Unison general secretary Dave Prentis has appeared in the New Statesman today calling for Labour to occupy the ‘high moral ground’ by adopting the full IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) ‘working definition’ of antisemitism – including all of its much-criticised ‘examples’:
Prentis name-checks Barnet in his article, claiming that when he campaigned in the borough, which has a large Jewish population, he saw the issue costing Labour votes.
The Code of Conduct, the IHRA and the problem
Labour’s new Code of Conduct incorporates the entire IHRA definition, but clarifies a handful of examples to make them legally usable and functional as a guide to acceptable behaviour.
Unison is one of the most highly-represented unions on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and its votes could be decisive in any attempt to change the Code of Conduct.
But Prentis just created a huge problem for himself and his union – as well as perfectly highlighting why Labour’s Code is in fact a far better, clearer and more usable document.
Barnet and BDS
Barnet council, which adopted the IHRA and examples in January, recently passed a draconian motion that specifically references the IHRA definitions to support it. The motion ignores – as is common when referring to the IHRA examples – the IHRA document’s introduction to the examples, which states:
Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life… could, taking into account the overall context, include…
The IHRA document itself says that it’s possible to say or do the things listed, depending on context – but Barnet disregarded that simple concept and treats the examples as absolute.
The motion condemns the pro-Palestinian ‘BDS’ (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement as explicitly antisemitic in and of itself – and labels anyone who supports it as antisemites:
It’s safe to say that Barnet council considers the BDS movement and its supporters antisemitic – and beyond question that they use the IHRA examples to justify their conclusion.
Barnet’s Labour councillors supported the motion. It has been passed to the Policy and Resources Committee for a final decision on its legal enforceability before implementation.
Unison and BDS
Dave Prentis explicitly name-checks Barnet in his article – but he has painted himself into a corner.
At its 2015 annual conference, Unison passed a motion to ‘step up’ its contributions to the BDS campaign.
In February 2016, Unison held its annual conference in Brighton. On 29 Feb, it debated – and carried – a motion titled:
Don’t Silence the Occupation of Palestine
That motion was explicit in its support for BDS, including calling on the union’s executive to implement the previous year’s decision:
In June 2017, Unison’s conference again passed a motion of support for Palestine, this time titled, “Palestine: 50 Years of Occupation“. The motion was explicit and emphatic regarding BDS:
Conference reaffirms its support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), including a UN arms embargo on Israel and a ban on settlement goods as practical ways of persuading Israel to implement the relevant UN resolutions and end the occupation and the repression of the Palestinian people.
There is absolutely no doubt whatever that the official position of Unison is one hundred percent in support of the BDS movement.
According to Barnet council – specifically name-checked by Dave Prentis – and its application of the IHRA, that makes Unison absolutely antisemitic, as well as ‘persona non grata’ in terms of renting facilities or receiving support from the council.
Local union officials have asked Unison for guidance on how to respond to the likely attacks on their contracts and resources if the policy is implemented, so the union is aware of the issue. No response has been received.
By writing his article for the New Statesman, Dave Prentis not only labelled his own union and its policies decided by its members as antisemitic – he also provided an object lesson on the way the IHRA examples are abused.
A lesson that shows it cannot and must not be adopted ‘as is’ by the Labour Party – and that reinforces the ‘gold standard’ status of the Labour Code of Conduct – showing that Jennie Formby, In-House Counsel Gordon Nardell and Labour’s NEC all made absolutely the correct decision.
A lesson that writes a huge question mark next to the behaviour and motives of those who continue to attack it.
The SKWAWKBOX has discussed these issues with Unison’s press office. No response has yet been received.
The SKWAWKBOX needs your support. This blog is provided free of charge but depends on the generosity of its readers to be viable. If you can afford to, please click here to arrange a one-off or modest monthly donation via PayPal. Thanks for your solidarity so this blog can keep bringing you information the Establishment would prefer you not to know about.
If you wish to reblog this post for non-commercial use, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.