The influential Jewish head of left-wing grassroots group Momentum has said the Labour Party’s Code of Conduct on anti-Semitism is “the new gold standard” and questioned why community representatives are so angry with it.
Jon Lansman, who also sits on Labour’s National Executive Committee, said the Code was better than the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition that Jewish community groups wanted Labour to adopt in its entirety.
Labour’s code adopts the IHRA definition and covers most of the IHRA’s working examples but does not cover the example that relates to claims about the state of Israel being a racist endeavour.
Israel advocates have already cited this example in seeking to ban Israel Apartheid Week activities on university campuses but in an article for The Guardian, Lansman said this example was a risk to free speech.
“Of all the elements in the IHRA examples, this is the one that runs the greatest risk of prohibiting legitimate criticism of Israel,” he said.
“It cannot possibly be anti-Semitic to point out that some of the key policies of the Israeli state, observed since its founding days, have an effect that discriminates on the basis of race and ethnicity.”
He said Labour’s code states that denying Jews the same right to self-determination as any other people is discriminatory and therefore anti-Semitic, and makes clear that all countries should be held to the same, internationally recognised standards.
“This explanation and contextualisation is essential to ensuring that people are able to make legitimate criticisms of Israel,” he said. “If legitimate criticism of Israel were to be curbed, that would infringe on the rights of other oppressed groups, who have suffered at the hands of discriminatory Israeli state policies.”
Lansman explained that he had just returned from Israel, where Palestinians and Bedouins “spoke about racist state policies… the segregation of housing, education, employment, and systematic economic disadvantage”.
He added: “The Palestinian minority within Israel is as entitled as Jews in Britain to define the discrimination they have experienced as racism. Such criticisms cannot, and must not, be silenced.”
Lansman said he “regretted” that for some community organisations “the IHRA wording is so sacrosanct that it cannot be expanded and built upon, contextualised, and turned into a practical, usable document for a political party to enforce”.
It begged the question as to whether these organisations speak for the three quarters of British Jews who see settlements as an obstacle to peace, he said, or the 61 percent who wanted the Israeli government to prioritise a peace deal.
“I don’t think these organisations, many of which failed to come out against the Blackshirts marching through Cable Street, or welcomed the presidency of Donald Trump, have the credibility to criticise a political party’s robust, thorough and far-reaching code of conduct,” he said.
“The only real difference between the IHRA examples and Labour’s code is that the latter provides clarity, context and detail, whereas the former is vague and open to interpretation.
“Conflating legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is dangerous and undermines the fight against anti-Semitism.
“Clear and detailed guidelines are essential to ensure that anti-Semitism isn’t tolerated, while protecting free speech on Israel’s conduct within a respectful and civil environment. This is what Labour’s code provides. We should be celebrating and replicating it.”