Labour’s adoption of a new code of conduct on tackling anti-Semitism would strengthen claims the party has become “institutionally anti-Semitic”, the chair of the Jewish Leadership Council has claimed.
Jonathan Goldstein’s comments come amid suggestions the latest row could derail a planned second meeting between Jeremy Corbyn and the heads of the UK’s two main Jewish leadership bodies.
The latest anti-Semitism row broke out last week when politicians joined community leaders in condemning a new code of conduct to tackle anti-Semitism as “an extraordinary act of bad faith”.
The party’s governing body is set to consider the proposed code next week.
The party followed the government, CPS and dozens of local authorities in adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism – but provoked anger by leaving out some of its accompanying examples of contemporary anti-Semitism.
Writing for Jewish News, Labour’s general secretary Jennie Formby said Labour did not adopt the IHRA working examples because “they do not go far enough for practical use by a political party” and labels the new code the “most detailed and comprehensive” adopted by any party.
Goldstein, issuing his strongest condemnation yet of the party, told Jewish News: “It defies logic that someone as capable as Jennie Formby could genuinely believe every word of her op-ed. The notion that these measures are designed to enhance and protect the Jewish community is not something we are inclined to believe especially as no one was consulted in its preparation.
“I’m terribly disappointed we have reached the point where the Jewish community is being singled out by the Labour leadership and treated in a way no other minority would be. If these proposals are formally adopted it would only strengthen the argument that the party has become institutionally anti-Semitic”.
Examples of behaviours likely to be considered anti-Semitic contained in IHRA but left out by Labour include comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis – though it states elsewhere in the document that such comparisons in discussions about Israel and the Palestinians carries the risk of a disciplinary case for being “grossly detrimental” to the party. It also says it’s “wrong” for Jews to be accused of being more loyal to Israel than their home country – but this was also not listed among examples.
While the IHRA working examples includes reference to calling Israel “a racist state,” Labour’s Code puts an onus on intent. “The expression of even contentious views in this area will not be treated as anti-Semitism unless accompanied by specific anti-Semitic content (such as the use of anti-Semitic tropes) or by other evidence of anti-Semitic intent,” the code reads.
But amid growing anger, the Community Security Trust’s Dave Rich said the code’s authors of “sliced up the IHRA definition, adopted some of its examples and wrapped the rest in ambiguities and equivocations described by the Jewish Labour Movement as a “get out of jail free card” for anti-Semites”.
In a letter to Formby today, the JLC, Board of Deputies and CST pointed to evidence showing the full definition including examples had previously been adopted by the NEC and demand the governing recommits to the full text when they meet next Tuesday “if the party is to demonstrate the seriousness and firmness we all want to see in tackling anti-Semitism”.
They added: “It is for the Jewish community to decide what does and does not constitute racism towards us, just as any other minority has the right to do”. Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, tod the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Labour needed to support the full definition with examples “sharpish”.
Communal sources indicated that the latest row made a further meeting between the Board and JLC and Corbyn “highly unlikely” in the coming weeks. After landmark talks in April, both sides targeted a second meeting late this month, once a backlog of anti-Semitism cases had been cleared.
Formby said: “Our guidelines address all of the ground covered by the IHRA examples, clarifies those that might be open to different interpretations or be seen as conflicting with other rights, and provides additional examples of anti-Semitic language and behaviour.” Formby cited the use of examples such as “kike” or “yid” as well as the reference to physical characteristics or negative stereotypes relating to money or elites that are not included in the IHRA’s working examples. She added that Labour’s examples had been “drawn from the UN Charter on Human Rights, the Home Affairs Select Committee report 2016, the Chakrabarti Report and other contemporary sources”.
Formby also revealed plans for smaller panels to be specifically trained to hear anti-Semitism cases rather than them going to disputes sub-committee which meet less frequently. A timetable will also be set out for concluding cases from the start. While community leaders welcomed attempts to speed up cases, the Board, JLC and CST said in their letter “the NEC is so politicised this does not in itself inspire confidence”.
Reflecting on the process document she shared with them, the leaders added: “The document suggests small improvements but significant problems remain over transparency, oversight, politicisation and disciplinary sanctions. This has been heightened by appointments to key disciplinary positions of people whose past records do not suggest they are likely to be impartial on the cases we have seen.”