A briefing document on the IHRA definition of antisemitism

The following document was sent to all members of the Parliamentary Labour Party ahead of last night’s (16 July) meeting

16 July 2018

To all members of the Parliamentary Labour Party:


Briefing – IHRA definition of antisemitism

Antisemitism guidelines agreed by the Labour Party National Executive Committee on July 3 have been criticised on the basis that they do not include all the examples attached to a definition of antisemitism adopted in May 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Critics say that failing to adopt all the IHRA examples represents a betrayal of the Jewish community and undermines the fight against antisemitism. This briefing note is a response to those critics.

  1. The new NEC guidelines are the result of careful consideration by a working party set up for the purpose and including among its number two Jewish NEC members, Jon Lansman and Rhea Wolfson.
  2. The IHRA definition has never had unanimous support from British Jews. Its adoption by the Conservative Government in December 2016 was swiftly followed by the publication of a Legal Opinion, commissioned by a Jewish-led consortium, warning that the IHRA document was badly drafted and confusing and that it risked “unlawfully restricting legitimate expressions of political opinion”. The Opinion said: “…pro-Palestinian campaigners who, for example, describe Israel as a settler-colonialist state enacting a policy of apartheid, or call for policies of boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel, cannot properly be characterised as antisemitic.”
  3. The IHRA definition has been used to prevent such criticism of Israel. A headline in Jewish News in February announced: “Supporters of the Jewish state to concentrate on the IHRA definition, in order to highlight that it’s anti-Semitic to call Israel a racist state.” In March, the Israel-Britain Alliance and We Believe in Israel lobbied the Prime Minister to introduce legislation to prevent events taking place on UK campuses under the umbrella “Israel apartheid week” on the basis that to call Israel an apartheid state was a violation of the IHRA definition. This contradicts both the Legal Opinion mentioned in paragraph 2 and the Jewish statement in paragraph 6.
  4. Critics of the NEC code have suggested that Labour has shown itself to be antisemitic by abandoning the “MacPherson principle”, which they say establishes that groups experiencing racism have the sole right to define it. This is a serious misreading, as explained by Professor David Feldman (Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck College, London University). In his 2015 sub-report to the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, Feldman said:  “…it is unambiguously clear that Macpherson intended to propose that such racist incidents require investigation. He did not mean to imply that such incidents are necessarily racist. However, Macpherson’s report has been misinterpreted and misapplied in precisely this way.” All forms of discrimination are defined by Parliament and interpreted by the courts; not decided by the groups with protected characteristics.
  5. In May this year, Britain’s leading civil liberties NGO, Liberty, overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution at its AGM warning public bodies not to adopt the IHRA definition. Members were concerned that, “by blurring the previously clear understanding of the nature of antisemitism, the IHRA definition risks undermining the defences against it.” They also took the view that by conflating ‘antisemitism’ with ‘criticism of Israel and legitimate defence of the rights of Palestinians,” it threatened to undermine freedom of expression.
  6. On June 15, 27 prominent British Jews concerned about the dangers of conflation issued a statement calling for clarity in identifying what antisemitism is and what it is not. They said: “criticism of Israel is not antisemitic unless motivated by anti-Jewish prejudice” and “criticising laws and policies of the state of Israel as racist and as falling under the definition of apartheid is not antisemitic.”  Two weeks later this statement was endorsed by leading public figures across a range of professions and political affiliations.
  7.  On July 17, 30 Jewish organisations in a dozen countries will be issuing a Global Jewish Statement which urges “our governments, municipalities, universities and other institutions to reject the IHRA definition.” The definition, it says, is intentionally worded so that legitimate criticisms of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights can be equated with antisemitism “as a means to suppress the former.” This conflation, it says, “undermines both the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality and the global struggle against antisemitism”.
  8. Against this background, the NEC code should be welcomed as a principled and useful contribution towards providing much needed clarity both about what is truly antisemitic, and what constitutes legitimate political discourse about Israel and Palestine. As explained by a Labour source in response to a critical article in the New Statesman: “These guidelines cover all the same ground as the IHRA examples, but they go further, providing more examples and details so they can actually be applied.”

This doocument as update on 27th October 2019 to amend the link to David Feldman’s 2015 sub-report to the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism which was no longer availble at the original source.

Comments (9)

  • Kevin Johnstone says:

    Well done.
    This briefing gives great clarity of the need for the newly adopted NEC definition of Anti Semitism, and the inappropriateness of the IHRA definition.
    Having read all three documents in full I have no hesitation in recommending this both to Labour Party members and the wider community.
    I’m not a PLP member, but am a LP member.

  • gavin lewis says:

    The IHRA definition of anti-semitism has worrying consequences for our democracy and for British citizenship.
    It would mean that we could call our own government institutionally racist but not a foreign well documented Apartheid state. We could condemn the racism of the British Empire and its colonial tradition but not the similar racism of White Settler Israel. We could condemn the eugenic policies of the Nazis but not raise concerns that – in the imposition of forced hypodermic contraception on Black Jewish women, the forced adoption of Yemini Jewish babies to White settler parents (see ‘Yemini Childrens Affair’) not to mention the periodic culling of the Palestinian population – Israel has moved in a similar ideological direction.
    Significantly this definition comes to us via the Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Holocaust Remembrance Day (HRD) excludes the ’60 million and more’ victims of the transatlantic slave trade (Toni Morrison, Paul Robeson). It excludes the 100 million native-American victims of the conquest of the Americas (David Stannard, American Holocaust). It excludes the 35 million deaths from British rule in colonial India (Shashi Tharoor, An Era of Darkness). It excludes the deaths from colonialism in Africa, of which the 10 million in the Belgian Congo is an example (Adam Hothschild, King Leopold’s Ghost). In short, any offence which like Israel, stems from the invading White Western settler tradition is excluded from inclusion. Instead HRD’s cited examples are the European Holocaust and subsequent ‘safe?’ instances where Black/indigenous peoples victimise each other (Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur).
    Clearly we shouldn’t be accepting a definition from people and institutions that have not sorted out their own problems with racism.

  • Jim Denham says:

    Jon Lansman, Richard Burden and others have made a reasonable case for the code being an improvement on the IHRA definition. But we’re way past this now and it’s Labour’s failure to recognise this reality that’s the issue.

    The message sent of not accepting the IHRA definition overrides any nuanced critique and improvements. Everything is now seen through the prism of Labour’s (real, if sometimes exaggerated) antisemitism problem and obvious lack of credibility amongst the majority of Jews. and their mainstream organisations (ie *not* fringe groups like Jewish Voice For Labour and the JSG). Unless we tackle that first, nuance looks like unwillingness to take antisemitism within our own ranks seriously.

    Plus: does Labour apply such a nuanced approach to any other communities’ self definition of racism? There is a lot to say about the understanding of islamophobia and the problems of this as a term which conflates anti-Muslim racism with opposition to Islam. Sometimes this is how anti- Muslim racism manifests itself, but some Islamists have deliberately set about using the term “islamophobia” to suppress any and all criticism of Islamic culture and/or the religion (including from secular Muslims). But Labour is not coming out with a “nuanced “response to that. Only antisemitism. Which looks once again as though Labour has a particular problem with Jews.

  • Elena Blue says:

    Thank you for this clarity and common sense approach to AS. The ones suffering due to the IHRA definition debate? Jews. So unfair. If it passes globally it will be a terrible day for all of us; not just Palestinians and Jews.

  • Elena Blue says:

    “But Labour is not coming out with a “nuanced “response to that. Only antisemitism” Without examples of AS; your assertion is empty. Empty. Macpherson did not endorse groups defining their own definitions of racism; quite the contrary. He again reiterated that’s up to the Govt and Courts to decide; not groups. You want to stifle criticism of Israeli Policy and terrorism towards Palestinians. This cannot be allowed. Ever. I’m a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim Palestinian in terms of Racial Abuse. However I demand the freedome of expression and speech, to be able to criticise any country which uses Terror or commits war crimes or applies Apartheid policies – be it towards Palestinians or any group or peoles. Or African refugees in Libya or Israel. Or the Rohingya genocide. And so on. What you are attempting is a terrible thing. It cannot be allowed.

  • Anon says:

    I oppose the jailing of journalists in Turkey. I am not anti-Turkish. Or anti-Muslim. I oppose the jailing of protesters in Egypt. I am not anti-Egyptian. I oppose the actions of Israel towrd the Palestinians. I am anti-semitic???????

    Excellent briefing on IRHA.

  • Paul Trynka says:

    Intriguing that this post doesn’t mention one particular line of the IHRA definition missing from the NEC document. This one:

    “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.”

    THis is a central tenet of anti-semitism, from Nicholas II to Mein Kampf: the myth of the Stab in the Back, or the conspiracy of World Jewry against a ‘host’ nation. It’s still a tactic in frequent us – yesterday I saw a meme posted by a Trump supporter, quoting Putin on a Jewish conspiracy to destabilise him.

    Why would anyone construct an anti-semitism code that would allow around half of Mein Kamp’s logic to be employed?

  • Vivien Ziv says:

    The reason you are not anti-Turkish, anti-Muslim, anti-Egyptian or anti-Palistinian is because you are not, nor do you have, direct and daily contact with these population groups. You have developed your opinions based upon what you read in the newspaper or see on television or the interenet. Your own daily life has never been directly affected by any of these government or religious authorities.
    Armchair politics is safe, like flipping through TV channels with your remote.
    (Interestingly, you have not published your name !)

  • Charles Whitehead says:

    I see patriotism as a generic threat to world peace. So if a Christian were “more loyal to Christendom, or to the (real or) alleged priorities of Christians worldwide, than to the interests of their own nation” I wouldn’t see anything wrong with that. I expect the Pope would agree. Would accusing a Christian of such loyalty amount to anti-christianism?
    I am more concerned about “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.” I am not sure there is any such thing as “the Christian people” or “The Hindu people”, so I am not sure whether “The Jewish people” can be defined in any genetic or geopolitical sense. Maybe the Kurds have a right to recreate Kurdistan but Turkey and other nations (whose territory would be taken) would vehemently oppose that. Should First Nations people be allowed to defect from the USA or Canada? They have been badly treated but the issues are highly problematic. Survival International defends the rights of tribal peoples to self-determination but no one will ever allow them to have their own independent nation state. All nation states have been established by military force which means they have no moral mandate – you just have to accept the facts on the ground including the existence of Israel. But you don’t have to accept malign behaviour from any nation state and that includes Israel also.
    In any case since the Knesset passed a bill making Israel “the nation-state of the Jewish people”, Israel has certainly become a racist enterprise. What if Britain declared itself “the nation state of the English (read Anglo-Saxon immigrant) people” making Scottish, Welsh, Irish and other groups second class citizens? Any nation other than Israel doing such a thing would probably be hit by sanctions and arms embargoes.

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