Campaign Against Antisemitism tries to keep track of what each political party defines as antisemitism. Whilst most mainstream parties now use the International Definition of Antisemitism, the Labour Party’s stance has become increasing convoluted.
Following the Government’s lead, in December 2016, the Labour Party stated that it had adopted the International Definition of Antisemitism. A number of reports suggest that it was accepted in full by Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC). For example, NEC member Alice Perry wrote in a report for LabourList in December 2016 that the NEC adopted the definition, and a leaked letter signed by the Labour Party’s former General Secretary corroborates her report. However, at a meeting between Jeremy Corbyn, Jennie Formby and the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council on 24th April 2018, it was reported that Mr Corbyn and Ms Formby refused to state that the Labour Party continued to accept the whole of the definition, suggesting that they no longer consider themselves bound by the ‘examples’ which serve to illustrate the definition’s intended meaning. However, the Labour Party has not since clarified its position.
The situation was muddied further when Mr Corbyn wrote to the two Jewish charities on 26th March stating: “Comparing Israel or the actions of Israeli governments to the Nazis, attributing criticisms of Israel to Jewish characteristics or to Jewish people in general and using abusive phraseology about supporters of Israel such as ‘Zio’ all constitute aspects of contemporary antisemitism. And Jewish people must not be held responsible or accountable for the actions of the Israeli government.” Some of the language appears to be drawn straight from the examples within the definition that Mr Corbyn had refused to stand by.
Then, on 24th April, in an article published in the Evening Standard, Mr Corbyn wrote: “Labour staff have seen examples of Holocaust denial, crude stereotypes of Jewish bankers, conspiracy theories blaming 9/11 on Israel, and even one member who appeared to believe that Hitler had been misunderstood…So let me be clear. People holding those views have no place in the Labour Party.” He also stated that “…when criticism of or opposition to the Israeli government uses antisemitic ideas – attributing its injustices to Jewish identity, demanding that Jews in Britain or elsewhere answer for its conduct, or comparing Israel to the Nazis – then a line must be drawn.” He also recognised that “…there are people who have come to see capitalism and imperialism as the product of conspiracy by a small shadowy elite rather than a political, economic, legal and social system. That is only a step from hoary myths about ‘Jewish bankers’ and ‘sinister global forces’.” Finally, he called out Labour Party members (including himself) who have dismissed Jewish concerns as smears, stating: “When members of Jewish communities express genuine anxieties we must recognise them as we would those of any other community. Their concerns are not ‘smears’.” Again, much of what he wrote is a regurgitation of the examples within the definition that he had refused to stand by.
Meanwhile, Momentum, headed by NEC member Jon Lansman, supports Mr Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and requires in its constitution that its members must also be Labour Party members. On 2nd April, it issued a statement that: “accusations of antisemitism should not and cannot be dismissed simply as right-wing smears nor as the result of conspiracies.” However Mr Lansman has done just that, accusing Campaign Against Antisemitism of orchestrating a conspiracy to overstate the problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party.
It should not be so hard to know what the Labour Party and Momentum consider to be antisemitism. They should be clear on whether they adopt the whole of the International Definition of Antisemitism, and if they do not, they should explain that too.