Senior Labour insiders have confirmed that the protections of the existing Code of Conduct still apply and govern the application of the additional IHRA examples that were adopted yesterday by the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).
With regard to free speech on the subjects of Israel and Palestine, the key paragraphs from the Code are below – and note that the provisions of the European Court of Human Rights are specifically acknowledged:
7. An area of particular difficulty, and the subject of much academic and legal debate around the IHRA definition, is the relationship between antisemitism and criticism of the State of Israel in the context of the long-running and complex dispute about political relations in the region.
This is a dispute about which people have widely diverging and deeply held opinions, which can be closely bound with questions of personal identity. The expression of opinions on this topic can easily offend or upset people holding an opposite opinion. The European Court of Human Rights has long recognised that the principle of freedom of expression protects views which “offend, shock or disturb” society or a section of it. But the Court has also emphasised that the principle does not protect the expression of racist views or “hate speech”. Nor, as Chakrabarti made clear, should the party tolerate the expression of views in a manner simply
intended to upset or offend. A “civility of discourse” is essential. In general terms, the expression of even contentious views in this area will not be treated as antisemitism unless accompanied by specific antisemitic content (such as the use of antisemitic tropes) or by other evidence of antisemitic intent. In short, the Party will encourage considered and respectful debate on these difficult topics, but will not tolerate name-calling and abuse.
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.
13. In contrast, discussion of the circumstances of the foundation of the Israeli State (for example, in the context of its impact on the Palestinian people) forms a legitimate part of modern political discourse. So does discussion of – including critical comment on – differential impact of Israeli laws or policies on different people within its population or that of neighbouring territories. It is not racist to assess the conduct of Israel – or indeed of any other particular State or government – against the requirements of international law or the standards of behaviour expected of democratic States (bearing in mind that these requirements and standards may themselves be contentious).
14. However, care must be taken when dealing with these topics. The fact of Israel’s description as a Jewish State does not make it permissible to hold Jewish people or institutions in general responsible for alleged misconduct on the part of that State (see paragraph 9.g.). In addition, it is wrong to apply double standards by requiring more vociferous condemnation of such actions from Jewish people or organisations than from others – a form of racist treatment also all too common in other contexts, eg. holding Muslims or Muslim organisations to a higher standard than others as regards condemnation of illegal or violent acts by self-defining “Islamic” organisations or States (such as Saudi Arabia or Pakistan). It is also wrong to accuse Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
15. The term “Zionism” is intimately bound up in the history of Israel’s foundation as a State and in its role in international relations more generally. It is inevitable that the expressions “Zionism” and “Zionist” will feature in political discourse about these topics. The meaning of these expressions is itself debated. It is not antisemitism to refer to “Zionism” and “Zionists” as part of a considered discussion about the Israeli State. However, as the ChakrabartiReport
advised, it is not permissible to use “Zionist” (and still less any pejorative abbreviation such as ‘zio’ which the Chakrabarti report said should have no place in Labour Party discourse) as a code word for “Jew”. Chakrabarti recommended that Labour Party members should only use “the term `Zionist’ advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse”. Such language may otherwise provide evidence of antisemitic intent.
16. Discourse about international politics often employs metaphors drawn from examples of historic misconduct. It is not antisemitism to criticise the conduct or policies of the Israeli state by reference to such examples unless there is evidence of antisemitic intent. Chakrabarti recommended that Labour members should resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine in particular. In this sensitive area, such language carries a strong risk of being regarded as prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Party within Clause 2.I.8.
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