Antisemitism now: the IHRA controversy

24 Jul 2018 by Mark Gardner

The Labour leadership’s defences of its new Code of Conduct on antisemitism have unleashed a torrent of abuse, including antisemitism, within Labour’s Facebook, Twitter and constituency party circles. Indeed, Labour has received at least two complaints regarding behaviour within the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting that discussed the guidelines.

As ever, therefore, the argument over the definition of antisemitism is not some philosophical debate over whether or not a few words could be improved here or there. It is, rather, a real-world argument, one important outcome of which is to mobilise pro-Corbyn anger and hatred. Inevitably, some of this includes more antisemitism and more alienation of Jews.

It is beyond parody that the Labour leadership claims Labour’s new Code will better protect Jews when the argument around it has already given the green light for a new deluge of antisemitism. The new Code cannot be the gold standard for fighting antisemitism as its defenders ludicrously proclaim, because its premise and its defences rely upon the same hateful principles that have long dominated far left anti-Israel and anti-Zionist activities.

These are:

Misrepresent, or obscure, what it is that the mainstream Jewish community actually says about antisemitism and “criticism” of Israel. This is usually done by implication, by inference. Actual communal leaders and groups are seldom ever named, for the simple reason that they do not conflate antisemitism with “criticism” of Israel.

  • Misrepresent, or obscure, the fact that the existing standard IHRA antisemitism definition very plainly says that everything (including anti-Israel behaviours) must be taken into context before deciding if it is antisemitic.
  • Ignore the actual antisemitism that drives the need for a definition, which is tens of thousands of Jews fleeing some European countries and cities due to terrorist murders and widespread antisemitism.
  • If forced to actually acknowledge the existence of antisemitism, then explain it away by reference to everything but your own culture of obsessive Israel hatred, endemic abuse of the words “Zionism” and “Zionist”, and a deep suspicion of anyone Jewish (in case they are a Zionist).

This last point should be further explored. For example, when those who had long denied antisemitism in Labour finally admitted that there was a problem, they often did so by saying that racism exists across all of society, so with Labour having so many members, inevitably some will be racist. If this is the case, Labour should be suffering from similar problems of anti-Muslim hatred and anti-Black racism.

The reason Labour’s antisemitism problem dwarfs all of its other racism problems is because it originates from the far-left culture that Jeremy Corbyn and his closest advisers and supporters have always belonged to. That culture now dominates the party.

To understand this, cast your mind back to the previous arguments and how they have escalated to this current point. First around Corbyn’s election as leader. Next around Oxford University Labour Club. Then Baroness Royall’s half buried report. Throughout this, to Jewish outrage, Jeremy Corbyn would talk about ‘antisemitism and other forms of racism’ (ie denying any specificity to antisemitism). Next, the compromised Chakrabarti Report set out to investigate antisemitism and other forms of racism. That Report, despite all the trouble it caused, was never implemented. Labour’s leadership used neither it, nor its author, to help address the problem, despite all their assurances at the time and despite all the effort expended by a large range of Jewish groups and individuals. We had all feared that this whole exercise was just the Labour leadership’s charade to sweep the problem under the carpet or, worse still, to whitewash the Party’s faults.

Now, from the people who brought us all of this, including the Chakrabarti Report, we have a new Code of Conduct. There is no evidence of a fundamental change of heart since then. The proof of this lies not only in the failure to properly consult Jewish groups and rabbis, but in the actual Code and the defences made for it. Yes, it acknowledges the need to address antisemitism, and it contains most of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, but much of the focus and the intellectual and political input in labour’s Code lies in the continuing misrepresentations of the standard IHRA definition and in the paramount need (for the Code’s authors and overseers) for the obsessive hatred of Israel that characterises the far left to be absolutely safeguarded.

Throughout the new Code there is not a single mention of actual antisemitism, not in Europe, not in Britain, nor in the Labour Party. The Code does, however, speak at great length about the need to ensure that Israel can be campaigned against. It reads as a rebuttal to the same old straw man that Jews have faced for decades from the far left, the false accusation that Jews deliberately conflate antisemitism with “criticism” of Israel for political gain.

Exactly what this political gain is, can shift seamlessly. One day we are tricksters for neo-cons seeking to subjugate the Arab world, another it is embittered Blairites, another it is for Benjamin Netanyahu, or the Murdoch media, or whatever. The key point is that many people on the far left believe that antisemitism claims (whether expressed as IHRA or anything else) are part of the supposed power conspiracy of Zionists, or Rothschilds, or the “Israel lobby”..  

If Labour’s leadership ever acknowledged the simple truth of IHRA’s straightforward content, the truth of why it is needed and the reality of what Jews actually fear, think, say and do, then the rationale for their needing to twist IHRA and make a new Code would simply not exist. The fact they have not, and cannot, do this is revealing.

It was no statistical coincidence that Labour’s antisemitism problem took off when the current leadership took office when embittered former members returned to dominate their constituency parties, when new pro-Corbyn media spread false and angry news. The outcomes were entirely predictable and cannot change for so long as mainstream Jews and their leadership groups are regarded with deep suspicion, whilst anyone labelled as “Zionist” risks being reviled, abused and driven out.

Until this culture - now epitomised by the IHRA controversy - is acknowledged and addressed, no fundamental change will ever occur. Jeremy Corbyn is the only one with the authority to make this change.


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