IHRA – letters to the Guardian

Debate continues over Labour’s code on antisemitism

Readers offer their views on both sides of the argument over the party’s adoption of the IHRA definition, but not all its illustrative examples

Labour’s document omits some of the IHRA examples, such as the statement that it would be antisemitic to deny that “the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour”. However, it is clear about the Jewish peoples’ right to self determination. It adds that this “does not, of course, preclude considered debate and discourse about the nature or content of the right of peoples to self-determination”, which seems a more useful elaboration than that adopted by the IHRA which links self-determination to actual policies of the Israeli government. Similarly, Labour’s document omits the IHRA example of “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”: this could be a debatable criticism of the Israeli government’s policies, but does not necessarily have an antisemitic intent.

It does seem a good time, with so much agreement about what really constitutes antisemitism, to move to a more constructive debate.
Harvey Goldstein

As an academic human rights researcher and advocate, I wish to affirm the expression of support of 68 British rabbis (Letters, 17 July) for the IHRA definition of antisemitism, as adopted by the Crown Prosecution Service, the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, and over 100 councils and numerous governments in Europe and beyond its borders. The diverse rabbinical leadership of the British Jewish community does not stand alone in unequivocally insisting upon the human rights of the Jewish community and the right of Jewish individuals to freedom from discrimination and from pernicious prejudices and bigotry that often incite harmful and hateful anti-Jewish stereotypes, sentiments and beliefs. The position of the rabbis is well supported by human rights principles and laws.

Academic research over-whelmingly substantiates their conviction that the IHRA definition of anti-Jewish racism provides the most comprehensive, accurate, and protective definition that respects and reflects the lived experience and concerns of Jews in Britain and globally.
Dr Noam Schimmel

The pro-Israeli Jewish Labour Movement seems to have obtained some very odd legal advice, if your report is correct. Sir William Macpherson did not advise that everything perceived as racist was ipso facto racist. He advised that reported incidents that were perceived by the victim as racist should be recorded and investigated as such. His purpose was to reverse the dismissive culture that characterised the reporting and policing of racial incidents.

To derive from this fallacy a proposition that anything perceived by one or more Jewish people as antisemitic is legally an act of racism is not only absurd: it overlooks another aspect of legality, the right of free expression contained in article 10 of the European convention on human rights and now embodied in our law by the Human Rights Act. It is a right that may be qualified by proportionate legal restrictions necessary for protecting the rights of others: hence the legal bar on hate speech.

There is no legal bar on criticising Israel. Yet several of the “examples” that have been tacked on to the IHRA definition (by whom is not known) seek to stifle criticism of Israel irrespective of intent. The House of Commons select committee on home affairs in October 2016 advised adding: “It is not antisemitic to criticise the government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.” Do the Jewish Labour Movement and its lawyers accept this?
Stephen Sedley

There is confusion between the IHRA definition and examples. Labour has adopted the definition in full. It has not adopted all of the examples, which the IHRA said “may serve as illustrations” of antisemitism. A definition cannot be reduced to illustrative examples. Having adopted the IHRA definition, Labour has every right to consider the IHRA examples and produce ones of its own. The suggestion that failing to adopt all of the IHRA examples is tantamount to a rejection of the definition is absurd.
David Pavett
Isleworth, Middlesex

The rhetorical escalation of the issue of antisemitism and the Labour party seems to be spinning out of control. Disagreement over the detailed glossing of an agreed definition of antisemitism is now preposterously conflated with antisemitism itself (Labour MP labels Corbyn an ‘antisemite’ over party’s refusal to drop code, 17 July). The Labour party is rightly concerned that that some of the “examples” associated with the IHRA definition of antisemitism, such as comparing Israeli policies to those of the Nazis, might be antisemitic in some contexts but not in others. There is a long Israeli tradition of decrying both internal and external adversaries as “Nazi”.

Labour certainly should listen to the Jewish community. It has done precisely this, taking note of the considerable and highly organised support within Anglo-Jewry for the adoption of the IHRA definition in its entirety; and also of the various Jewish minority voices – anti-Zionist, non-Zionist and critical Zionist – that take a different view. On the intersection between antisemitism and the discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict, however, the party is right to take special care, and not to turn only to Jews for guidance.

This conflict stirs deep disagreements, identifications and emotions within the party. It is therefore vital that no policy is adopted that might constrain open and robust discussion of it, including legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and actions.
Adam Sutcliffe
Reader in European history, King’s College London

I’m not sure I would want to stay in a Labour party that responded to pressure from some Jews by banning its members from “claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour”. Israel insists that everyone accept that it is “the Jewish state” in spite of having a population that is 20% Arab, against whom discrimination is enshrined in law. How then is this not a racist endeavour, just as it would be if the UK had a constitution that described itself as “the Caucasian state”, or South Africa insisted on being seen as “the black state”?
Karl Sabbagh
Author, Palestine: A Personal History

I grew up, a Jew in apartheid South Africa, exposed to antisemitism from both whites and blacks. It surrounded one like a fog. I moved to Britain to get away from it. To no avail. It’s just as bad, if not worse, here. Trust me, I know when it is around.
Monty Goldin

I read the letter from a group of rabbis with dismay. Apart from hyping up the extent of antisemitism in the Labour party, the letter claims that “antisemitism within sections of the Labour party has become so severe and widespread that we must speak out with one Jewish voice”. As a Jew – a refugee from real antisemitism in Hitler’s Germany in 1939 – I think I and many other Jews can recognise antisemitism, and even if there is a small smattering of antisemitism in the Labour party it is neither widespread nor severe, as many members of the Jewish community who are members of the Labour party can attest. The NEC statement on antisemitism provides a manifesto designed to identify and eliminate antisemitism in the party. The letter writers do not speak for the many Jews who like myself welcome the NEC initiative.
Emeritus Professor Frank Land
Department of Management, London School of Economics

There is no such thing in Britain as “the Jewish community”, and any argument resting on this un-truism is specious. Are those Jews who have been critical of the examples provided in the IHRA definition of antisemitism part of the so-called Jewish community, or have they been excommunicated? Are the fundamentally anti-Israel group of Orthodox Jews known as Neturei Karta part of the Jewish community? Are the British Jews who have formally renounced their right to claim Israel citizenship not part of the Jewish community? Are all the British Jews who marched in several British cities protesting against the Israeli onslaught on Gaza bearing banners saying “not in my name” not part of the Jewish community.

And if we are all part of “the Jewish community”, which bit of it is the Labour party supposed to listen to? The Jewish Labour Movement (rightwing, pro-Israel) or the Jewish Voice for Labour (leftwing, critical of Israeli policies).
Sarah Benton

The non-existent Macpherson principle has now been invoked, because, in drafting its own antisemitism policy, Labour has not adopted the IHRA definition and examples to the letter. The accusation treats the IHRA document with the reverence more usually accorded a religious text.

In fact it’s a clumsily drafted and ambiguous effort with insufficient reach (it only prohibits “hatred”). Labour has done an impressive job of rescuing what is valuable in the IHRA document, and clearly distinguishing between political disagreement with Israel and adverse treatment of Jews. Further, by combining it with a general policy against racism (including antisemitism) it has produced a workable policy protecting against antisemitism in all forms, from hatred through hostility, intimidation, incitement, prejudice and discrimination.
Naomi Wayne

Comments (1)

  • John says:

    The distortions to which McPherson has been subjected breaches the long-standing principle of innocent until proven guilty.
    Just because someone ‘perceives’ something, that does not make it necessarily true.
    It then is necessary to obtain objective evidence which proves to a judicial standard the truth – or otherwise – of the accusations made.
    It is what is known as due process.

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