Muddying the water: LAW statement on Labour’s new Anti-Semitism Code of Conduct

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LAW Statement, July 9 2018:

Labour’s Anti-Semitism Code of Conduct

The Labour Party’s new Anti-Semitism Code of Conduct, issued last week, was clearly intended to put an end to the campaign of false allegations of anti-Semitism. Instead it has achieved the precise opposite. The Code has been the subject of a fierce attack by Zionist organisations and the mass media. It has also caused confusion amongst our allies, some of whom have welcomed it.

The campaign of false allegations is not driven by a failure to define anti-Semitism but is a politically motivated attack by the Right and supporters of Zionism. The Code will not prevent the weaponisation of anti-Semitism by those whose primary concern is defence of Israel, right or wrong. The expulsion of Tony Greenstein, Marc Wadsworth, Cyril Chilson and others was the product of a deliberate smear campaign aimed at the Corbyn leadership. Those who believe that the Code marks the end of the false anti-Semitism campaign against the Labour Party are sadly mistaken.

Anti-Semitism is easy to define. According to the Oxford English Dictionary it is “Hostility to or prejudice against Jews”. Equally suitable is the definition drawn up by Oxford academic Dr Brian Klug:“Antisemitism is a form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are”.

The Zionists however have been insistent that the Labour Party adopt all 450+ words of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, including 11 examples of supposed anti-Semitism, seven of which refer to Israel. They have reacted furiously because four of the examples, which equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, have been omitted from the Code. In the words of Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard,the problem is that “Labour has excised the parts which relate to Israel and how criticism of Israel can be antisemitic.” (In his fury Pollard openly compares Jeremy Corbyn to a Nazi, himself falling foul of one of the IHRA examples, Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”)

The false allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ are about Israel, not racism against Jews. That is what the leaders of Zionism themselves say. We should believe them. In their Open Letter to Corbyn, Jonathan Arkush of the Board of Deputies and Jonathan Goldstein of the Jewish Leadership Council were quite clear about this:

“Again and again Jeremy Corbyn has sided with anti-Semites rather than Jews. At best, this derives from the far left’s obsessive hatred of Zionism, Zionists and Israel.”

Arkush then accusedthe Jewish group Jewdas, with whom Corbyn shared a Seder night, of being a “source of virulent anti-Semitism”. As a parting shot on his retirement Arkush, who effusively welcomed Trump’s election, accused Corbyn of being an anti-Semite.

We do not accept the assertion of Marie Van der Zyl, Arkush’s successor, that “It is for Jews to determine for themselves what antisemitism is.” The Jewish community does not have one single view. It is divided between supporters and opponents of Zionism. To pretend otherwise is dishonest. What the Board of Deputies means is that anti-Semitism is whatever Israel’s supporters say it is. Anti-racist or anti-Zionist Jews don’t count. Anti-Zionist Jews are the ‘wrong sort of Jews’.

The reason for the Zionist obsession with definitions of anti-Semitism is not hard to find. This week saw a violent attack by Israel against the Palestinian village of Khan al-Amr, an exercise in ethnic cleansing. That is realracism. So is the mass murder by Israel of 120 unarmed demonstrators in Gaza, an action defended by Labour Friends of Israel. Instead of defending these war crimes, Israel’s supporters rely on false accusations of anti-Semitism.

Although the Code in principle concedes that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are separate and distinct, in practice it muddies the water.

We do not accept, just because the Zionists oppose the Code, that we should endorse it. We should not put a plus where our opponents put a minus. We should examine the Code from our perspective, not theirs.

Why should there even be a separate definition of anti-Semitism? Anti-Semitism is a marginal form of prejudice. It is the victims of the Windrush scandal, the targets of mosque bombings and racial attacks, the hounding of Roma with the support of people like John Mann MP and state racism against Black and Asian people which should be the Labour Party’s focus of attention.

Unfortunately the Code, instead of rejecting outright the bogus IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, takes it as its starting point. In so doing it ignores the Opinion of Hugh Tomlinson QC that:

“The IHRA Definition does not purport to provide a legal definition of anti-Semitism. It does not have the clarity which would be required from such a definition.”

Stephen Sedley likewise said in Defining Anti-Semitism, thatthe IHRA definition “fails the first test of any definition: it is indefinite…”. It is “protean in character and is open-ended’”.

Tomlinson argued that because it “lacks clarity and comprehensiveness”it has a “potential chilling effect on public bodies which, in the absence of definitional clarity, may seek to sanction or prohibit any conduct which has been labelled by third parties as anti-Semitic without applying any clear criterion of assessment.”

The Code begins with a half-truth (Para. 5): “Labour is an anti-racist party”. Labour historically was as much a party of empire as the Conservatives. That was why Poale Zion, which campaigned for a boycott of Arab labour, affiliated to the Labour Party in 1920. More recently, only eight Labour MPs voted against the 2013 Immigration Act with its intention of creating a “hostile environment”, which directly led to the Windrush scandal.

It is welcome that Para. 7 accepts that “the expression of even contentious views in this area will not be treated as anti-Semitism unless accompanied by specific anti-Semitic content (such as the use of anti-Semitic tropes) or by other evidence of anti-Semitic intent.”But this begs the question as to what “anti-Semitic tropes” will mean in practice, since our experience so far is that virtually anything can count as an anti-Semitic trope.

The Code quotes approvingly other examples of anti-Semitism that the IHRA definition gives, eg, “Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.”Why add “in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion”?Would killing or harming Jews be acceptable if it was in the name of a progressive ideology or a mainstream religion? This formulation is Islamophobic.

The implicit assumption running throughout the Code is that there is a thin line dividing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and that anti-Zionism is often a cover for anti-Semitism. What is far more frequent today is the reverse – it is anti-Semites who use support for Israel and Zionism as a cover for their anti-Semitism. No better example is there than Tommy Robinson, the British fascist who combines support for Israel with befriending anti-Semites and holocaust deniers.

Labour’s new Anti-Semitism Code of Conduct is not the panacea that many people are hoping it will be. Whether its adoption will mark a break from the past will depend on how it is implemented. Will the suspension of Jackie Walker and other socialists be lifted, and will those already wrongly expelled be reinstated? The case of Jackie Walker in particular will be a litmus test.