1/ I consider myself to be on the Left. I have almost always voted Labour. I am Jewish. Here's my thoughts on 3 things Jeremy Corbyn needs to do to start to fix this situation with the Jewish community (but I'm afraid it's going to hurt)
2/ First, a mea culpa. Something like: "I often call myself as a life-long anti-racist. This hurts to say but I now accept this view of myself may be wrong. I have a problem. I failed to recognise anti-Semitism on my own doorstep, on my Facebook wall, amongst my colleagues..."
3/ "... I have opened my ears to the victims of anti-Semitism. I realise that if I want to lead the UK, I must try to really understand their concerns, and also reflect on my own actions. To that end.."
4/ Second, announce a listening exercise. Where Jeremy will travel the country and listen to Jewish community groups: synagogues, schools, (yes) Israelis... everyone. Seek at @limmud. Because of the current relationship, he will engage a conflict resolution expert to manage this.
5/ Third, Jeremy will (for the first time!) hold interviews with two main Jewish newspapers (@JewishNewsUK and @JewishChron). He will launch a regular-ish column in both newspapers where he will answer questions from the community. Essential to open these lines of communication
6/ You may think me naive, or things are too far gone. But I believe - fundamentally - that no problem is beyond solving, particularly where both sides contain good people who want things to be better not worse. But it will be difficult - the above is as minimum to succeed. /end
1/ Here we go.
A thread on the Labour Party’s antisemitism definition. I’m not even going to pretend it’s a “short thread”. Sorry.
2/ First, by way of intro. I don’t usually feel the need to say this but I have genuinely tried to look at this dispassionately and try and understand the issue from both ‘sides’. I have been very uneasy with the rhetoric from both sides and this is my attempt to cut through that
3/ I have tried to control for my own biases: I'm Jewish, I am Zionist - defined as believing Jews have a right to national self determination and that can be achieved, in principle, in a liberal democratic state. I am a human rights lawyer and a strong believer in free speech
4/ Nb. I realise that by invoking the “Z” word I have probably sent 50% of Jeremy Corbyn supporters packing. But if you made it to this tweet, I ask that you read further at least in the same spirit of genuine inquiry which I am trying to invoke in this thread.
5/ This is about sides, unfortunately. I am no expert in politics but I have experience of litigation. The dispute between the Jewish community and Labour has all the characteristics of a fiercely fought legal contest. Point scoring. Zero sum (only one side can win). No trust.
6/ I have already said on what should happen - a building of mutual trust through a conflict resolution approach (twitter.com/adamwagner1/st…). None of that has happened and the two ‘sides’ have become embroiled in an entrenched argument over a complicated definition of antisemitism
7/ Also, this dispute highlights another reason why there may be no chance of resolution. The focus on disciplinary (i.e. punitive) measures as a means of ‘solving’ antisemitism in Labour is a non-stater. As it assumes there are some ‘bad eggs’ who can be ‘rooted out’
8/ The reality is that, whilst there is real antisemitism, there is also - around the edges - a fundamental breakdown of trust and communication. That can’t be ‘rooted out’ - it needs to be solved using conflict resolution. The two process conflict with each other.
9/ OK, so on to the definition itself. To prepare for this I have very carefully read the IHRA definition (holocaustremembrance.com/sites/default/…) and the Labour Party’s (LP’s) adaptation (thejc.com/comment/analys…).
10/ And hey - this definition matters. Being labelled a racist is no small matter. It can lead to societal shaming, loss of employment - it’s a big deal and we need to be very careful how institutions define it particularly in the disciplinary context.
11/ So the Labour Party are right - in principle - to be very careful. Or it will come back to bite them in court, one way or the other. They could easily be sued by people who are dragged through a disciplinary process which undermines their free speech. It’s so, so difficult.
12/ The context being a disciplinary procedure in a political environment where people have extremely passionate views about Israel/Palestine - and freedom of speech, which is protected under our human rights laws and is the lifeblood of democracy.
13/ To understand why the LP are uneasy with the IHRA definition, you can start at the Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs report on antisemitism. Their conclusions are not irrational and they raise genuine concerns over the definition. publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cm…
14/ This is the bit the LP have relied on for the changes to the code. Another important part of the Select Committee’s conclusion which hasn’t been focussed on is this, which is vitally important and I’ll come back to it later.
15/ I have read Stephen Sedley’s piece in the LRB. I have huge respect for him. But, respectfully, it reads more like a piece of emotive advocacy than a legal judgment. This bit suggests Israel is some kind of unique historical and moral aberration lrb.co.uk/v39/n09/stephe…
16/ So to the definitions. Here’s my broad point. Having read both documents carefully, with my lawyer’s hat on, my view is that the LP have made a genuine attempt to fit the definition to their specific context. They have also gone about it in exactly the wrong way.
17/ I have read the criticism, for example this by Dave Rich, who I respect and believe is genuinely trying to stand up against antisemitism theguardian.com/commentisfree/…. But I think his criticisms get a bit muddled as to how he original IHRA definition works.
18/ The IHRA definition includes two important rider: First, that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”. That’s so important. Nb the Labour Party definition leaves it out for some reason.
19/ IHRA definition includes illustrative examples below a second important rider: “Contemporary examples of antisemitism … could, taking into account the overall context, include…”. So they “could” be examples, taking into account “context”. They aren’t set in stone *at all*.
21/ Nb Dave Rich, and other commentators, accept these examples are “could” and with “context” but then drift into saying they are clear examples of anti-semitism. They aren’t and that’s not how the IHRA definition works.
22/ So the LP changed the structure significantly. They included a number of examples from the IHRA list but with a different rider, “The following are examples of conduct likely to be regarded as antisemitic”. That’s stronger than “could… taking into account context”.
23/ Here is my version of the Labour list, with:
- the red text being examples taken directly from the IHRA definition (but stronger because of the rider remember),
- the green text they have added and
- the strike out text they have removed.
24/ I don’t think any the examples in the list is objectionable and shouldn’t be controversial. I think that making them “likely” to be antisemitism is useful as it brings more clarity in the disciplinary process and to members trying to decide how to act and not be disciplined.
25/ The 3 examples removed from the list (not directly comparable because of different riders) are, partly, in the text that follows. I have carefully read that text and my instincts are this has been hotly contested internally but that it is a genuine attempt to square circles
26/ The text below is verbose and somewhat Talmudic (ha!) but if I was a disciplinary chair I would find it relatively clear. Some of it comes directly from the Home Affairs committee report.
27/ The controversial bit is that accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their own nations as “wrong”, not antisemitic. It’s weird that this is described as “wrong”. This could have been bad drafting (rather than malevolent) but it needs to change
28/ Anyway, where does this all leave us? First, I’m not convinced - at all - that this definition “exposes a sickness” in the Labour Party. I also no longer agree with @Dannythefink that the changes themselves are indicative of something more sinister.
29/ Second, I think that the LP's focus should be creating two “safe spaces”: for Jews and for passionate debate over Israel/Palestine. I have written in the Jewish press about the need for the latter within the Jewish community too thejc.com/comment/commen…
30/ Third, I don’t see a problem with the IHRA definition - more accurately, I don’t see the IHRA definition creating more problems for free speech, with its careful riders, than the Labour Party’s. Either is bound to be difficult to apply because details, context, politics.
31/ In that regard - and this can’t be emphasised enough - no definition will be perfect but it is useful for a tribunal to have guidance. And, importantly, the definition is only as strong as the tribunal applying it.
32/ Fourth, I can understand why the LP wanted to edit. But they ignored the McPherson principle about listening to the victims of racism. They foisted this different definition on the world and had the chutzpah call it the “Gold Standard” of antisemitism definitions.
33/ That’s not just a ‘process’ point - it goes to the heart of all of this. Remember the point I made a million tweets ago about bitterness of the dispute? The LP needed to have been far more sensitive to the views of the Jewish community. It’s bizarre that they didn’t consult.
34/ They are consulting now. I am worried that now they have gone down this road, they will never be able to reach a definition which satisfies the Jewish community because frankly the LP don’t have the credit or trust to achieve that.
35/ If they are going to use a version of the IHRA def, they should use the original version. It isn’t terrible and isn’t any more risky than the LP version. In the overall context, this would show good faith and may help start building the trust needed for an overall resolution
36/ Thank you for sticking with this - I am sure you will all have valid reasons to disagree with me and I welcome hearing from you. /end