IHRA: Defy the witch-hunters’ charter

18 September 2018

By Dave Stockton

THIS SUMMER no one could ignore the remorseless campaign smearing Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership as “institutionally antisemitic”. They will also be aware of the vigorous rebuttals mounted in the press, in the party branches, and online by the comrades from Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL).

JVL has performed an invaluable service to the left in general. This task was made even more urgent because Momentum, the only national movement claiming to represent the hundreds of thousands of members who joined since 2015, was silent faced with this onslaught. Jon Lansman, nevertheless made time to attend the Jewish Labour Movement conference and make such a weak and dispirited “defence,” that can only provoke the conclusion: with friends like these, who needs enemies?

Predictably, he stabbed Corbyn in the back at the NEC so that the IHRA went through unamended and Corbyn had to withdraw an addendum which would have allowed criticism of the way that Israel was created, because members of the NEC left made it clear they would not vote for it. The IHRA definition and all its examples will likely prove a witch hunters’ charter against supporters of the Palestinians.

Accepting defeat?

Up to the NEC meeting, and at the lively picket outside it, JVL comrades continued to oppose the adoption of the IHRA examples. But since the NEC decision, with Conference approaching, they have taken an unwise and unnecessary step backward, using the argument that we must not distract from the main task of a successful conference and preparing for a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn. In a statement they say:

“We must not be diverted from these goals. This means resisting the temptation to turn on the party leadership for its handling of the antisemitism row. Nothing would please the sensation-seeking media more than a conference dominated by this issue.”

In fact, either at conference or in the weeks following it, the right wing MPs and the chorus of anti-Labour opportunists and Zionists will continue to demand the expulsion of thousands of members from the party, to “prove it is serious” about the IHRA examples it has adopted.

The JVL statement suggests that it is necessary to at least pause the fightback against the fake antisemitism-mongers because the right wing;

“want to lure the party into yet another destructive battle about the IHRA – a battle the left will lose amid lurid media stories demonising the Palestinians, smearing those who support them and taking down as many key Corbyn allies as they can in the process. We must not let this happen.”


Some JVL comrades seem to believe the NEC’s promise of further consultations before it is finally signed off, or a free speech addendum, will render it harmless. Frankly this is delusional.

Where retreat leads can be seen in how far John McDonnell has travelled. He let it be known earlier in the summer that he was in favour of adopting the whole IHRA definition, examples and all, effectively torpedoing Jeremy Corbyn’s resistance. So when Palestinian campaigners defied the IHRA definition with posters in London that said “Israel is a racist endeavour” he went on the BBC’s Daily Politics to condemn them:
“It is against the examples that we set out and linked to the IHRA definitions. It is not at all antisemitic to describe a state as racist. On the Windrush issue, I was describing the British state as being racist. But it is antisemitic if you’re saying ‘having a State of Israel is racist’.”

These weasel words are a dishonest misrepresentation of the issue. Opponents of Israel’s crimes are not criticising some abstract state that does not exist – we are criticising the actually existing Zionist state, it’s practice and origins. It is the duty of socialists to tell the truth no matter how unpopular or electorally inconvenient it may appear at the moment. The way in which the state of Israel was created – driving out 750,000 people in 1948 and another 300,000 in 1967, was and remains a racist endeavour. Its actions today in Gaza, its amendment to its constitution denying non-Jews the right to self determination, prove it remains so.

The argument that pointing this out will “harm Jeremy” or “spoil the conference” will only encourage the right to move in for the kill. Those on the left who believe in free speech and party democracy will need to defy this egregious infringement of their rights. Refusing to challenge the racist basis of the Zionist state will only harm the linked causes of international solidarity in general, Palestinian solidarity in particularly, and with it the forwards march of socialism in the Labour Party and Britain. The IHRA must be rendered impotent as the basis for witch hunting those who tell the truth about Israel and Palestine.

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