Tom Watson has used the opportunity of Yom HaShoah, the Jewish day of remembrance for victims of the Holocaust, to back a proposal by the pro-apartheid Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).
There is much to take issue with in his letter to JLM, but the aspect that should be urgently addressed by the progressive Left is the Labour Deputy Leader’s pledge to take the lead from the Jewish Labour Movement on what constitutes antisemitic abuse.
Together with many colleagues I am backing the JLM proposals for tougher rules.
[…] I will fight to ensure that Zionism is not used as a term of abuse. Or as a code word for Jews. I will fight to ensure that the right to Jewish national self-determination is preserved and respected. Jews are the target of antisemitism – but I will fight to ensure that are not left to oppose it alone. I am committed to that fight. Whatever it takes.
JLM proposes three amendments to The Labour Party Rule Book 2016 Membership rules, Section 8:
Add an additional sentence after the first sentence: ‘A member of the Party who uses antisemitic, Islamophobic, racist language, sentiments, stereotypes or actions in public, private, online or offline, as determined by the NEC, shall be deemed to have engaged in conduct prejudicial to the Party.’
Add at the end of the final sentence after “opinions”: …” except in instances involving antisemitism, Islamophobia or racism”
Insert new paragraph E: “Where a member is responsible for a hate incident, being defined as something where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, religion, transgender identity, or sexual orientation, the NEC may have the right to impose the appropriate disciplinary options from the following options: [same as D]”
JLM’s supporting argument and rationale includes:
This rule change would not prevent people from criticising the actions of the State of Israel, or policies of its elected Government. It would draw a distinction between legitimate discourse and antisemitic rhetoric which is inflammatory, divisive, dangerous and undermines the ability of our party to make a serious contribution to the struggle for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Zionism is no single concept other than the basic expression of the national identity of the Jewish people, a right to which all people are entitled. This rule change would recognise that it is not acceptable to use Zionism as a term of abuse or to substitute the word Zionist for where the word Jew has been commonly used by antisemites, such as alleging Jewish political, financial or media conspiracies and control.
It would also give due regard to the Macpherson definition of a racist incident which places particular value upon the perception of the victim/victim group.
It’s clear that JLM have interpreted Macpherson’s recommendations to mean that the complainant alone can determine what constitutes a racist incident. If someone believes their victimisation was aggravated by racism that should be taken seriously, but first they have to show they’ve been victimised, i.e. assaulted or discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity or religion. The same misconception was on display in the Fraser v UCU employment tribunal in 2011. Antony Lerman wrote at the time in openDemocracy that:
Most of the recommendations […] relate to reforming and improving police behaviour. And the definition of a racist incident was clearly meant as a very simple and very direct way of doing that: insisting that police must not only keep accurate records of racist incidents, but that they must record that an incident is racist if the victim says it is. At no point does the report move from that very specific and narrow point to a generalisation that racism is what the victim says it is. And I am certain that neither Macpherson nor his fellow inquiry members ever intended that readers of his report and recommendations should understand that this what what they meant.
There are therefore absolutely no grounds for attacking the UCU for rejecting the Macpherson definition of racism. It did no such thing; there is no such definition.
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