There are two radically different rule changes on the agenda for Labour Party Conference later in September dealing with alleged antisemitism in the Party. One from the Jewish Labour Movement and one from Hastings and Rye Labour Party.
In early 2016 the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) tabled an amendment to Labour’s rulebook to make an undefined antisemitism, as perceived by an accuser and including unspoken “thought crime”, a matter for expulsion. That summer also saw dozens of people, and whole CLPs, suspended in a wholesale purge that included many unsubstantiated allegations of antisemitism.
The JLM last year tried to drum up a moral panic to force a rushed move to fast-forward their Rule Change to be taken in 2016. They failed in their attempt to jump procedure but now it is due for debate in Brighton this year.
Hastings and Rye Labour Party have proposed an alternative rule change which allows sensible consideration of alleged antisemitic and racist activity through due process rather than rush to judgement.
It has been building up to this vote with
- a campaign including “training sessions” which follow no accepted models of anti-racist training
- getting their model Rule proposal endorsed by several CLPs
- spurious “surveys” which link criticism of Israel with “antisemitic attitudes” and then with antisemitism
- features in the national press to justify their inclusion of thought crime
- promoting loose wording and wide definitions similar to that found in the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism
This is all part of an international push-back by Israel to stop the BDS (boycott) movement. As Israel’s extreme right tightens its grip and openly proposes ethnic cleansing of millions of Palestinians, its moves against defenders of Human Rights become bolder and more outrageous.
Stand with Hastings
Fortunately, last year Hastings CLP scrambled to table an alternative amendment, after Jewish members got wind of an early JLM draft. Their version provides for a clear, objective and factual investigation to see if there is a case to answer, states that any offence must be out in the open “in public or in writing”, and makes clear that legitimate political discourse on Israel is not evidence of antisemitism. By so doing it ensures both that any proven antisemitism is sanctioned through a process that is robust and false allegations are speedily dismissed.
The Hastings proposal recognises that Labour’s Jewish membership is diverse and insists that all strands of opinion will be listened to. The launch of Jewish Voice for Labour makes this a straightforward task and
undermines the JLM’s self-positioning as the sole voice of Jewish Labour.
It now appears that neither Rule change may be voted on. Rather they will be sent back to the NEC, to be considered in the drawing up a Code of Conduct on discriminatory activity to be drafted for the NEC. If this happens, FSOI asks all delegates to go back to their organisations and
- publicise this process;
- demand that the NEC’s Code will be based on the Hastings model;
- insist that all sections of the Party’s Jewish community are consulted on the wording and all groups subject to discrimination are similarly consulted;
- lobby for full discussion, amendment and a final conference vote; and
- demand that the standards demanded by the Chakrabarti report are adhered to.
Hastings & Rye rule change
The Labour Party Rule Book 2016 Chapter 2 Membership rules Clause I Conditions of Membership, Section 8 currently enables the NEC to suspend members of the party who are considered to have acted in a way that is grossly detrimental to the Party.
This section reads (Page 9) reads as follows:
No member of the Party shall engage in conduct which in the opinion of the NEC is prejudicial, or in any act which in the opinion of the NEC is grossly detrimental to the Party. Any dispute as to whether a member is in breach of the provisions of this subclause shall be determined by the NCC in accordance with Chapter 1 Clause IX above and the disciplinary rules and guidelines in Chapter 6 below. Where appropriate the NCC shall have regard to involvement in financial support for the organisation and/ or the activities of any organisation declared ineligible for affiliation to the Party under Chapter 1.II.5 or 3.C above; or to the candidature of the members in opposition to an officially endorsed Labour Party candidate or the support for such candidature. The NCC shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions.
A member of the Party who in the opinion of the NEC engages in intentional anti-Jewish or racist abuse in public or in writing shall be deemed to have engaged in conduct prejudicial to the Party. Where there is a case to answer within objective criteria and the party’s values, a clear dividing line shall be maintained between
a) investigation to establish the full facts; and
b) informed judgement on their political implications
Hatred of Jews shall not be evidenced by non-abusive words or actions regarding Israel or Zionism that are part of legitimate political discourse.
If the Party seeks Jewish or other community views or advice on definitions, these shall be sought from all sections of that community as deemed appropriate, and any alternative views that are offered from that community shall be heard.
Why is this important
Racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia are incompatible with Labour’s values; abuse damages its victims; unsubstantiated allegations of abuse both distress the accused and make electing the Labour Government we need more difficult. Our response needs to meet standards of natural justice, and avoid time-wasting if there is no case to answer. For example, are the allegations factually true? When and how are they said to have occurred? Might they have been enhanced, exaggerated, twisted, taken out of context, or motivated by factional issues or personal animosity? These questions are factual and relatively clear-cut.
It is harder to draw the line between unacceptable hate speech, and the party’s need for free speech on contentious issues. Censorship, taboos and no-go areas damage our democracy and ability to freely debate and update policy. If the party needs to seek advice from the affected community, the last paragraph ensures that this will not be one-sided.