UK Labour expected to adopt international anti-Semitism definition, with caveat

Amid sharp criticism of leader Jeremy Corbyn, main opposition party may clarify that criticism of Israeli policies is a matter of free speech

Illustrative: Jeremy Corbyn meets with asylum seekers in Glasgow, Scotland, August 22, 2018. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images via JTA)
Illustrative: Jeremy Corbyn meets with asylum seekers in Glasgow, Scotland, August 22, 2018. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images via JTA)

The ruling body of the UK Labour Party is expected on Tuesday to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, but could also include a clarification that the discussion of Israeli policies is protected by the right to free speech.

The governing body of the British party, the National Executive Committee (NEC), will debate anti-Semitism, hours after the reelection to the committee of activist Peter Willsman, who has claimed Jewish “Trump fanatics” were behind some of the allegations of anti-Semitism within the party.

The opposition party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has come under prolonged attack for allegedly allowing anti-Semitism to spread in the left-wing party, for his own alleged anti-Semitism, and for refusing to adopt fully the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in Labour’s new code of conduct.

Some in the the Labour leadership have argued that the definition of anti-Semitism, signed by 31 countries and used by many British institutions, untenably includes legitimate criticism of Israel. In fact, the IHRA definition does not do preclude legitimate criticism of Israel, but rather cites, as one of its examples of anti-Semitism: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.:

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism in the Labour party, outside the British Houses of Parliament in central London on March 26, 2018. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)

This and three other clauses rejected by the party relate to unfair singling out of Israel or questioning the loyalty of Jews who support Israel.

The guidelines could be used by the party to decide the huge backlog of up to 300 complaints against party members who have been accused of anti-Semitism, although it is possible that the party will take a “year zero” approach to ensure that no disciplinary action could be taken against those accused of breaching IHRA examples in the past.

The party is also said to be weighing caveats to the definition of anti-Jewish hatred, including a possible loophole allowing for unchecked criticism of Israel.

On Sunday, MP Margaret Hodge, who had faced party disciplinary action after clashing with Corbyn over his handling of anti-Semitism, warned that even if the party’s ruling National Executive Committee embraces the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, it would not be enough to repair the damage and Corbyn must step down.

“It might have been enough three months ago, it might have just enabled us all to start talking to each other and bring trust again, but I think that moment has passed,” she said.

Jewish groups and leaders have also criticized the party for its failure to deal with allegations of anti-Semitism, with former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks claiming Sunday the majority of Jews are questioning whether Britain is a safe place to bring up their children.

The peer, who is not affiliated with any party, insisted the Labour leader must “recant and repent” and that he risked engulfing the country “in the flames of hatred.”

Sacks has also called Corbyn a dangerous anti-Semite. Labour dismissed that claim as absurd and offensive.

Veteran Labour lawmaker Frank Field, who has sat in the House of Commons for almost 40 years, quit the party’s group in parliament Thursday, citing the mounting anti-Semitism allegations.

In a letter to the party, he said that Corbyn’s leadership was overseeing an “erosion of our core values.”

Labour MP John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, speaks ahead of the Grenfell fire one-year anniversary solidarity march organized by Justice4Grenfell and the Fire Brigade’s Union, in Westminster in London, June 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

However, shadow chancellor John McDonnell defended the Labour leader Sunday, telling the BBC that critics had “got it wrong.”

“Jeremy has made it absolutely clear we will protect Jewish members of our party from any form of abuse and anti-Semitism,” he said.

McDonnell predicted all sides would be “satisfied” with the proposals agreed Tuesday.

“It will be resolved, and there will be a balance about acceptance,” he said.

Last month comments made by Corbyn in a 2013 speech at the Palestinian Return Centre in London were revealed, where he said of a group of British “Zionists”: “They clearly have two problems. One is they don’t want to study history and, secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either.”

Corbyn claimed that he had used the word Zionist “in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people.”

The party leader is now subject to an official complaint “for antisemitism and for bringing the party into disrepute,” lodged by the campaign group Labour Against Antisemitism, over his 2013 comments.

Two weeks ago, footage surfaced of Corbyn accusing Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians during a 2014 rally, as a Hamas flag waved behind him. Corbyn called the terror group “friends” prior to his election as Labour leader two years ago, a statement he has since walked back.

One of the photos published recently showed Corbyn hosting a panel featuring senior Hamas officials in 2012, including members convicted of murdering Israelis in terror attacks.

Earlier in August, the Daily Mail published photos of Corbyn holding a wreath during a 2014 ceremony at a Tunisian cemetery in which he appeared to be standing near the graves of Palestinian terrorists involved in the slaying of 11 Israeli athletes and team members at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Jeremy Corbyn (second from left) holding a wreath during a visit to the Martyrs of Palestine, in Tunisia, in October 2014. (Facebook page of the Palestinian embassy in Tunisia)

The photos appeared to show Corbyn in front of a plaque honoring members of the Black September terrorist organization, 15 yards (approximately 13 meters) away from the graves of those killed in a 1985 airstrike. The photos of Corbyn at the cemetery were condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Allegations of anti-Jewish prejudice within Labour have grown since Corbyn was elected leader in 2015. Some in the party allege that Corbyn, a longtime critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, has allowed anti-Semitic abuse to go unchecked.

The issue has split the party, with some Corbyn supporters accusing opponents and right-wing media outlets of misrepresenting the leader’s views.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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