Three Jewish Newspapers Discredit Their Case Against Labour

There appear to me to be absolute inaccuracy in their characterisation of the Labour proposed code of conduct which I will detail below. Essentially their one specific claim of what is acceptable is clearly and specifically forbidden in the Labour rules.

Short version is that the case against Corbyn and Labour regarding these definitions seems at least exaggerated and incorrect statements are made about specific examples casting doubt on the overall thrust. I do believe that there is a genuine problem to clear up in the Labour party but with such inaccuracies in reporting of basic facts it becomes harder to accept the extraordinary claims made without appropriate supporting information or evidence. This isn't to say that there might not be some room for improvement but the current document definitely doesn't seem to be something that should be triggering the level of outrage that it is unless people haven't read it and are basing their opinions on what they read in the inflammatory press.

I'm not in a good position to judge the general situation and would generally place a lot of trust in those media organisations better placed but when the factual details I can check are so wrong it makes it harder to trust them for the big picture and whether there really is a problem with the code and what it really won't catch. I also fully accept that there is antisemitism in Labour and want it to have strong and robust rules and practice to deal with it, this is purely about the best mechanism to do that and whether the criticism of the leadership is fair and valid; if I felt it was I would be having to change position on certain things but for the following reasons I still believe that the criticism of the leadership is overblown and exaggerated.

Jewish Chronicle Article - Common front page with The Jewish News and The Jewish Telegraph.

My source for the details of the current Labour draft policy also as provided by the Jewish Chronicle.

The article writes:

Under its adapted guidelines, a Labour Party member is free to claim Israel’s existence is a racist endeavour and compare Israeli policies to those of Nazi Germany, unless “intent” — whatever that means — can be proved. “Dirty Jew” is wrong, “Zionist bitch” fair game?

But the Labour code of conduct says this meaning that “Zionist bitch” is clearly not fair game:

15.  The term “Zionism” is intimately bound up in the history of Israel’s foundation as a state and in its role in international relations more generally. It is inevitable that the expressions “Zionism” and “Zionist” will feature in political discourse about these topics. The meaning of these expressions is itself debated. It is not antisemitism to refer to “Zionism” and “Zionists” as part of a considered discussion about the Israeli state. However, as the Chakrabarti Report advised, it is not permissible to use “Zionist” (and still less any pejorative abbreviation such as ‘zio’ which the Chakrabarti report said should have no place in Labour Party discourse) as a code word for “Jew”. Chakrabarti recommended that Labour Party members should only use “the term `Zionist’ advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse”. Such language may otherwise provide evidence of antisemitic intent. 

“Zionist bitch” is clearly personal abuse in which context the code says it is never acceptable to use "Zionist". This is not in an example but a clear rule which is far stronger and clearer in my opinion.

The very next clause of Labour's proposal specifically states that Labour members should resist use of Nazi metaphors or face a strong risk of being in breach of the party rules:

16.  Discourse about international politics often employs metaphors drawn from examples of historic misconduct. It is not antisemitism to criticise the conduct or policies of the Israeli state by reference to such examples unless there is evidence of antisemitic intent. Chakrabarti recommended that Labour members should resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine in particular. In this sensitive area, such language carries a strong risk of being regarded as prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Party within Clause 2.I.8

Now I'm not certain that this rule is currently quite as it would ideally and it could probably be tightened up but the idea that Labour have declared a free for all in criticism of Israel and Nazi comparisons is frankly plain wrong.

The only remaining specific item is that "to claim Israel’s existence is a racist endeavour' is permissible. This is a specific item in the IHRA definition that is not in the Labour proposal:

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

Labour's policy is as follows makes clear that the Jewish people are entitled to self determination covering the broad example while maybe not fully covering the specific example:

12.  Article 1(2) of the 1948 UN Charter refers to “respect for the principle of equal rights and self- determination of peoples”. The Party is clear that the Jewish people have the same right to self-determination as any other people. To deny that right is to treat the Jewish people unequally and is therefore a form of antisemitism. That does not, of course, preclude considered debate and discourse about the nature or content of the right of peoples to self- determination.

This third claim from the joint front page is therefore the closest to valid. There is no mention in the Labour code of calling the existence of the state of Israel racist being problematic but it does say the Jewish people have the same right to self determination as anyone else so I think it could certainly arguable that the statement breaches the code but I certainly wouldn't be opposed to adding the detail of the e.g. part of the IHRA definition to the Labour document. It might be that there are differences on whether talking about the existence of the state being racist or the fact of the state being racist but I think both the definition and the Labour code only cover the existence being called racist as a problem (which is probably both necessary to allow proper critique of Israel but probably also opens the door to some inappropriate abuse but I'm not sure I see a clear cut rule to avoid that). 

The broader point may be correct that there may be flaws that mean antisemitism wrapped up as criticism of the Israeli government or probably more seriously the Israeli state may not be as well captured in the Labour code of conduct as but this basic level of inaccuracy in at least 2 out of the 3 (and to some extent all three) specific points in the article makes it hard to accept the generalities at face value. The idea that a Corbyn Labour government would be “an existential threat to Jewish life in this country” is an extremely concerning claim but also an extraordinary one that needs extraordinary evidence which is not provided that I have seen. Tweet me relevant links that explain how this existential threat may come to pass based on any statements or manifestos from Labour..

Margaret Hodge and the anti semitism accusation (probably)

It was reported that Margaret Hodge accused Jeremy Corbyn of being an “[effing] antisemite racist” and she later denied the swearing part but it seems she confirmed having said the rest of the accusation. In this article she said that she stood by her woods although strangely without repeating them although I wonder if it was her choice or the advice of Guardian lawyers.

In looking through the IHRA definition of antisemitism (Margaret Hodge’s preferred definition) it is very hard for me to see how Corbyn’s conduct meets any part of it. Now this isn’t to say that Corbyn and Labour’s handling of cases of antisemitism has been good and it can definitely be improved but I would be very interested to see if someone could give examples of behaviour and matched aspects of the definition to support her claim.

Interesting Articles

These have not be used or quoted in writing this piece but provide additional perspectives if you are interested.

Report from Richard Corbett on the NEC discussion of the code of conduct

OpenDemocracy - Enough of these disgraceful slurs against Jeremy Corbyn