An Israel lobby group in the Labour Party is trying to pass a rules change at the main UK opposition party’s conference, which starts this weekend.
But critics charge that the Jewish Labour Movement, which has been at the center of politically motivated exaggerations of anti-Semitism, is merely aiming to make it easier to push Palestine solidarity activists out of the party.
Labour’s National Executive Committee, its main governing body, on Tuesday approved a version of the rules change which will now be put to a full vote at the party conference.
Despite the Jewish Labour Movement taking credit, documents seen by The Electronic Intifada prove that the motion is substantially watered down from the one the group originally proposed.
But left-wing activists, such as Jewish Voice for Labour, are still wary of the rules change, even in its new form.
Jewish activists in Labour have told The Electronic Intifada that, although not as bad as the original version, the new rule could still endanger free speech on Israel.
It rejects attempts by the Jewish Labour Movement “to extend the scope of the term ‘anti-Semitism’ beyond its meaning of hatred and bigotry towards Jews, particularly when directed at activities in solidarity with Palestinians.”
Leah Levane, a Labour activist in South East England, was due to speak at the conference in favor of an alternative that would explicitly protect “words or actions regarding Israel or Zionism that are part of legitimate political discourse.”
Jewish Voice for Labour activists have recommended that conference delegates back the alternative motion.
Levane told The Electronic Intifada on Friday that her local party was considering whether to withdraw the motion. She argued that it does not negate the national executive’s modified motion, and that they could have been combined.
She said the national executive’s motion still leaves potential dangers for critics of Israel.
Jewish Voice for Labour media officer Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi told The Electronic Intifada that even in the watered-down version, “the notion that ‘the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions’ should be taken into account when someone is accused of breaching party codes of conduct is alarming.”
Should the rule change be approved, Wimborne-Idrissi said, the Jewish Labour Movement is likely to push for new “codes of conduct” that define criticisms of Israel or Zionism as “anti-Semitism.”
This would be done by incorporating the controversial “IHRA definition” of anti-Semitism, which Israel lobby groups have pushed legislatures and institutions around the world to adopt.
The Jewish Labour Movement has strongly promoted the document.
It could also define advocating for a single, democratic state in historic Palestine, in which Jews, Muslims and Christians have full and equal rights, as anti-Semitism, because that could be construed as “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination.”
The Labour Party’s “Race and Faith Manifesto” formally endorses a two-sentence definition of anti-Semitism, contained in the controversial IHRA document, which does not mention Israel: “A certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”
It adds that, “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
This part of of the IHRA document poses no issue. It is the accompanying “examples” provided by IHRA that define criticism of Israel and its Zionist state ideology as anti-Semitism. The Labour manifesto is silent on whether the party accepts those examples as valid instances of anti-Semitism.
The news on Tuesday that the Jewish Labour Movement and Shami Chakrabarti, the party’s candidate for attorney general if Labour enters government, had secretly negotiated a compromise on the rules change was met by activists with confusion.
The strongly pro-Israel Jewish Chronicle claimed it was “a robust solution to tackle the problem of anti-Semitic harassment.”
But Darren Williams, a left-wing member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, wrote on Facebook that the deal “avoided the more draconian approach favored by the Jewish Labour Movement.”
Jewish Labour Movement chair Jeremy Newmark hit back in the comments section claiming that it “was the precise text that [the Jewish Labour Movement] promoted and asked for” and then implied Williams was an anti-Semite who wanted to “incite bad feeling towards the party’s only Jewish affiliate.”
Newmark has a long history of making false claims of anti-Semitism as a political tool to defend Israel. An employment tribunal judge in 2013 described as “preposterous” and “untrue” testimony he gave in a failed case alleging anti-Semitism at the University and College Union.
In a 2014 article about the boycott of Israel for a Tel Aviv newspaper, Newmark wrote that he had been at “the vanguard of the fight” against “the assault upon Israel’s legitimacy for many years.”
Not the JLM’s wording
Academic and activist Jonathan Rosenhead argued in an analysis on Friday that the compromise motion agreed by Labour’s national executive “is certainly not the Jewish Labour Movement’s wording, and does not have its very direct and specific targeting of anti-Semitism.”
Bob Pitt, an ex-researcher for former Labour mayor of London Ken Livingstone has also argued that the Jewish Labour Movement was “forced to accept a compromise which fell short of conceding their most dangerous and objectionable demand.”
The full text of the compromise rule change was obtained by left-wing Labour blog The Skwawkbox.
Comparing the rule change to the Jewish Labour Movement’s original text reveals it has been substantially watered down by the national executive.
Rules for Israel
It can be read in full below.
The original Jewish Labour Movement proposal would have allowed the party to discipline members accused of anti-Semitism in cases “where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility” towards Jews.
In other words, one politically motivated false accusation of anti-Semitism is all it would have taken for a Labour Party member to be expelled.
This most damaging clause has been removed from the compromise version which will be voted on at conference.
The Jewish Labour Movement also argued that its original proposal would have rendered it unacceptable “to use Zionism as a term of abuse.”
Zionism is the Israeli state’s official ideology, which advocates a “Jewish state” in Palestine, a country with a historic non-Jewish majority.
The Jewish Labour Movement is constitutionally committed to Zionism and is involved in the World Zionist Organization. The latter group is strongly involved in the ongoing colonization of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank by Israeli settlers.
A time of change
The rule change on anti-Semitism comes as party delegates will vote on sweeping reforms to the party’s governance, that left-wing trade union activist Michael Calderbank argues would represent “a significant step forward in empowering party members.”
But he cautioned that while the compromise on the proposed rule change may spare the party under leader Jeremy Corbyn from “being engulfed in controversy over its willingness to tackle accusations of anti-Semitism, it may also embolden Jewish Labour Movement supporters to push for a new round of disciplinary action targeted at those who have caused controversy on the left.”
The Jewish Labour Movement has been one of the main groups on the right of the Labour Party promoting a false “anti-Semitism crisis” narrative since Corbyn was elected in 2015.
- Labour Party
- Jewish Labour Movement
- Jewish Voice for Labour
- Israeli embassy in London
- Jeremy Corbyn
- Labour National Executive Committee
- Labour Party conference
- Leah Levane
- Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
- International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
- Shami Chakrabarti
- Jewish Chronicle
- Jeremy Newmark
- Darren Williams
- University and College Union
- Bob Pitt
- Jonathan Rosenhead
- Ken Livingstone
- The Skwawkbox
- World Zionist Organization
- West Bank
- Michael Calderbank
- Tony Blair