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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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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.

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