Britain’s Labour Party is set to vote on the internationally-recognised definitions of anti-Semitism, following a protracted debate that has dogged the party and sparked criticism of the country’s main opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
The vote on Tuesday by Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) is seen as a bid to resolve a controversy, which Corbyn supporters said was stirred up by his enemies within and outside of the party to discredit the politician, who is a strong advocate of a Palestinian state.
Ahead of the vote, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who served between June 2007 and May 2010, said the issue touched at “the soul of the Labour Party”, and must be dealt with at once.
On Thursday, veteran Labour member Frank Field, who has been in the House of Commons for almost 40 years, announced his resignation in protest of Corbyn’s leadership on the issue.
Corbyn has repeatedly stated that anti-Semitism has no place in the party and the movement.
Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee, reporting from London, said there has been a long-running split in the Labour Party over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with one wing supportive of the Palestinian struggle and another wing supporting Israel.
“But never before has that split come to the surface like this, because never before has there been a Labour Party leader so obviously pro-Palestinian,” he said.
“At a time when the ruling Conservative Party is in a hole over Brexit, Labour is tearing itself apart,” Lee added.
What is the controversy?
The definition of anti-Semitism was set by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which also cited 11 specific examples of racial abuse in public, the media, educational institutions, the workplace and the religious sphere.
“Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.
“However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic,” the alliance said.
In July, Labour endorsed a code of conduct that left out four of the 11 examples listed by the IHRA.
The four points include:
- Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
What is being done to resolve the debate?
The Labour leadership has argued that the definition, signed by 31 countries and used by many British institutions, does not allow for criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
In an August 3 article for The Guardian, Corbyn wrote that anti-Semitism had no place in the party, but added:
“It is unfortunately the case that this particular example, dealing with Israel and racism, has sometimes been used by those wanting to restrict criticism of Israel that is not anti-Semitic”.
Tuesday’s “compromise plan” is expected to seek to safeguard the rights of members who want to criticise Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
However, there are also talks of parliament members walking out if Corbyn does not accept the compromise plan.
Corbyn has acknowledged that in the past, the party was “too slow” to process disciplinary cases over anti-Semitic abuse by party members.
His critics have also questioned Corbyn’s reported hosting of a Holocaust survivor, who compared Israel to Nazism, in 2010. Corbyn has apologised for that incident.
Corbyn is also accused of appearing during a 2014 ceremony in Tunis honouring a perpetrator of the 1972 Munich attack that killed 11 Israeli Olympic team members.
Corbyn defended that incident saying he attended the event as part of a wider event focused on peace.
Paul Sweeney, a Labour member of parliament and Shadow Scotland Office Minister, said he has never personally encountered anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
He said the accusation is being used as a “political weapon” against Corbyn.
Mike Cushman of the Jewish Voice for Labour has said that while the Labour Party is not free of anti-Semites, it is not the main problem confronting the party.
Cushman also said that the main issue is that supporters of Israel “don’t want people in the Labour Party, or anywhere else to talk about Palestinian rights.”
There is also a wing in the Labour Party, who have not reconciled themselves with Corbyn’s leadership, and they want him out, Cushman added.
Al Jazeera’s Lee said suggestions that a veteran anti-racist politician like Corbyn may have a problem in confronting the issue “carries significant electoral risk” for the party.
“Labour remains a party, whose membership love the leader, but whose politicians are deeply divided on him.”