By Mark Gardner
I attended the Jewish leadership meeting with Jeremy Corbyn in April, and told the Labour leader that the bitter arguments over IHRA’s antisemitism definition epitomise the disgraceful blindness, evasions and double standards of the anti-Israel left towards Jews and our concerns.
I am not surprised that Labour has now publicly rejected the definition, but the brazen chutzpah with which they have done it is still remarkable.
Let me explain how we got here and what it reveals about this Labour leadership’s hostility to mainstream Jewish communities.
IHRA is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Thirty-one countries are members, committed to combatting antisemitism and preserving Holocaust memory. IHRA’s antisemitism definition is used by many governments, including the UK government, Scottish government and the Welsh Assembly. More than 130 local councils use it, as do the police, CPS and judiciary.
The IHRA definition is nearly identical to the definition issued in 2005 by the European Union’s Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia. Then the EU’s leading anti-racism body, it drafted the definition because of rapidly worsening antisemitism across Europe. Their definition was for diverse European police forces, prosecutors and governments to better understand antisemitism, so their actions against it could be better assessed by European anti-racism officials and Jewish communities.
Mike Whine, the Community Security Trust’s international director, was one of the Jewish advisors for the definition. In 2007, the Monitoring Centre became the Fundamental Rights Agency. EU directives changed its role, so it stopped promoting the definition. In 2016, IHRA rightly took on the job.
Unlike Labour’s charade, the definition was written to help those suffering and fearing antisemitism. The EU was not lecturing Jews on antisemitism, nor sweeping it under the procedural carpet, while pointing accusingly at those daring to disagree.
The definition is a single document, but Labour treats it as having two parts. First, a paragraph that says antisemitism may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. This is so obvious, even Labour’s leadership accepts it.
Next, 11 bullet point “examples” that “could, taking into account the overall context” be antisemitic. This is where the argument lies, with Labour rewriting the Israel-related points, moving them to another section of its own definition, wrapping them in ambiguity and wanting antisemitic “intent” to be evidenced. When has any Labour activist ever admitted “intent”?
Labour wants to strip Israel from the definition of antisemitism, but the IHRA definition includes it because anti-Israel hatred is so important to contemporary antisemitism. This is not theoretical. It is exactly what drove the need for the definition in 2005. Since then, the need has worsened.
Thousands of Jews have fled France, Belgium and other countries. They have faced suspicion, blame, exclusion, hatred, attack and murder on the supposed basis of anti-Israel hatred. In Britain, the situation is slightly better, but the European experience drives our security and defence efforts.
Throughout all of this antisemitism, far-left groups said nothing and did nothing. They could not care less that Europe cannot protect and keep its Jews, not even before the last Holocaust survivors die of old age. They have always, however, cared obsessively about the antisemitism definition, repeatedly and disgracefully claiming that its primary purpose is to make “criticism” of Israel illegal.
This, despite all the antisemitism statistics, despite the definition clearly stating that criticism “cannot be regarded as antisemitic” and despite its caveat about “context” being needed.
Their sub-text, sometimes explicit, more often implicit, but always lurking, is that Jews cannot be trusted, that local Jewish communities are ultimately just liars acting on behalf of Israel and/or Zionism.
It is a gross understatement to say that such attitudes contradict basic anti-racist principles and ethics, but they utterly dominate the circles in which Jeremy Corbyn has spent his political life.
I made these points in the meeting with Mr Corbyn, pushing him and his spin doctor Seumas Milne to fully adopt the definition. Eventually, Mr Milne said his problem lay in the second half of the bullet point that says “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”.
Essentially, Mr Milne wanted to safeguard the accusation that Israel (and perhaps therefore its supporters?) is fundamentally racist. Labour’s new definition achieves this. It also removes IHRA’s protection against accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel or other Jews than they are of their own countries. It goes further still, also removing IHRA’s protection from comparing Israel to Nazi Germany.
Ultimately, our communal leadership did not call a demonstration against Labour because we wanted faster disciplinary processes, or legalistic definitions. We demonstrated against Labour because of its culture, which their IHRA rejection is now fundamental to.
It represents and repeats the same far left ideological, emotional and systematic rejection of our concerns that we have faced for decades. It is what moved JC editor Stephen Pollard to accuse Labour of “institutional antisemitism”. If he is mistaken, then Labour’s leaders must urgently show us all why.
Mark Gardner is Director of Communications at the Community Security Trust (CST). This op-ed was published in London’s Jewish Chronicle.