The Labour Party’s promise to cast aside the International Definition of Antisemitism and come up with its own better version is a further insult to the Jewish community
Those who are careful readers of the Labour Party’s attitudes to the Jewish community will be aware that far from positioning themselves to resolve their self-made antisemitism crisis, the Party’s leadership has avoided punishing the loyal antisemites in their midst, and betrayed at every turn a deep reluctance to challenge the far-left worldview that is the well-spring of that antisemitism.
There is no better example of this than in the Labour Party’s rejection of the International Definition of Antisemitism. After several weeks of daily exposure and embarrassment over antisemitism, Mr Corbyn and his senior team finally met two Jewish charities, supposedly to resolve their differences, but they not only refused to accept any of the proposals put forward by the Jewish charities, but Mr Corbyn and his colleagues used the meeting as an opportunity to announce that they were reneging on the Party’s adoption of the International Definition of Antisemitism as has been well-documented both in the writing of senior Labour figures and also leaked documents.
Campaign Against Antisemitism therefore feels compelled to lay bare the extraordinary duplicity of the Labour Party’s ploy and the ramifications for the Jewish community.
Andrew Gwynne MP has attempted to claim publicly on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that the Labour Party had accepted the definition and yet simultaneously wanted to rewrite it, stating: “We have written into the rules the international definition – but in terms of the examples we don’t think these examples go far enough…We want…to write into Labour Party rules a much broader definition of antisemitism that goes beyond that, including terms like ‘Zio’ which quite frankly are abhorrent and insulting.” Both Mr Gwynne and Diane Abbott MP also implied that in some way the definition does not allow criticism of Israel, despite the definition explicitly stating that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
Mr Gwynne seemed to be implying – as some individual Labour councils have previously – that they can adopt the very generalist and vague opening paragraph of the definition and reject the examples that form part of it. However, the definition, including its examples, is a single document, as confirmed by its authors, who state that the examples are not merely optional guidance but are an inseparable part of the definition itself.
To ensure that there could be no doubt, Mihnea Constantinescu, who was the Romanian Chair of International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) during the Bucharest Plenary which adopted the definition, and Mark Weitzman, the former Chair of the IHRA’s committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust denial issued a statement saying: “We can confirm that the definition itself (as stated in the text of the adopted definition) is part of the entire document, including examples, that was officially adopted (as one piece) by the IHRA Plenary on 26th May 2016. There is no question about that and any assertion otherwise is absolutely false or misleading.”
Therefore, the Labour Party cannot claim to have adopted the definition whilst also seeking to discard part of it. It is not negotiable as an entity. It does not represent an à la carte menu of choices.
However, to obtain some insight into what the Labour Party is attempting to do, Campaign Against Antisemitism has analysed the letter written by Mr Corbyn on 26th March 2018 to Jewish charities and his article on 24th April 2018 in the Evening Standard, in which he makes specific statements about what, in his eyes, constitutes antisemitism. They reinforce a number of points similar to those contained in the examples within the definition, but they avoid the following examples entirely, all of which the definition states are antisemitic:
- “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.”
- “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).”
- “Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
In short, it would appear that Mr Corbyn does not wish to prevent members of the Labour Party from questioning whether Israel should exist, to say that Israel is a uniquely malevolent state, to delegitimise it, to demonise it as the ‘Jew among nations’, to state that the Jewish people have no right to self-determination and that Jews who defend it are guilty of having ambiguous motives. That all of these statements are antisemitic, is beyond doubt, and each has a long history of being used to promote the hatred of Jews. Particularly, they are used as a means to victimise British Jews, and create a classic ‘good Jew-bad Jew’ dynamic against them, particularly on campuses, in which ‘bad’ Jews that identify with an ‘evil’ Israel are ostracised, as the academic David Hirsh puts it, from the ‘community of the good’.
Those who study antisemitism understand that it mutates, adjusting to historical context. Therefore the definition addresses the key latest incarnation of it – the demonisation of Israel – and provides specific guidance on that issue. However, it otherwise assumes an understanding of the many other manifestations of antisemitism, to incorporate all of which would take several volumes, not a single page. So the definition does not specifically mention, for example, use of the term ‘Yid’ as abuse, nor references to Jews being ‘mean’ or to them having ‘hooked noses’. All of these are well-documented and understood to be covered by the example within the definition which states that “Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions” is antisemitic.
Another example is Holocaust revisionism, or associated falsifications of Jewish history during the inter-war period, an example of the latter being the historical revisionism deployed by Ken Livingstone when he stated that “Hitler supported Zionism”.
Holocaust revisionism perverts the historical account of the Holocaust, in order, for example, to diminish the Holocaust’s impact, meaning, or the numbers of those murdered. It is often used on the far-left as a means of undermining Jews’ right to self-determination. In using it, those on the far left accuse subgroups of Jews – such as the Jewish “bourgeoisie” or the Zionist movement – of a degree of complicity in or culpability for the Holocaust. This conspiracy theory derives from Soviet antisemitic propaganda during the Cold War period.
Mr Livingstone’s assertion sits within a broader tradition that attempts to demonise Jews who were part of the early 20th Century Zionist movement as being sympathetic to Hitler, and paints them as being in some way ‘Nazi’ themselves, sometimes using that notion to infer that the modern State of Israel is itself influenced by Nazi ideology.
Mr Livingstone’s statements, apparently inspired by the discredited Marxist journalist Lenni Brenner, while distorting the work of actual historians, represents yet another attempt to demonise “Zionists” as a movement of ‘evil Jews’, and to stereotype them as collaborators with Nazi Germany.
Manifestations of these beliefs are now widespread among self-avowed supporters of Mr Corbyn and appear frequently in Facebook groups bearing his name, and some groups of which he was a member.
Asserting that Zionists were the allies of Hitler is a hoax in the tradition of antisemitic conspiracy myths about the Rothschild family, which also uses a few historical facts in order to fabricate a larger lie.
Another relevant example was given by Simon Wiesenthal in his book, Justice, Not Vengeance, in which he describes being handed a leaflet stating: “The rabbis of Dallas murdered Kennedy.” Mr Wiesenthal had no doubt that the leaflet was antisemitic, because it singled out an identifiably Jewish group for defamation. Exactly the same is true of Mr Livingstone when he accuses the Zionist movement of collaboration with Hitler.
Mr Wiesenthal commented on the failure to prosecute the leaflet’s author: “This is one of the greatest difficulties in the struggle against antisemitism: that it is so difficult to make people see that a particular Jew so easily becomes ‘the Jews’.”
Mr Livingston’s words falsify Jewish history in order to demonise an identifiably Jewish movement. Singling out an identifiably Jewish cultural and national movement for such a group libel has been said to constitute, in the words of the International Definition of Antisemitism “mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such…”.
Mr Gwynne and the Labour Party seem not to notice that Mr Livingstone’s disgraceful statements – referred to by 107 Labour MPs themselves as “insidious racism” – were covered by the definition. If they want to rewrite the definition, why not mention this example, the most egregious example of the Labour Party’s failure to deal with antisemitism? Why do they instead dwell on the term ‘Zio’ as a reason to “go further” and reject the definition?
The term ‘Zio’ was adopted as a term of antisemitic abuse around a decade ago by David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, although the use of the term in relation to antisemitism goes back to the 1980s. It has therefore constituted antisemitic discourse for some years, and the origins and the contexts in which it is used are clearly racist. It does not need to be added to the examples within the definition. The whitewash Chakrabarti report will not suddenly become worth the paper it was printed on, nor does it earn the Labour Party credit for simply marking ‘Zio’ out as antisemitic discourse. If it was so significant, then many others would need to be included also. The idea as expressed by Mr Gwynne that the definition needs to be rejected because it does not specifically name this single term of abuse is beyond ridicule.
Mr Gwynne’s pleading on behalf of the Labour Party that he knows better than the Jewish community about what constitutes antisemitism is appalling. If an international coalition of feminists had sent the Labour Party a definition of misogyny endorsed by 31 nations, and an all-male group within the Party’s leadership had rejected it, the Party would be rightly condemned, not just for ‘mansplaining’ but for bigotry.
Mr Gwynne and his Party are indulging in ‘Gentilesplaining’. The Labour Party’s leadership now seems to think that it knows what constitutes antisemitism better than British Jews and the IHRA’s 31 signatory nations. It is not only unacceptable for the Labour Party in its current state to concoct its own, more convenient definition of antisemitism, it is also not in the Labour Party’s gift.