Wednesday 29 August 2018

Kvetchers or gerekhtfartikt protestors ?

This is the third BelperStuff blog concerning antisemitism and the Labour Party (click here for the first one  and if you are up for more click here for the second post in April 2018). A lot has happened in the last 4 months, essentially more of the same, more attacks on the Labour Party fueled by a fount of incidents recorded on social media followed by an insistence that Labour is institutionally antisemitic. Elements of the press are very active in unearthing any hint of antisemitism in the party and it seems a lifetime ago since Ed Milliband's father was attacked by the Daily Mail as a Jewish Marxist who hated Britain. Now, that same newspaper features stories attacking Jeremy Corbyn as an antisemitic with devastating frequency.

It has to be said that some of these reports are disturbing and need to be explained and it would be a welcome move for the party to look seriously at each claim as it emerges. We have a disciplinary process that is being used against those who make racist comments and as a democratic party this should apply to all. It is to be hoped that satisfactory answers will be forthcoming but unless that process is followed then the slur will remain.

Kvetchers or gerekhtfartikt protestors

It is appropriate to use the Yiddish word kvetcher because I read that it has been adopted into the English language. A perfect word to ........... well the Jewish Chronicle puts it best:

Jewish Chronicle definition of the Yiddish word, "kvetch" published in 2009

 ".............. or, he managed to kvetch antisemitic implications from a perfectly harmless statement."

and the gerekhtfartikt element means "justified".

Thinking about the obvious escalation of protest aimed at the Labour Party I am most disquieted by the claim that antisemitism is now institutionalised within its sinews. As of May 2018 there are 552,000 Labour members and we are being accused of complicity in an organisation that finds antisemitism to be acceptable. That makes me feel very uncomfortable but is it true? The following video gives me some hope:

Labour Party video about the IHRA definition of antisemitism

As with all complex issues it is wise to separate out the constituent parts of the problem and deal with each in turn. To that end ......... there seem to be three elements:

  1. Not adopting the IHRA working definition of antisemitism and the resultant NEC Code of Conduct ...... the Labour definition.
  2. The complexities of Zionism and the right of people to self determination.
  3. Statements made by Labour MP's, councillors and other members that are antisemitic.
This would become a very long post if I tackled all three so in this post I'll start with the first one.

Not adopting the IHRA working definition of antisemitism and all that follows

The IHRA definition has been adopted by Labour but not with all of the subsequent examples that complete the package. It has to be said that the IHRA definition has not gained universal approval and there are many Jewish organisations and individuals who have doubts about it. Amongst those who voice their doubts is Moran Mandelbaum of Keele University who states, 

"Drawing on the IHRA definition without the problematic examples, the new code of conduct adopted by the Labour party is a step in the right direction." Why does he write this?

".............. focusing on anti-Semitism in an open society is an odd choice since the fight ought to be against racism in all shapes and forms rather than particular manifestations of hate/racism. Emphasising anti-Semitism might give the impression that there is a hierarchy of hatreds in which hate towards Jews supersedes all others. Are racist and violent acts towards BME in the UK and Europe, more broadly, less important?! There is no doubt room to define anti-Semitism and its uniqueness in historical, sociological and political analyses (see, for example, the work of Professor David Feldman). But defining anti-Semitism for legal purposes as a unique form of hatred is a dangerous path to take and may end up essentialising the figure of the Jew rather than dislodging it."

This brings me to something else that is troubling; the IHRA definition has no legal standing. It is not enshrined in British law as it is only advisory. The adoption of the IHRA definition can only be used within an organisation (such as the Labour Party or even the UK Government) in an advisory capacity. British Law regarding hate and racist crime is already very explicit as is evidenced by the  Police Hate Crime Operational Guidance.pdf  specifically from page 35 to page 38 where antisemitism is addressed: I will defer to those who are legally trained to say if this is adequate but this definition of antisemitism is the law of the land.

The Labour Party Code of Conduct - Antisemitism

I do wonder how many of us have read this: Labour code of conduct - antiseminism

The Guardian lined up a few unfortunates to review Labour's code of conduct  and it makes interesting reading. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner had me thinking when she commented,

Stating, for example, that the right to Jewish self-determination is fundamentally a racist endeavour is not legitimate criticism, but a denial to Jews of the same rights given to all other peoples – which I also want for Palestinians".

Turning to the Labour code of conduct to understand where she was coming from I found this:

12.     Article 1(2) of the 1948 UN Charter refers to respect for the principle of equal rights and self- determination of peoples”.  The Party is clear that the Jewish people have the same right to self-determination as any other people.  To deny that right is to treat the Jewish people unequally and is therefore a form of antisemitism.  That does not, of course, preclude considered debate and discourse about the nature or content of the right of peoples to self- determination.

I ended up having a very pleasant exchange of emails with her but I still cannot see what it is in
the code of conduct that treats Jewish people differently or makes any claim that this is a racist
endeavour. Am I missing something here. One thing I did gain from contacting her was a link to 
an interesting organisation - Reform Judaism. Following that link takes you to a page reporting on
an article by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain in the Independent British Jews, please do not abandon 

In conclusion

We could have avoided all of this if we had just followed the example of the Tories .......... just say that you are adopting the IHRA definition (Teresa May in 2016) then produce a rule book that makes no mention of it nor once mention the word"antisemitism". .

I urge you to explore theories being put forward as to why the IHRA definition is being promoted, most noticeably by alternative Jewish news sources but first read this: Poland - Israel accord on holocaust law. Read that article and then imagine that it is Corbyn and not Netanyahu who has entered into an agreement that many have dubbed holocaust denial. 

Labour's code of conduct on antisemitism was drawn up under the direction of NEC member Jennie Fornby. An appreciation of this work can be found here: An article by Brian Klug on the Open Democracy UK website. I liked this quote:

"Ironically, it is the drafters of the Labour party’s NEC Code, not their critics, who have grasped the meaning of ‘working definition".

This post has been written a few hours after the ex chief Rabbi stated in an interview:

“The recently disclosed remarks by Jeremy Corbyn are the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘rivers of blood’ speech.” 

We should give him time to reconsider that remark .......... perhaps after he has had a chance to read Peter Walker's response in the Guardian

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