Jeremy Corbyn, knifed by his senior lieutenants and failed by his media team, is on the danger list and now looks isolated.
At the fatal NEC (National Executive Committee) meeting this week to discuss whether the party should adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in full, with all its examples, he prepared and presented a 500-word statement to water down the definition but this met with an angry reaction from most NEC members and he dropped it.
According to the Guardian the most controversial passage in Corbyn’s draft statement 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.”
At the end of a stormy meeting the NEC accepted the IHRA definition and all its examples but added a statement “which ensures this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians.”
But the Israel lobby were still not satisfied and renewed their whingeing. The Jewish Leadership Council’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.”
A false dichotomy of course. And if their case cannot withstand free speech it must have been bullsh*t in the first place.
Richard Angell, director of the centre-left Progress group, said: “The Jewish community made it clear and simple to Labour: pass the IHRA definition in full – no caveats, no compromises. Jeremy Corbyn and the Momentum-dominated NEC have just failed the most basic test. A ‘right to be racist’ protection when debating the Middle East is not just wrong, it harms the cause of peace but it will also continue a culture where Jewish people cannot feel at home in Labour.“
Today’s decision is an insult. Labour does not know better than Jewish people about antisemitism.”
He was backed up by another Progress director, Jennifer Gerber, who is also a director of Friends of Israel. She said: “It is appalling that the Labour party has once again ignored the view clearly and repeatedly stated by the Jewish community: that it should adopt the full IHRA definition without additions, omissions or caveats.
“The IHRA definition has been adopted in full by 31 countries, including the UK, as well as over 130 UK local councils, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary. A ‘freedom of expression on Israel’ clause is unnecessary and totally undermines the other examples the party has supposedly just adopted.”
The recurring message is that free speech is a threat and doesn’t seem to have a place in their world.
Re-frame anti-Semitism accurately – don’t accept skewed version by the Israel lobby
So let’s get this straight: DNA research confirms that the great majority of those calling themseves Jews are not of Semitic blood. So does anti-Semitism mean what it says? Shouldn’t it mean that if we outlaw anti-Semitism we outlaw being nasty to the genuine Semites of the Holy Land, i.e. the indigenous people who include Palestinians whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish? And are they not terrorised and persecuted by the Israeli regime which is the chief perpetrator of anti-Semitism and which has oppressed, dispossessed, impoverished and slaughtered those people for 70 years?
Corbyn and his New Look Labour Party were in a position to lead a move to ‘unskew’ the definition of anti-Semitism and re-frame it accurately – with of course the help of the various campaign and BDS groups worldwide. But now they’ve effectively muzzled themselves.
And for some strange reason Corbyn and his team, throughout the unpleasant warfare in his party over anti-Semitism, completely ignored the warnings issued by legal experts Hugh Tomlinson QC, Geoffrey Robertson QC, Sir Stephen Sedley and others which explained how:
- the IHRA definition is “too vague to be useful” and conduct contrary to it is not necessarily illegal. Public bodies are under no obligation to adopt or use it and, if they do, they must interpret it in a way that’s consistent with their statutory obligations and with the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly;
- the right of free expression is now part of UK domestic law by virtue of the Human Rights Act;
- Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights bestows on everyone “the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference…”;
- the IHRA definition is open to manipulation. “What is needed now is a principled retreat on the part of Government from a stance which it has naively adopted,”says Sedley;
- calling Israel an apartheid state or advocating BDS against Israel cannot properly be characterized as anti-Semitic. Furthermore, any public authority seeking to apply the IHRA definition to prohibit or punish such activities “would be acting unlawfully”;
- it is “not fit for any purpose that seeks to use it as an adjudicative standard. It is imprecise, confusing and open to misinterpretation and even manipulation”.
Robertson adds: “The Governments ‘adoption’ of the definition has no legal effect and does not oblige public bodies to take notice of it. The definition should not be adopted, and certainly should not be applied, by public bodies unless they are clear about Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which is binding upon them, namely that they cannot ban speech or writing about Israel unless there is a real likelihood it will lead to violence or disorder or race hatred.”
Crucially, freedom of expression applies not only to information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also to those that “offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population” – unless they encourage violence, hatred or intolerance.
What’s more, the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee recommended adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism subject to the inclusion of these two caveats:
(1) It is not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.
(2) It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.
The Government in adopting the IHRA definition dropped these caveats saying they weren’t necessary. But you’d expect that from an administration brazednly stuffed with members of the Zionist Tendency.
These top legal opinions are lethal ammunition. Had Corbyn and his media team deployed them to good effect the baying attack dogs would have been stopped in their tracks.
So the IHRA definition is not something a sane organisation would incorporate into its Code of Conduct – certainly not as it stands. It contravenes human rights and freedom of expression. But when did the admirers of apartheid Israel ever care about other people’s rights?
© Stuart Littlewood, 6 September 2018
After working on jet fighters in the RAF Stuart became an industrial marketing specialist with manufacturing companies and consultancy firms. He also “indulged himself” as a newspaper columnist. In politics, he served as a Cambridgeshire county councilor and member of the Police Authority. Now retired he campaigns on various issues and contributes to several online news & opinion sites. With a lifelong passion for photography, he has produced two photo-documentary books, one of which can be read online at www.radiofreepalestine.org.uk.