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Leading British Zionist says Labour's anti-Semitism definition is not fit for purpose

July 31, 2019 at 7:02 pm

Jewish Voice for Labour supporters demonstrating against false claims of anti-Semitism, in London on 26 March 2018 [Twitter]

Two of Tony Blair’s closest political allies have joined-in with the ongoing row embroiling pro-Palestine leader Jeremy Corbyn over the Labour Party’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations, claiming that an “existential crisis” is looming due to his poor leadership. It is doubtful that it is entirely coincidental that the attacks designed to undermine Corbyn were launched on the same day.

Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell said on Tuesday that he believed Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism had “made decent people think they’re extremists.” He claimed that he no longer wants to be a member of the party, making his views known in letters published in both the Guardian and New European.

On the same day, Lord Peter Mandelson fired a public salvo against Corbyn, stating that he felt “dirty” by remaining in a political party in which “no effective action” is being taken against people [allegedly] holding anti-Semitic views. In a no-holds barred interview with Italy’s La Stampa clearly intended to destabilise the Labour leader, Mandelson blamed Corbyn directly for allowing thousands of people carrying the “virus” of anti-Jewish racism to join the party and flourish within its ranks.

READ: Priti Patel, who asked for UK aid for Israel army, now Home Secretary 

“Throughout my life,” explained the ex-MP for Hartlepool, “I have never known anti-Semitism, or ‘anti-Jewish racism’ as I prefer to call it, in the Labour Party, but when he [Corbyn] became leader there was an influx of thousands of people to the Labour Party membership and, since this time, anti-Semitism has spread like a virus among Labour Party grassroots, as their use of social media has been exposed.” This is the first time that the former Labour cabinet minister has called openly for Corbyn to quit.

However, this two-pronged attack by two of the Labour Party’s biggest egos was scuppered within 24 hours by leading pro-Israel supporter and Jewish academic Professor Geoffrey Alderman. He has urged the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to find a better yardstick for anti-Semitism than the 2016 definition produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) when it rules on whether the Labour Party has “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish.”

According to the leading British Zionist, the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism adopted by Labour is “not fit for purpose.” Professor Alderman has now made a detailed submission to the EHRC warning that the definition is “deeply flawed” and full of “internal contradictions.”

Read Professor Geoffrey Alderman’s Submission to the EHRC here

In a move that completely undermines the anti-Palestine lobby targeting Corbyn, Alderman states that, “Each accusation against the Labour Party brought to the attention of the EHRC must be measured against an empirically-derived benchmark. That benchmark cannot be the deeply-flawed and much misunderstood IHRA Working Definition.” Although, as he points out, the definition “was formally adopted by the British government in January 2017, and has been embraced by numerous UK government organs and agencies, including the Labour Party,” he added that the working document is neither perfect nor even fit for purpose.

“Space does not permit me here to explain how the Working Definition came about,” Prof. Alderman has told the EHRC. “What needs to be stressed is that it was never intended to be a binding legal act, but was designed merely as a note of guidance for police officers and human rights activists. As such, it’s very much a work in progress.”

Carlos Latuff's cartoon - Criticisms of Israel labelled as antisemitism [Twitter]

Criticisms of Israel labelled as antisemitism – Cartoon [Carlos Latuff/Twitter]

He notes that that the Working Definition is composed of two unequal parts. “The first consists of the Definition itself. The second comprises eleven examples of what that Definition might mean in practice.” It is these examples, he says, which embed numerous internal contradictions. “One example affects to condemn as anti-Semitic ‘drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.’ But the preamble that introduces all eleven examples explains that manifestations of anti-Semitism ‘might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.’”

Alderman is quick to point out that he does not believe that the Israeli government has ever pursued “policies remotely reminiscent of the Nazis” but points out that, “A number of political regimes around the world have been criticised because they are alleged to be pursuing policies reminiscent of the Nazis. So how in principle can it be anti-Semitic to draw a comparison between ‘contemporary’ Israeli policy and that of the Nazis?”

READ: Formal ‘anti-Semitism’ complaint made against Corbyn’s Labour critic 

No doubt to the consternation of fellow Zionists and Israel’s supporters, he also points out that it is not anti-Semitic to accuse Jewish citizens “of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.” While ridiculing the myth of a secret Jewish ‘government’ working for the sole advantage of Jewish people, he reveals that he knows “many British Jews who hold dual citizenship and who, under certain circumstances, would act (and have indeed acted) in the interests of Israel rather than of Great Britain. How can it possibly be anti-Semitic to point this out?”

Professor Alderman expresses surprise that amongst the examples given in the IHRA definition there is “one astonishing omission. The examples include the use of ‘symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel),’ but only when employed ‘to characterise Israel or Israelis.’ But the accusation that it was the Jews who killed Jesus is in fact the oldest anti-Semitic trope, has nothing whatever to do with Israel or Israelis, and was repudiated long ago by the Second Vatican Council. The Working Definition simply brushes this aside.”

As an influential figure who is highly regarded within Jewish communities around the world, Geoffrey Alderman has written extensively on the history and politics of British Jewry and is the author of The Jewish Community in British Politics, but is not a member of any political party himself. That is why his views will no doubt be welcomed by Corbyn supporters, while almost certainly angering his critics, not least Alastair Campbell and Lord Peter Mandelson.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.