13:57, August 07 33 0 theguardian.com

2018-08-07 13:57:04
Labour’s antisemitism code

I think I understand the reasoning behind the Labour NEC’s view that if some International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance examples were in a disciplinary code it might rule out any critique of Israeli government policies. Eminent jurist Stephen Sedley and Dr Brian Klug have made this point clear. But with hindsight, it may not have been the best idea to rewrite some of the examples.

Instead, perhaps the way forward is to adopt the advice of the cross-party home affairs committee which, in its 2016 report on antisemitism in the UK, wrote: “We broadly accept the IHRA definition, but propose two additional clarifications to ensure that freedom of speech is maintained in the context of discourse about Israel and Palestine, without allowing antisemitism to permeate any debate. The definition should include the following statements:

“It is not antisemitic to criticise the government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.

“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.”

They recommended that the IHRA definition with the caveats should be formally adopted by the government, agencies and all political parties. If Labour did so it could then demand that other political parties follow suit.

Barry Edwards

London

Contrary to assurances from Jeremy Havardi (Letters, 6 August) freedom of speech on Israel and the Palestinians has already been blocked on a number of occasions using the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism, according to the definition’s author in his Written Testimony of Kenneth S Stern for the US House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, written last November.

Stern, a former director on antisemitism, hate studies and extremism for the American Jewish Committee, explains that the definition of antisemitism was written as an aid to collecting statistics on the incidence of antisemitism, and that it was never intended to be used to make judgments on accusations.

He says: “My fear is that if we enshrine this definition into law, outside groups will try and suppress – rather than answer – political speech they don’t like.” And he reports incidents in which the adoption of the definition in the UK and applying it to university campuses has already led to the curtailing of free speech, and to what he calls “chilling and McCarthy-like” investigation.

Elizabeth York

Northampton When the IHRA’s Chair, Mihnea Constantinescu, announced the IHRA’s Working Definition of Antisemitism in May 2016, he explained its purpose to inspire others “to take action on a legally binding working definition”. The NEC took just such action to ensure that the IHRA’s Working Definition became a legally binding code of conduct for antisemitism. Those now refusing to seek a resolution through consultation will have ignored the IHRA’s call to take action on a legally binding working definition.

David Thacker

London

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