drawn from examples of historic misconduct.” The phrase “historic misconduct” is presumably meant to include the Nazi genocide of six million Jews and the attempted extermination of the Jewish people. To describe this as simply “misconduct” is a euphemism of breath-taking inadequacy. It minimises and relativises the Holocaust while removing the need for any acknowledgement or understanding of the specific impact of the Holocaust on Jews and the reasons why comparing Israel to Nazi Germany is not merely a random example of “historic misconduct” that a person might choose to compare Israeli conduct to.

The Code then says that comparing Israeli behaviour to historic examples “is not antisemitism… unless there is evidence of antisemitic intent”.“Intent” should be irrelevant to any discussion about whether or not Israel-Nazi comparisons are antisemitic: they should be called antisemitic and included in the Code’s list of things “likely” to be antisemitic (i.e. section 9). It is utterly inadequate to say such comparisons should not be used. The Code even says “Labour members should resist”: as if there is some implied acknowledgement of a temptation to make Nazi comparisons. It warns that the use of this comparison “carries a strong risk of being regarded as prejudicial”, but it is not even clear if this warning relates to protecting Jews or the Party (as it states “behaviour that is prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Party”).   

Section 15 of the Labour Code is a lengthy explanation of Zionism which makes no explicit mention of how important anti-Zionism is to contemporary antisemitism, including within the Labour Party. For example, it does not make any reference to common accusations about Zionist control of money, the media or politicians. With this in mind, the second half of its introductory sentence is worth noting, as it hints at an understanding of Zionism that would include accusations of global Zionist power and reach. It states, “The term “Zionism” is intimately bound up in the history of Israel’s foundation as a state and its role in international relations more generally”. Zionism is generally understood, especially by Jews, as the movement that led to the creation of the State of Israel and as support for Israel since its creation. It is not clear what the Labour Code means by “its role in international relations more generally”, but this wording risks allowing the kinds of conspiracy theories about Zionist influence in Western governments and media that are the common currency of contemporary antisemitism.

Section 15 goes on to say that “It is not antisemitism to refer to “Zionism” and “Zionists” as part of considered discussion about the Israeli state.” This is another straw man argument. Nobody claims that such discussion is antisemitic; but much of the problem of antisemitism in far left circles derives from antisemitic versions of anti-Zionism that draw on antisemitic conspiracy theories and demonising language. Section 15 then repeats Chakrabarti’s advice that “Zionist” should not be a euphemism for “Jew” and that “Zio” is a “pejorative abbreviation” that “should have no place in Labour Party discourse”. It concludes “Such language may otherwise provide evidence of antisemitic intent”.

The Code draws (with extreme selectivity) upon the 2016 HASC antisemitism inquiry in order to request that “antisemitic intent” be shown. This was suggested by the HASC report in relation to two clarifications that it wished to add to IHRA in order to satisfy those who complained it was geared to stifle anti-Israel criticism. These were:

  • It is not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.
  • It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.

This was rejected by the Government on the grounds that IHRA explicitly contained sufficient caveats to render the “intent” point irrelevant. Jewish representative bodies strongly share this opinion. Furthermore, for the Code to now include “intent” within section 16 (on Nazi comparisons), which was not suggested by HASC, is plainly unacceptable. Similarly, it should not be included within section 15 on “Zionism”. 

HASC made many other recommendations and observations, several of which made damning observations about Labour’s conduct. Unsurprisingly, none of these points were included in Labour’s Code.

Postscript

After all of this, the Labour leadership now says it wishes to consult Jewish groups about the Code.

We have been here before. It is what they said when we wasted so much time and energy on the Chakrabarti Report. This is what they said at the 24 April meeting, after which we heard nothing. It is what Jennie Formby offered to be taken to the 17 July NEC meeting, which then waved through the Code on the basis of its having been adopted by an NEC subcommittee before we were even invited to give feedback on the Code.  

This leaves us to ask: what is there to consult about? If Labour’s leadership wishes to change its culture, then that is up to them. It does not require further charades about consultation. Instead, it can only come from within. 

[Image: Jenny Formby, the current Labour party General Secretary. Credit: Wikimedia Commons /Rwendland]


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“I never stop being amazed at the professional, selfless and totally dedicated commitment shown by the CST staff and volunteers. Our community is indebted to CST for the comprehensive protection the organisation provides, which sadly is so very necessary at this time.”

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Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth