The new NEC guidelines are the result of an ongoing
working party set up for the purpose and including among its number two
Jewish NEC members, Jon Lansman and Rhea Wolfson. Labour has said that it will continue to work in dialogue to ensure that the code of conduct gives a clear
framework to apply directly to cases in the fight against antisemitism.
In 2016 a Jewish-led consortium warned that the IHRA document
was badly drafted and confusing and that it risked “unlawfully
restricting legitimate expressions of political opinion”. The Opinion
said: “…pro-Palestinian campaigners who, for example, describe Israel
as a settler-colonialist state enacting a policy of apartheid, or call
for policies of boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel, cannot
properly be characterised as antisemitic.”
On June 15, 27 prominent British Jews concerned about the dangers of conflation issued a statement calling for clarity in identifying what antisemitism is and what it is not. They said: “criticism of Israel is not
antisemitic unless motivated by anti-Jewish prejudice” and “criticising
laws and policies of the state of Israel as racist and as falling under
the definition of apartheid is not antisemitic.” Two weeks later this
statement was endorsed by leading public figures across a range of professions and political affiliations.
Even the author of the definition, Kenneth Stern, has expressed his
concerns in written testimony to Congress, using the UK as an example of
how the definition has been abused.
As explained by a Labour
source:“The [Labour NEC]
guidelines cover all the same ground as the IHRA examples, but they go
further, providing more examples and details so they can actually be
This week over 30 global Jewish organizations have offered a statement to affirm the BDS movement, urging governments and other
institutions to take effective
measures to defeat white supremacist nationalist hate and violence and
to end complicity in Israel’s human rights violations.
“We write this
letter with growing alarm regarding the targeting of organizations that
support Palestinian rights in general and the nonviolent Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)
movement, in particular. These attacks too often take the form of
cynical and false accusations of antisemitism that dangerously conflate
anti-Jewish racism with opposition to Israel’s policies and system of
occupation and apartheid.
We live in a frightening era, with growing numbers of authoritarian
and xenophobic regimes worldwide, foremost among them the Trump
administration, allying themselves with Israel’s far right government
while making common cause with deeply antisemitic and racist white
supremacist groups and parties.
From our own histories we are all too aware of the dangers of
increasingly fascistic and openly racist governments and political
parties. The rise in antisemitic discourse and attacks worldwide is part
of that broader trend. At times like this, it is more important than ever to distinguish
between the hostility to or prejudice against Jews on the one hand and
legitimate critiques of Israeli policies and system of injustice on the
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition
of antisemitism, which is increasingly being adopted or considered by
western governments, is worded in such a way as to be easily adopted or
considered by western governments to intentionally equate legitimate
criticisms of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights with
antisemitism, as a means to suppress the former. This conflation undermines both the Palestinian struggle for freedom,
justice and equality and the global struggle against antisemitism. It
also serves to shield Israel from being held accountable to universal
standards of human rights and international law.
Israel does not
represent us and cannot speak for us when committing crimes against
Palestinians and denying their UN-stipulated rights.
The Nobel Peace Prize-nominated, Palestinian civil society-led BDS
movement for Palestinian rights has demonstrated an ongoing proven commitment
to fighting antisemitism and all forms of racism and bigotry,
consistent with its dedication to the Universal Declaration of Human
“Has Labour tried to create its own definition, as some critics claim?
No. The new code adopts, unaltered, the IHRA definition.
definition is vague. So, IHRA provides 11 “examples” that “may serve as
illustrations” to guide its work. Similarly, Labour’s code includes
“guidelines” to assist the party in its work, and these guidelines
include a list of examples.
Here is where there is a measure of difference. Seven of IHRA’s
examples are incorporated word for word in Labour’s list. So, the row
boils down to: why not the remaining four? Because the IHRA intends its
examples as mere indications of what “might” and “could” manifest
antisemitism, whereas Labour’s code says its examples are “likely” to be
deemed antisemitic. This shift – from mere possibility to likelihood –
strengthens the role of the examples and makes them easier to apply as
By the same token, it means that any examples that are seen to be
problematic in terms of protecting free speech must be dealt with
separately, which is what the new code does. The four remaining IHRA
examples are discussed in subsequent guidelines along with other tricky
issues, and guidance is provided to help people apply the IHRA
definition, for example within party disciplinary tribunals. Whether the
code has “got it right” or not is open to debate. But Labour is right
to discuss the complexities that arise with these four examples, and
critics are wrong to say that the code simply omits them. In contrast,
critics have not acknowledged these complexities since the code was
Labour’s code in fact enhances the IHRA document.
The door for doing this has been opened by Labour, which has decided to
look again at the code, in consultation with Jewish organisations and
other groups. If we put our heads together, there is a good chance that a
consensus can be reached. For this to happen, the seas of language are
going to have to subside and critics must stop treating the IHRA
document as immutable. In the Judaism
in which I was nurtured and educated, there is only one text whose
status is sacred; and it was not written by a committee of the IHRA.”
– Brian Klug is senior research fellow in philosophy at St Benet’s Hall,
University of Oxford, and honorary fellow of the Parkes Institute for
the Study of Jewish/Non-Jewish Relations, University of Southampton