Labour adopts IHRA antisemitism definition in full
Labour’s ruling body agreed to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism in full on Tuesday after a tense discussion in which an accompanying clarification put forward by Jeremy Corbyn was rejected.
The party leader withdrew his additional statement when it was clear it could not be agreed upon and instead the NEC approved the release of brief remarks emphasising freedom of expression on Israel and the rights of Palestinians.
All 11 examples accompanying the IHRA definition were agreed by the NEC, in an attempt to end the long-running row about how to tackle alleged antisemitism within the party.
The spokesperson said Corbyn had made an additional statement to the meeting describing action being taken against antisemitism and expressing solidarity with the Jewish community and the importance of the protection of Palestinian rights.
Labour said Corbyn’s page-and-a-half long statement was welcomed by the NEC “as an important contribution” to the consultation on the subject – but sources added that the party body had refused to endorse it and it had to be withdrawn.
The most controversial passage in the draft statement proposed by Corbyn said: “It cannot be considered racist to treat Israel like any other state or assess its conduct against the standards of international law.
“Nor should it be regarded as antisemitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”
Labour sources said that Corbyn had spoken about the NEC being united, and said his statement was not formally moved. They added that there were “no votes” on antisemitism and the party’s code of conduct because decisions were reached by consensus.
Corbyn had spoken of Labour’s commitment to “eradicating the social cancer of antisemitism”, the party sources said, and recognised “deep concern and pain” across the party over the loss of confidence among Jewish communities.
The agenda for the NEC, which has about 40 members, had timetabled half an hour for discussion about the IHRA code from 1.45pm, but the debate overran by several hours. Two hours in, the meeting broke for tea, amid “big disagreements” because the body made clear it would not sign up to the Corbyn statement without seeking to amend it.
It is understood that Peter Willsman, a Corbyn supporter, who had accused Jewish Trump fanatics of making up some of the allegations of antisemitism in the party at its previous meeting, had chosen to recuse himself from the discussion.
Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said adopting the IHRA definition “had to be the right call”. She said: “It is very long overdue and regrettable that Labour has wasted a whole summer trying to dictate to Jews what constitutes offence against us.”
Margaret Hodge, a Labour backbencher who has been very critical of Corbyn’s handling of the antisemitism issue, said she was disappointed that the party had issued the short clarification to accompany the adoption of the code. She tweeted:
— Margaret Hodge (@margarethodge) September 4, 2018
Earlier, Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, said as he arrived at the meeting he hoped the NEC would endorse the IHRA definition to help repair relations with the Jewish community. “I hope that is the start of the journey to rebuilding trust,” he said.
Before the meeting, rival groups of protesters gathered outside the party’s headquarters on Victoria Street in central London.
About 100 Corbyn loyalists voiced concern about adopting the IHRA definition in full because they believed it would inhibit legitimate criticism of the actions of the state of Israel. They cheered Willsman when he arrived at the meeting. They were faced by a small counter-protest of campaigners, many of whom were draped in the flag of Israel, arguing that it was for Jewish people to determine what constituted discrimination against them.
The Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who has previously called for Corbyn to take more action over allegations of antisemitism in Labour, said earlier in the day that the NEC should be wary of issuing new clarifications.
“I think that the NEC should simply adopt the full IHRA definition and all of its examples,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “I don’t personally think that now is the time to be putting in additions and qualifications. That’s pouring more fuel on the fire, and that’s the last thing we should be doing right now.”
But the MP Chris Williamson, a close Corbyn ally, insisted the row was overblown. “It’s been alleged that Labour hasn’t accepted the full IHRA definition. We have accepted the full IHRA definition. The argument is about examples,” he told Talk Radio.
Some of the examples “fetter free speech”, Williamson said, adding: “Jewish academics have said these examples are not fit for purpose.”
Jewish Labour organisations said they would wait and see what other clarifications were added, although there is frustration among many that antisemitism is being linked to what they argue is a separate foreign policy question about Israel and Palestine.