Open Letter to the NEC

JVL Introduction

Below is the text of an open letter calling on the NEC not to adopt all eleven examples in the guidance notes to the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

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There are currently over 1,900 signatories

Open Letter to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party


11 August  2018, posted here on JVL on 13 August 2018


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Dear members of the NEC,

As members of the Labour Party, we, the undersigned, call on the party’s National Executive Committee to resist calls to adopt all eleven examples accompanying the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism into the party’s code of conduct on antisemitism.

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party and as such must stand up for justice and equality and speak up against oppression. We are gravely concerned that two of the currently omitted examples in particular will be used to silence free speech on Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights and freedom.

The IHRA states that instances of antisemitism may include “Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”. We fear that if adopted into the party’s code of conduct, this example will be used to oppose and ban support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Criticism of BDS often centres upon it “singling out” Israel and treating it differently than other “democratic” states. However, Israel is not a democratic state. It enforces a system of apartheid in the occupied West Bank, with different roads and different legal systems and courts for Israelis and Palestinians, including the world’s only military court for children, and has recently adopted a law relegating Israeli Arabs to second class citizens in Israel proper. The BDS movement is modelled on the boycott of apartheid South Africa, the latter which had broad support on the European left. We resisted apartheid then and we must resist it now.

The IHRA further includes as an example of antisemitism “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.” We fear that this will be used to silence discussion and raising awareness of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of some 750,000 Palestinians in 1947-48 so that the Israeli state could be established as an ethno-nationalist “Jewish homeland”, as well as criticism of the current apartheid system. We ask the NEC to please note that the two parts of the example are separate issues. Claiming that the State of Israel is a racist endeavour is not the same as denying Jewish people the right to self-determination. It is denying such self-determination at the cost of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people. It is denying self-determination in the form of an ethno-nationalist state. All people and nations have an internationally recognised right to self-determination, but it is our view, and we believe it should be the view of the Labour Party, that such self-determination should be in the form of a democratic state that grants equal rights to everyone lawfully residing within its borders. That is not how the state of Israel was created. It was created through the expulsion and killing of members of one ethnic group to make room for another, and this continues to be the basis of the Israeli state today. The Nakba has been well documented by both Palestinian and Israeli scholars, and the Palestinian right of return has been formally recognised by the UN. We must be allowed to speak freely about this. Our Palestinian members must be able to speak freely about the Nakba and about the current system of apartheid and ongoing ethnic cleansing just like our Jewish members must be able to speak freely about the Holocaust. Recognising that right does not equate to denying Jewish people in Israel the right to self-determination in a fully democratic state.

As members of the NEC will be aware, the IHRA definition and examples have been used elsewhere to shut down legitimate and non-racist debate on Israel, such as at the University of Central Lancashire last year, where a panel on “Debunking misconceptions on Palestine and the importance of BDS” was banned by the university citing the IHRA definition, after pressure from pro-Israel groups. If all eleven examples are adopted by the NEC at its next meeting in September, many party members will face an impossible choice – be silent or face possible suspension and/or expulsion. We are deeply concerned and fearful of what will become of our party and our movement if members are not able to freely speak out against apartheid and ethnic cleansing. To endorse the BDS movement or to suggest that the State of Israel in its historic and current form is a racist endeavour are not expressions of antisemitism. Imagine if members had been banned from speaking out in a similar way against apartheid South Africa. It is absolutely crucial – for the future of our party and the country, and for the prospect of an end to the brutal occupation of Palestine – that members of the Labour Party are able to speak freely about Israel’s crimes without fear of punishment.

To have your name added to the letter, please click here, then enter your full name and CLP. The list is being updated daily.

Comments (2)

  • Philip Graham says:

    I’m a secular Jew who joined JVL because I wanted to support Labour under Jeremy Corbyn as well as to ensure that legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies was not construed as antisemitism.
    I have, however, become increasingly concerned about the harshly strident and, in my view, divisive tone of those in JVL, of which this post is the latest example. The signatories of this open letter claim that Israel is not a democratic state. Yes, it is. It is a democratic state whose government passes legislation that contravenes human rights. I do not see the State of Israel as racist, but clearly some of the policies of the current government are racist and are becoming increasingly so. There are many Israelis who deplore these policies.
    Further, the State of Israel was not created by ‘the expulsion and killing of one ethnic group by another.’ That is historically inaccurate. Before any significant violence, the State of Israel was created on 29 November 1947 by the United Nations (Resolution 181) which divided Great Britain’s former Palestinian mandate into Jewish and Arab states from May 1948 when the British mandate was scheduled to end. In May 1948 a State of Israel was declared. Subsequently the Arab nations declared war on the newly created State of Israel. The outcome of the war, in which atrocities were committed by both sides, resulted in the establishment of the initial boundaries of the State of Israel and the departure of many Palestinians, some forcibly. Many remained.
    Suggesting that the IHRA definition must preclude the right to criticise the actions of the Israeli government is misleading. All definitions are open to various interpretations and, if it accepted the IHRA definition, it would be up to the Labour Party to lay down its own interpretations. Such interpretations would have to accept the spirit of the definition but, for example, need by no means exclude the possibility of supporting the BDS, however others have interpreted it.
    In its 2017 Labour manifesto, the Party committed itself to support ‘a comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on a two-state solution – a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable state of Palestine’. That is the right way forward.
    I agree with the signatories of this open letter that the NEC definition of antisemitism is better than the IHRA one, because the inclusion of some of the examples of antisemitism in the IHRA might mean legitimate criticism of the Israeli government could be regarded as antisemitic. However, those who support the IHRA definition repeatedly say this is not the case, namely that the IHRA definition allows such criticism.
    One major problem arises from the use of language to describe Israeli government policies that includes comparisons with Hitler, fascism and policies pursued by the Nazi government in the 1930s and 1940s. Such comparisons are found, for obvious reasons, particularly offensive. I have made such comparisons myself in letters to MPs.
    It now seems to me that, in view of the deep offence caused by such comparisons, it would be better not to make them. Of course, the fact that one’s views causes offence should, ordinarily, not stop one from making them. But there are obvious reasons why many Jews find such comparisons in a different league, beyond the pale. Further, there are plenty of ways of making forceful criticism of the blatant disregard of the human rights of Palestinians and the appalling treatment of non-Jewish sections of the Israeli population without making such comparisons. Personally, I shall stop making such comparisons from now on.
    The handling of the issue of antisemitism by the Labour Party has, on Jeremy Corbyn’s own admission, not been satisfactory. I do not know what proportion of those who have criticised this handling are motivated by a wish to see Jeremy Corbyn removed from the leadership of the Labour Party. Certainly, that will include a significant number, including anyone connected with the Israeli government. But there are also almost certainly a significant number who are just deeply unhappy with the Labour Party on this issue, regardless of who leads it.
    Personally, I now want to see the Labour Party adopt the full IHRA definition, even though I regard the NEC one as superior. People who think the Jewish community will accept anything less than this are deluding themselves. So long as those who insist on the IHRA definition recognise that this does not preclude strong criticism of the Israeli government if comparisons are not made with Nazism and the Holocaust, then I can go along with that. There is a need to draw a line on this issue.
    Now is the time for reconciliation between those holding opposing views on this subject so that we can all focus on the main aims of the Party – to oust the Tories and secure the election of a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn.

  • Chelley Ryan says:

    We have adopted the IHRA. The only changes we made, we made to protect freedom of speech.

Comments are now closed.