Theresa May misled the British public by pretending that the IHRA definition of antisemitism included the examples linking antisemitism to criticism of Israel and urging all public bodies to collude in this chilling of free speech.
A year ago, Theresa May urged all UK public bodies to adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) document on antisemitism. The document contained a 39 word definition:
Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities
It also lists 11 illustrative examples of antisemitism, seven of them relating to Israel.
Free Speech on Israel
Palestine Solidarity Campaign
This dossier records some of the more prominent cases of restriction of freedom of speech or assembly related to criticisms of the state of Israel that occurred during 2017. In some cases the document produced in May 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) as a definition of antisemitism, and adopted by the UK government in December of that year, is explicitly cited in support of the action taken. In all cases the awareness of that government action has provided the pervasive atmosphere, chilling to free speech on Israel/Palestine, in which these decisions were taken.
The IHRA definition has been used to press for and achieve the cancellation of events denouncing Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and violations of human rights. The use of the IHRA definition in such instances is commonly framed around the following narrative: “These events typically apply double standards towards Israel that are not applied to other countries and effectively deny Israel any right to exist by treating it as an inherently racist endeavour. As such, they conflict with the IHRA definition.” (quote from spokesman for UK Lawyers for Israel – UKLFI).
In the UK, student events organised on campuses have been particularly targeted, following a letter sent by the Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson to UK universities in February 2017 to outline the government’s concerns about antisemitism on campuses, especially around Israel Apartheid Week due to take place that month, and asking for the IHRA definition to be disseminated throughout the academic system.
This letter was sent to Iain McNicol, General Secretary of the Labour Party, on 25 November.
Dear Iain McNicol
Free Speech on Israel is a Jewish led group of mainly Labour Party members formed to contest restrictions on debate about Palestinian rights and Israeli Government actions and to contest antisemitic speech and actions as well as false allegations of antisemitism.
FSOI wishes to express its grave disquiet about the current operation of the Party’s disciplinary machinery and in particular in relation to the mishandling of the case against Tony Greenstein who has a long record of both challenging antisemitism and racism and campaigning for human rights. The dossier presented to Tony Greenstein contains many robust statements and vociferous criticism of Israel’s actins but nothing that can remotely be judged as being antisemitic or uttered with antisemitic intent. Continue reading “FSOI expresses grave disquiet about the handling of complaint against Tony Greenstein”
When Gary Spedding sent his riposte to Emily Thornberry’s remarks on Israel’s ‘Right to Exist’ he got a surprising response. Labour List preferred censorship to debate.
Fortunately, Jewish News, the UK publication of the Times of Israel had more faith in its readers ability to survive encountering something they may disagree with and published it online.
It is the outlawing of reasonable criticism of Israel that was the reason for the setting up of FSOI. The attacks on free speech come in many form:, denial of spaces for meetings; disciplining of people who defend Palestinian rights; and, as in this case, straight censorship. We are pleased to republish Gary’s article which repeats the simple point that states are human creations that are not, unlike their citizens, endowed with rights. They come, like South Sudan, and disappear, like Yugoslavia. Israel is no different.
Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary is wrong on Israel’s ‘right to exist’
Last week, in a high profile speech marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry stated that there is “no place in the Labour Party” for anyone who holds the “abhorrent view” that Israel has no right to exist.
Such a notion is extremely controversial. And one that has been peddled by the Israeli establishment for decades. This piece of political rhetoric is actually designed to shut down any hope of a fruitful peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli figures have been pushing for foreign politicians, in countries that have highly regarded parliamentary democracy, to adopt this problematic soundbite when discussing Israel as it gives it a veneer of legitimacy.
Let me be clear from the outset that I firmly believe that all people, including Jewish people, have the right to both individual and collective self-determination. To quote President Woodrow Wilson, who was a strong proponent of the principle; “people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent.” However, there are conflicting definitions and legal criteria surrounding self-determination itself and the plain truth is that no state or political entity has an inherent “right to exist”, and as such this term is legally meaningless. One of the reasons the ‘right to exist’ won’t be found codified in contemporary international law that it is near impossible to fulfil for the thousands of unique nations on the planet today.
Emily’s highly toxic statement is dangerous to both Labour Party members and the wider community engaged on the Israel-Palestine conflict. She has, like so many before her, confused a people’s inalienable right to self-determination with a non-existent ‘right to exist’ that is associated more with nation-states than people – in particular, ethnocratic states like Israel.
Now some might argue that the right to self-determination automatically grants people the right to a state. I can certainly understand how one might reach this viewpoint given the fact people should be able to freely choose how to express their self-determination. And yet there are limitations and certain responsibilities accompanying self-determination – coupled with certain vagueness around how a national group can achieve it without infringing upon the same rights held by others within the same territory. This is one of the issues at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict; two people within the same territory with conflicting national movements.
In addition, the demand by Israel’s establishment that their state’s “right to exist” be recognised is, in fact, a major obstacle to securing a political settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. It was never a demand in the peace processes with Egypt or Jordan that Israel, as a Jewish State, should be recognised as having a ‘right to exist’ – although later the leaders of both Egypt and Jordan agreed that in signing peace treaties they had implicitly accepted Israel’s existence. By including this demand when it comes to the Palestinians it effectively shuts down any hope of a peace process, but also has the added bonus of defining terms of debate elsewhere in the world. This has meant the labelling of anyone who deviates from the status quo as being motivated by evil ideology, of wanting the ‘destruction of Israel’, and by default wanting the wholesale slaughter of the Jewish people – something which, outside of a tiny minority of extreme fringes, is actually ludicrous.
For Palestinians, recognising Israel’s ‘right to exist’ exclusively as a Jewish state would mean accepting the legitimacy of their own dispossession and expulsion, something they will never do, which is why the Israeli government insist on this as an early prerequisite for negotiations – because it is the Israeli government that has all the cards when it comes to building peace in a conflict mired by power asymmetries.
For people like me, who believe in the importance of allowing different visions for the future in Israel-Palestine, and as long as it’s within a non-violent political process, the words of the Shadow Foreign Secretary are alarming. I do not accept that I have no place in the Labour Party simply for holding the reasonable view that no states have an inherent right to exist. Those who share Emily Thornberry’s view are saying that there is no place in Labour for those who support a shared future for Israelis and Palestinians within a bi-national state, or any kind of solution where equal rights are enshrined and basic democratic freedoms codified and guaranteed.
Emily Thornberry appears to have inadvertently bolstered the language of the Israeli right, thus helping to sow anxiety and fear among Labour Party members who might wish to discuss alternative yet still sustainable, realistic and durable resolutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict. By telling people they have to accept that Israel, uniquely among all other states, has the right to exist and that the only solution to the conflict is that of a two-state solution, alternative visions for the future are pushed aside. Palestinian voices in particular are being stripped of agency, spelling disaster for any push for peace. We get nowhere by shutting out other parties to the conflict. Failure to bind them into a process ensures peace shall remain elusive.
I imagine a substantive majority of Labour Party members fall outside the terms defined in Emily Thornberry’s statement yesterday. We have seen a number of party members suspended for voicing entirely reasonable criticisms of Israeli government policy and the conduct of the Israeli state. I am deeply concerned that Emily seems to have a fairly weak grasp of the intricate and complex issues surrounding Israel-Palestine, and as a result she is prone to making statements imbued with toxic political sentiments, offering concessions aimed at pleasing too many audiences, without perhaps even realising the full extent of the consequences afterwards.
Her latest statement contributes to a growing push to have perfectly reasonable debate shut down and where pro-Palestine party members are targeted, marginalised, demonised and delegitimised by those who wish to see them silenced, or worse, expelled.
As a Labour Party member, I will continue to hold the consistent view that no political entity or state has a ‘right to exist’ and shall defend my right to a nuanced set of positions on Israel-Palestine as someone who very much desires to see a genuine and just solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Review of Contemporary Left Antisemitism, David Hirsh, Routledge 2017
David Hirsh, besides running the Engage website, which campaigns against the academic boycott of Israel, is a lecturer at Goldsmith’s College, University of London; and his book claims to be a work of objective academic scholarship. In the penultimate chapter — entitled “Sociological method and antisemitism” — which is an odd mixture of autobiography and methodology, he writes of undertaking sociological investigations “employing methodological rigour from the traditions of ethnomethodology and discourse analysis”. Yet underlying this very thin veneer of scholarly objectivity is a passionate rage which makes the book more readable than many other academic tomes and even gives it a certain entertainment value (hence the two stars on Amazon rather than the one that it really deserves). Contemporary Left Antisemitism is essentially a temper tantrum couched in sociological jargon.Continue reading “Engaged in Anger about Antisemitism”
The claims revolve primarily around the Israel-Palestine conflict. Is there a constructive way forward?
A number of comment pieces appeared in the media, in the wake of the Labour Party’s conference of September 2017 – alleging that antisemitic incidents had occurred during the event; and that it represented the continuation of a wider problem within the party. It is not the first time that this has happened.
I supported and voted for Corbyn partly because I saw him as somebody who didn’t reflexively kneel to press barons and other manipulators of public opinion. He displayed great courage. I will be extremely disappointed if, after that show of courage, the Labour Party gets back down on its knees. – Brian Eno, Kensington CLP
We, the undersigned members of the Labour Party, condemn the expulsion of Moshé Machover from our Party. This decision is a political attack on a life-long socialist activist, and a scholar of international renown. Continue reading “Don’t expel Moshé Machover”
It was difficult to ascertain on the basis of media reports whether Brighton played host this month to a Labour Party conference or a Nuremberg rally. This article investigates claims of antisemitism at the Labour conference and finds them to be without factual basis.
The 2017 Labour Party conference was a success for supporters of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn snubbed a reception held by Labour Friends of Israel, a group which lobbies for close UK-Israel relations, and put enjoyably little effort into his excuse. According to the Telegraph, this ‘was the first time in over two decades that a Labour leader has not attended the annual event’.
Delegates cheered as Corbyn’s keynote speech pledged ‘real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people, the 50-year occupation and illegal settlement expansion and move to a genuine two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict’.
Professor Moshé Machover has been expelled from the Labour Party without a hearing because he spoke on the wrong platform and wrote for the wrong newspaper. What was the Labour bating paper he wrote for and incurred the wrath of Party apparatchiks? Was it the Daily Mail, trailing its history of love-in with fascists, no. Was it one of Rupert Murdoch’s papers with their tradition of lies and distortions of the Party, no. It was, according to the letter Moshé received on 3 October, an on-line paper you have likely not heard of, the Weekly Worker, a paper so powerful and so toxic that, like poison ivy, any brush with it is fatal. Moshé also had the effrontery to speak at the 2016 Communist University . Since the mainstream press and think tank symposiums are generally closed to radical thinkers and writers we must all find whatever outlets we can to try to spread our ideas and educate our colleagues. It is the content of what we say and write that should be judged, not its venue. The complaint against Moshé states
Your involvement and support for both LPM [Labour Party Marxists, claimed to be a front for the Communist Party of Great Britain in the letter] and the Communist Party of Great Britain (through your participation in CPGB events and regular contributions to the CPGB’s newspaper, the Weekly Worker) is documented in Section 3 of the attached evidence. Membership or support for another political party, or a political organisation with incompatible aims to the Labour Party, is incompatible with Labour Party membership.
Chapter 2.I.4.B of the Labour Party’s rules states:
“A member of the party who joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour Group or unit of the Party or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member, subject to the provisions of part 6.I.2 of the disciplinary rules”.
You are therefore ineligible to remain a member of the Labour Party and have been removed from the national membership system. You are no longer entitled to attend local Labour Party meetings.
Jewish Voice for Labour must be greatly encouraged by the reception it received at Labour Party Conference.
As a brand new organisation with very limited resources and no paid staff, they did not anticipate the scale of its impact. Its launch meeting attracted over 300 people when JVL had been doubtful about filling a room that seats 180. As well as attracting many conference delegates, leaders of two trade unions, Unite and ASLEF, attended and pledged their support. In addition to stimulating speeches, brimming with, fact and ideas from leading Israeli academic Professor Avi Shlaim, retired Appeal Court judge Sir Stephen Sedley and respected Jewish socialist activist David Rosenberg, the audience heard from leading film maker Ken Loach who spoke from the floor.
The message from all the speakers was clear, consistent and enthusiastically welcomed by the audience. There are Jewish voices that the Labour party is wilfully ignoring. The party needs to listen attentively to the whole of its Jewish membership and not just those individuals and groups who defend Israel’s crimes against humanity; its occupation of Palestinian land; and its increasingly Apartheid-like regime. The message of the meeting was clear: that antisemitism is as unwelcome in the Labour Party, as it should be everywhere; but that criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights is not antisemitic. Rather, JVL continues the long tradition of Jewish defence of the oppressed and recognition of the humanity of all. As descendants of victims of oppression over centuries all Jews should join with JVL in denouncing injustice.
The impact of JVL was not only at the fringe of conference. Leading JVL members Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Leah Levane roused conference to its feet with their calls for justice and peace in Palestine and for just procedures inside the Labour Party. Their reception paved the way for Jeremy Corbyn to pledge the Party to support Palestinian rights.
Why the rule change is inadequate and dangerous
JVL applauds the Labour Party’s renewed concern with combatting discrimination within the Party and in wider society. They recognise this has been central to Jeremy Corbyn’s entire political career. While the agreed measure on this topic avoids some of the worst features of other proposals circulated, JVL is concerned that the rule change adopted may not be effective in advancing that cause and fears its misuse. It can be seen that JVL’s anxieties are around four issues.
Firstly, the rule change does not spell out how to embody the recommendations of last year’s Chakrabarti report including that there should be no trawling of ancient social media postings in the hope of targeting specific individuals; and that all processes of investigation and discipline must be transparent and follow natural justice norms. Previous experience has been of selective vision; perverse textual interpretations; opaque procedures; and media vilification preceding hearings. The Party must determine to end such abusive ways of working.
Secondly the procedures for drawing up the code of conduct have not been specified. JVL expects that the NEC will consult with all groups that may experience discrimination and with all currents of opinion within these groups. A draft of the code must be circulated to all local parties. It is a lesson from all anti-discrimination initiatives that unless there is wide involvement from the start there is no ownership of the final process and failed implementation. There are particular issues with regard to the antisemitism aspect of the code. Over the last 18 months, criticism of Israel has, too often, been taken as evidence of antisemitism in Party disciplinary cases. The code must not include proposals that would brand anti-Zionism as antisemitism. We have seen too many examples where fear of being labelled antisemitic has silenced voices that, while critical of Israel, are in no way antisemitic. The code of conduct must not be used as a way to smuggle in a draconian reading of the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism.
Thirdly, it is alarming that the rule includes the notion that beliefs can be the subject of discipline. Objectionable beliefs may well give rise to statements and actions that are unacceptable. It is such statements and actions that are the appropriate object of sanction. Trying to punish belief is what Orwell derided as thought crime.
Fourthly, the new rule does not lead to a distinction that Chakrabarti clearly alluded to. Some unacceptable statements arise from ignorance and confusion and need to be addressed through education to lead the perpetrator to understand the negative consequences of their actions. Other statements and actions arise from malice and are the proper domain of disciplinary action. Neither type of hurtful action is acceptable but the way to deal with them, and to build a stronger, more inclusive party, vary.
JVL must look forward to building on its progress in Brighton and its boost in membership. It has committed itself to playing its role in strengthening the Labour Party and securing the Labour Government pledged to achieving the domestic and international justice that we desperately need.