The Guardian, UK: Labour’s ruling body has agreed to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism in full after a tense meeting in which an accompanying clarification put forward by Jeremy Corbyn was not accepted.
The party leader withdrew his additional statement when it was clear it could not be agreed upon and instead, after a discussion that overran its allotted time by several hours, the national executive committee (NEC) approved the release of brief remarks emphasising freedom of expression on Israel and the rights of Palestinians.
All 11 examples accompanying the IHRA definition were agreed by the NEC meeting at the party’s headquarters in central London, as the 40-strong party body attempted to end the long-running row about how to tackle alleged antisemitism within the party.
A party spokesperson said: “The NEC has today adopted all of the IHRA examples of antisemitism, in addition to the IHRA definition which Labouradopted in 2016, alongside a statement which ensures this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians.”
The spokesperson said Corbyn had made an additional statement to the meeting describing action being taken against antisemitism and expressing solidarity with the Jewish community and the importance of the protection of Palestinian rights.
Labour said Corbyn’s page-and-a-half long statement was welcomed by the NEC “as an important contribution” to the consultation on the subject, but sources added that the committee had refused to endorse it and it had to be withdrawn. A wide range of views were expressed after Corbyn had read it out.
The most controversial passage in the draft statement proposed by Corbyn said: “It cannot be considered racist to treat Israel like any other state or assess its conduct against the standards of international law. Nor should it be regarded as antisemitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”
The agenda for the NEC had provided half an hour for discussion about the IHRA code, but the debate overran by several hours. Two hours in, the meeting broke for tea, amid “big disagreements” because members had made clear they would not sign up to the Corbyn statement without a long debate about how to amend it.
Labour sources said Corbyn spoke about the importance of the NEC being united on the issue and said his statement was not formally moved. They added that there were “no votes” on antisemitism and the party’s code of conduct at the meeting because decisions were reached by consensus.
Corbyn spoke of Labour’s commitment to “eradicating the social cancer of antisemitism”, the party sources said, and recognised “deep concern and pain” across the party over the loss of confidence among Jewish communities.
He made no reference in the meeting to arguments about his own conduct. Last month, a video from 2013 reemerged that showed him accusing a group of Zionists having no sense of English irony, prompting him to clarify that he was using the term in a its “politically accurate” sense.
Peter Willsman, a Corbyn-supporting member of the NEC, who had accused Jewish Trump fanatics of making up some of the allegations of antisemitism in the party at its previous meeting, recused himself from the first part of the discussion on the IHRA code before rejoining proceedings.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews welcomed the outcome of the meeting. Marie van der Zyl, its president, said adopting the IHRA definition “had to be the right call”. She said: “It is very long overdue and regrettable that Labour has wasted a whole summer trying to dictate to Jews what constitutes offence against us.”
The Jewish Leadership Council initially suggested that Labour had taken a necessary step, but later retracted that statement, saying it had been based on a “disingenuous presentation of what the NEC decided”.
In a second statement, the JLC’s chief executive, Simon Johnson, said Corbyn had “attempted shamefully to undermine the entire IHRA definition”, adding that the free speech caveat “drives a coach and horses” through that definition. “It is clearly more important to the Labour leader to protect the free speech of those who hate Israel than it is to protect the Jewish community from the real threats that it faces,” Johnson said.
Margaret Hodge, a Labour backbencher who has been very critical of Corbyn’s handling of the antisemitism issue, said she was disappointed that the party had issued the short clarification to accompany the adoption of the code. She tweeted:
— Margaret Hodge (@margarethodge) September 4, 2018
Before the meeting, rival groups of protesters gathered outside the party’s headquarters on Victoria Street in central London.
About 100 Corbyn loyalists cheered Willsman when he arrived and voiced concern about adopting the IHRA definition in full because they believed it would inhibit legitimate criticism of the actions of the state of Israel.
They were faced by a small counter-protest of campaigners, many of whom were draped in the flag of Israel, arguing that it was for Jewish people to determine what constituted discrimination against them.
The Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who has previously called for Corbyn to take more action over allegations of antisemitism in Labour, said earlier in the day that the NEC should be wary of issuing new clarifications.
“I think that the NEC should simply adopt the full IHRA definition and all of its examples,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “I don’t personally think that now is the time to be putting in additions and qualifications. That’s pouring more fuel on the fire, and that’s the last thing we should be doing right now.”
MP Chris Williamson, a close Corbyn ally, insisted the row was overblown. “It’s been alleged that Labour hasn’t accepted the full IHRA definition. We have accepted the full IHRA definition. The argument is about examples,” he told Talk Radio.
Some of the examples “fetter free speech”, Williamson said, adding: “Jewish academics have said these examples are not fit for purpose.”
The Metropolitan police said it was reviewing a leaked dossier that detailed 45 cases of alleged antisemitism to see if any constituted a hate crime. But Cressida Dick, the commissioner, told LBC Radio, which had obtained the file, that “the bar is actually quite high” when it came to launching a prosecution.