Last week, the Labour party introduced a code of conduct on antisemitism,
stronger than anything of its kind adopted by any political party in
this country. This follows our adoption of the International Holocaust
Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) full definition of antisemitism in 2016
and Labour’s annual conference voting overwhelmingly last year to
strengthen its rules against antisemitism and racism.
But as well as some welcoming this positive and progressive move, Labour
has come under criticism from some MPs and Jewish communal
organisations for not simply reproducing the IHRA’s working examples
word for word. But, far from lowering the bar for what constitutes
antisemitism, this code lifts it. It requires a higher standard of
behaviour than the IHRA examples do. Labour’s code should be seen as the
new gold standard.
I have been vocal in talking about my experiences of antisemitism and in calling out the blindness to antisemitism
and unconscious bias against Jewish people that pervades our society
and politics, including when it appears on the left. I have argued for a
long time that Labour must lead the way in tackling this evil within
our own party, and pressure other political parties to follow suit.
That’s why I was so pleased to support this code when it was unanimously
approved last week by Labour’s national executive committee, of which
I’m a member.
The code fully adopts the IHRA definition, and covers the same ground
as the IHRA examples, but it also provides additional examples of
antisemitism while giving context and detailed explanations to ensure it
can be practically applied to disciplinary cases within the party.
Three of the four examples that the party has been falsely accused of
omitting are explicitly discussed in the code.
The only part of the IHRA working examples that is not explicitly
referenced relates to claims about the state of Israel being a racist
endeavour (this is a subset of an example, not a standalone one). Of all
the elements in the IHRA examples, this is the one that runs the
greatest risk of prohibiting legitimate criticism of Israel. It cannot
possibly be antisemitic to point out that some of the key policies of
the Israeli state, observed since its founding days, have an effect that
discriminates on the basis of race and ethnicity.
If legitimate criticism of Israel were to be curbed, that would
infringe on the rights of other oppressed groups, who have suffered at
the hands of discriminatory Israeli state policies. The Palestinians
have experienced decades of occupation, gross human rights violations,
and war crimes. The Bedouins have had their homes destroyed, the latest
example being the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar.
And ethnic minorities within Israel have been treated appallingly, such
as the Sudanese and Eritrean refugees who have been detained and
deported, and questions over the treatment of Ethiopian women, including allegations they were given birth control without their consent.
It cannot be right that one vaguely worded subset of one IHRA example
can deny other oppressed groups their right to speak about their own
Conflating legitimate criticism of Israel with antisemitism is
dangerous and undermines the fight against antisemitism. Clear and
detailed guidelines are essential to ensure that antisemitism isn’t
tolerated, while protecting free speech on Israel’s conduct within a
respectful and civil environment. This is what Labour’s code of conduct
provides. We should be celebrating and replicating it.
American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero issued the following statement:
harassment has no legitimate place in government-funded institutions,
just as anti-Muslim and racial and sexual harassment have no place. Jewish people, like people of other faiths, must be protected against
harassment and discrimination.“
“Unfortunately, the proposed bill risks chilling constitutionally
protected speech by incorrectly equating criticism of Israel with
anti-Semitism. And there is no need for a new bill to protect students
from anti-Semitic harassment, because that is already prohibited under
Title VI. We worry that the law will lead colleges to suppress speech,
especially if the Department of Education launches investigations simply
because students have engaged in speech critical of Israel.”
“We urge Congress to reject this dangerous and unnecessary