Guardian endorses Corbyn’s dissent over Labour antisemitism definition adoption

Corbyn and his supporters - including those on the Guardian editorial board - wish to remain free to assert, in some form or another, that "Zionism is racism" and that "Israel has no right to exist" with moral impunity - a fact which explains why the overwhelming majority of British Jews will continue to see the current Labour Party (as well as the pages of the Guardian) as a "hostile environment" antithetical to their values.  

Don’t be fooled by a Guardian editorial (The Guardian view on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour: it must be an anti-racist party, Sept. 5) on the Labour Party’s grudging adoption of the full IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.  It is not an endorsement of the IHRA Working Definition.  It is a defense of Jeremy Corbyn’s proposed amendment, which was rejected by the party’s National Executive Committee, that we’ll quote later in this post.

However, the Guardian editorial inserts language which would seem at first glance sympathetic to the concerns of the British Jewish community, as it acknowledges that “British Jews’ trust in [Corbyn’s] Labour party is at a historic low”, affirms that “the fear and anxiety felt by many British Jews is not to be belittled”, that “Labour must be a reliable ally in fighting prejudice and Mr Corbyn’s party ought to be a protective, not hostile, environment”.

It also argues that, in “appearing reluctant to accept the full IHRA text…Corbyn confirmed to some British Jews that he did not have their welfare at heart”, and that he “ought to reflect on this and seek ways to reach out, with humility, to the British Jewish community.”

The editorial also instructs Labour members that the “defence of anti-Zionism cannot be invoked when using antisemitic tropes”, that “Corbyn must stop supporters turning a denial of antisemitism into a kind of leftwing principle, and warns against the “kneejerk and wrong response by sections of the left to see a factional attack behind every claim of antisemitism”.

However, at the end of the day, these sentiments – commendable in and of themselves – represent mere window dressing, a kind of moral throat clearing to provide credibility for what ultimately is a defense of Corbyn’s reluctance to accept the full definition, and a promotion of his supporters’ talking points.

First, the Guardian downplays antisemitism in the party by maintaining that “the Labour party is not antisemitic, but there are pockets of Jew-hatred within it”, parroting the words of Corbyn himself back in March, when he issued a statement claiming that the party must “recognise that anti-Semitism has occurred in pockets within the Labour Party…”. 

The editorial then attacks the working definition using the specious argument that some eastern European countries that have adopted the IHRA definition are allegedly engaged in “outright glorification of Nazi collaborators and Holocaust distortion if not denial”, strangely suggesting that the hypocrisy of a few IHRA member governments somehow undermines the antisemitism definition itself.   

The Guardian then warns that the full definition could stifle free speech, misleadingly citing an upcoming “London council debate whether or not to ban supporters of the [BDS] movement from using its facilities, because BDS allegedly fits the IHRA definition of antisemitism”.  However, as the source embedded in the sentence makes clear, objections are based on concerns that BDS related activities invariably include the rejection of Israel’s right to exist, promote comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany and employ other tropes defined as antisemitic by the IHRA. 

The IHRA definition does NOT include a word about BDS.

The Guardian editorial ends by repeating the talking points of Corbyn activists, who have been trying to obfuscate the issue of racism directed against British Jews by pivoting to the topic of Palestinian rights.

The Labour leader is staunchly pro-Palestinian. The Palestinian narrative of dispossession and expulsion could be stifled, if not outlawed, by interpretations of the IHRA. Punishing political speech would stir more discord. If Jews have a right to define what oppresses them then Palestinians should also have the same right. Standing up for the Palestinian cause does not make one an antisemite and it is crucial that a space for Palestinians to talk about their experience of loss is maintained.

First the assertion that “standing up for the Palestinian cause does not make one an antisemite”, which curiously mirrors the headline of a recent Guardian op-ed by Ahmad Samih Khalidi (“Siding with the Palestinian struggle is not antisemitic”, Aug. 28), is a classic straw man.  Though there is a proven correlation between extreme anti-Israel sentiment and antisemitism, nobody of significance has ever alleged that merely advocating for the Palestinians makes someone antisemitic. 

Further, the Guardian claim that the IHRA definition could stifle or “outlaw” the “Palestinian narrative of dispossession and expulsion”, which echos arguments in another recent Guardian op-ed (by a senior editor at the ultra-Corbynista site Novara Media), is patently false.  The IHRA definition does not define as antisemitic rhetoric detailing Palestinian suffering, dispossession and ‘expulsion’.  The only Palestinian ‘narrative’ at odds with the IHRA definition is that which concludes that Israel is, by nature, a racist endeavor, and that it therefore has no right to exist – within any borders – and shouldn’t exist.  

Here’s the relevant IHRA example:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

This brings us back to the relevant quote from Corbyn’s dissent, which the Guardian editorial is essentially endorsing:

“It [should not] be regarded as antisemitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

Corbyn’s wish to retain the right to claim Israel’s very “foundation” – that is, 1948, not 1967 – is racist, skirts extremely close to the accusation that the Zionist “endeavor” is inherently racist, and his desire to advocate for “another settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” is a euphemism for a “one-state”, non-Zionist, “solution”. 

In other words, Corbyn and his supporters – including those on the Guardian editorial board – wish to remain free to assert that “Zionism is racism” and that “Israel has no right to exist” with moral impunity – a fact which explains why the overwhelming majority of British Jews will continue to see the Corbyn-led Labour Party (as well as the pages of the Guardian) as a “hostile environment” antithetical to their values.  


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