OPINION: IHRA doesn’t go far enough – Labour’s new anti-Semitism guidelines are MORE comprehensive
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OPINION: IHRA doesn’t go far enough – Labour’s new anti-Semitism guidelines are MORE comprehensive

Jennie Formby, General Secretary of the Labour Party, writes for Jewish News on how party members have now been empowered with the tools to challenge anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head.

When I took up my post as General Secretary of the Labour Party in April, Jeremy Corbyn asked me to make strengthening and speeding up procedures for dealing with anti-Semitism my first priority. 

Three months on, I am glad to say that, though there is still work to be done, we have come a long way. 

This week we have brought forward a package of wide-ranging reforms to make our procedures for dealing with anti-Semitism complaints more robust, efficient and fair. 

That includes smaller panels for reviewing cases, which meet more frequently, allowing anti-Semitism cases to be fast-tracked. All members of these panels will receive specialised training on anti-Semitism, as will all staff involved in disciplinary processes and all members of our quasi-judicial body, the National Constitutional Committee. 

Cases that come before the panels will be anonymised to ensure impartiality, and decision-making matrices will be established to guide panel members and ensure consistency. Every complaint will have a set timeframe in which it should be resolved and we have agreed a series of measures to allow cases to be judged by the NCC more rapidly. 

Jennie Formby says the IHRA definition does not go far enough for practical use by a political party.

We have developed the most detailed and comprehensive Code of Conduct on anti-Semitism adopted by any political party in this country. 

The Code includes the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, which the Labour Party adopted in December 2016.

It supplements this with additional examples and guidance, primarily from the IHRA’s examples, but also drawn from the UN Charter on Human Rights, the Home Affairs Select Committee report 2016, the Chakrabarti Report and other contemporary sources. 

I have been asked why we didn’t just adopt the IHRA’s examples as they are and leave it at that. The answer is that they do not go far enough for practical use by a political party. 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.

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For example, our guidelines include the use of derogatory terms for Jewish people such as “kike” or “yid”, stereotypical tropes and negative physical depictions such as references to wealth and equating Jewish people with capitalists or the ruling class. These are not included in the IHRA examples. 

We are a political party with over half-a-million members, many of whom are passionate about international politics and discuss these issues in party meetings and events. It is therefore essential that we have a Code of Conduct which sets out the behaviour that will not be tolerated in such discussions, ensuring that we can have debate on such important and difficult subjects in a considered and respectful way. 

While criticism of the actions or policies of the Israeli government is not anti-Semitic, the party will not tolerate anti-Semitic language, name-calling or abuse, or the expression of views which are intended to be anti-Semitic or are simply intended to upset or offend within such debates. 

The Code of Conduct deals comprehensively with these issues and also states that Jewish people have the same right to self-determination as any other people, and that any denial of that right is to treat the Jewish people unequally and is therefore a form of anti-Semitism. 

It says that holding Jewish people collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel’s conduct is wrong and goes further than the IHRA examples in saying it is wrong to apply double standards by requiring more vociferous condemnation of Israeli state actions from Jewish people or organisations, than from others. The Code makes clear that the conduct of all states should be held to universal standards, and therefore that it would be discriminatory to hold Israel to higher standards than other countries. 

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn with Shadow Attorney General, Baroness Chakrabarti, who published a report into anti-Semitism in June 2016
Photo credit: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

And it reiterates the Chakrabarti report recommendation that Labour members should not use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons, especially in debates about Israel-Palestine. If they do, they run the strong risk of being found guilty of behaviour that is prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the party.

This provides us with a comprehensive Code of Conduct that we can put into practice and enforce. It is also a document that members will be encouraged to read, and will be used in the political education programme that was also agreed this week. This will be developed by a third party expert in education on antisemitism and we have asked key Jewish organisations for their input in developing this work. 

Once complete, we will make it available to members at conferences and throughout the party, including through online educational materials, videos and webinars, to foster deeper understanding about all forms of anti-Semitism within our movement. 

Anti-Semitism is a scourge within our society, which exists within politics, including within our party. And some anti-Semites have latched onto, and distorted, progressive arguments about justice for the Palestinian people or challenging class inequalities to promote antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories. 

This is why I am determined that our party does our utmost to tackle it. We are now fully implementing the recommendations of the Chakrabarti review, speeding up and strengthening our disciplinary procedures, introducing the most thorough and expansive Code of Conduct on anti-Semitism introduced by any political party in the UK, and educating members so that they have the tools to challenge anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head. 

I am proud of the work we’ve done in the past few months, and I look forward to working with Jewish members and organisations to make further progress. I would challenge other political parties to put in place similarly robust systems to eliminate prejudice from politics. 

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