The Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has decided to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) definition of antisemitism in full.
This is a step forward for Labour but only after weeks of indecision, confusion and lack of leadership in a row which may have caused a great deal of damage.
In adopting the IHRA definition, the NEC added a qualifying statement stressing that freedom of speech should be allowed in relation to criticism of the Israeli government. But the IHRA should not be an impediment to free speech unless it is used cynically or bureaucratically. It is therefore unclear what purpose this statement serves.
Some of the left also said the row was entirely generated by Labour’s right-wing, the media, and the conservative leadership of the Jewish community. But antisemitism on the left and in Labour is real! It is rooted in the left’s hostility to the very existence of Israel.
Labour Party leaders will now try to draw a line under the row but that is unlikely to happen as long as hardcore anti-Zionist leftists interpret the IHRA as limiting free speech and will be tempted to intentionally and pointedly try to defy the IHRA.
Criticism of Israel, even severe or even unreasonable criticism of Israel, should of course be tolerated. If people are gross and persistently antisemitic in their depiction of Jews then disciplinary action may be appropriate, but the basic approach in the labour movement should be to debate ideas.
It is bad that damage has been done to Labour but a big part of the fault lies with those on the left who cannot see that hostility to Israel’s very existence is antisemitic.
“Smash Israel” is antisemitic because it disregards the right of Hebrew-speaking Jewish people in Israel to a right to self-determination, and because it delegitimises the affinity most Jews feel for Israel.