Defend Corbyn Rally, Parliament Square, June 2016. Photo: Jim Aindow Defend Corbyn Rally, Parliament Square, June 2016. Photo: Jim Aindow

Apologies and appeasement won’t stop the witch-hunt against Corbyn

The Labour Party is under enormous pressure to adopt restrictions on free speech in a revised code of conduct known as Code+.

Code+ will incorporate further examples of antisemitism from a discredited definition known as the IHRA. Some of the examples dangerously suggest that criticism of the State of Israel is a form of antisemitism.

The problem has been highlighted by legal experts including Geoffrey Robertson QC, who said the IHRA definition and examples were “not fit for purpose”. The lead author of the IHRA, Kenneth Stern, has also distanced himself from the definition, reporting it has been used to shut down political events in support of Palestine.

If adopted, Code+ could endanger our movement’s ability to condemn the atrocities carried out by the Israeli state, to speak out for Palestinians, and may also lead to further expulsions of members of the Labour Party.

Another thing is clear: adopting Code+ will not stop the witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn and our movement. It will invite a fresh round of attacks.

The experience of the last three years has shown that a strategy of apologies and appeasement does not work. Those leading the attacks are not seeking to find the best way to deal with antisemitism in good faith — a demand that would be met with universal approval in the Labour Party — they are agitating for a crisis to push back the advances made by the Palestine solidarity movements and to get rid of Corbyn himself.

Breaking with the existing code of conduct — which already tackles antisemitism and defends free speech — will be presented as further evidence that the Labour leadership got it wrong. They will say the code was so bad that Corbyn had to dispense with it, and the new one fails because it contains major caveats on antisemitism.

Margaret Hodge, who called Corbyn a “fucking racist and antisemite”, couldn’t have made this more clear in the Sunday Times where she was reported saying:

all [the leadership] can think about is their internal Labour party and their hatred of Jews […] Jeremy has allowed antisemitism and racism to run rife. He needs to renounce much of what he did.

The Guardian reports Hodge saying to a meeting on Sunday that the row won’t end until Corbyn is gone.

So Code+ will come under attack and the wider offensive on Corbyn will be ramped up. Hodge’s comment that Corbyn has to “renounce much of what he did” and her call for him to go, makes clear that this is really about Palestine.

We should remember a couple of historical instances of similar but smaller scale attacks. President Obama faced charges of antisemitism from Republicans for his extremely mild overtures to Palestinian justice, and Ed Miliband, the first Jewish Labour leader, faced condemnation for suggesting Britain should recognise the Palestinian state.

Anyone who stands up for Palestine faces these charges.

Perhaps those on the Left who are campaigning for Code+ also realise it won’t put the attacks to bed. Perhaps they think that while nothing can placate the most vociferous critics, Code+ will say to the Jewish community as a whole that we are listening and this is reflected by our actions.

There are two things to say about this. The Jewish community, as any other, has a massive range of political beliefs and opinions. You could be led to thinking otherwise by a mainstream media which limits acceptable Jewish opinion to right-wing views. Few left-leaning Jews have been interviewed about the “crisis” because many Jews don’t believe there is a crisis.

We shouldn’t reflect the media’s approach. Labour, as an anti-racist party, shouldn’t assume the whole community agrees with Jonathan Sacks, who this week disgracefully compared Corbyn to Enoch Powell. What are left-leaning Jewish organisations saying about this or the Jewish activists who campaign for Palestine? Many are campaigning to protect the existing code, fearful of the consequences of incorporating the full IHRA. Is it right to ignore them?

Second, no doubt there are members of the public — including members of the Jewish community — who think there must be some truth to the claims of a crisis in the Labour Party. But what feeds this perception? It’s not the NEC’s code of conduct, which is a sincere attempt to tackle antisemitism as well as defend free speech. It’s the witch-hunt itself — the daily attacks in the media and right-wing politicians who relish any opportunity to attack Corbyn.

It’s the witch-hunt that needs to be confronted.

Our movement needs to get back on the front foot by talking about what we believe in. We need to defend Corbyn, who for decades has been a leading anti-racist campaigner. We need to explain what this witch-hunt is about: it’s about Palestine and destroying the prospects of a Corbyn government that would break the status quo on this issue.

If we avoid confronting the truth of what’s going on, if we continue to make concessions in the face of the attacks, we are creating a space for more serious dangers ahead. The concessions also demoralise the movement whose strength is vital to getting Corbyn into Number 10.

So we call on the NEC to stand by the code of conduct and defend it when it’s under attack. Only when this matter is confronted politically, in a principled and sustained manner, can this matter be dealt with.

  • The NEC will make a decision on Tuesday 4th September. Please encourage every Labour Party member you know to write to them using our lobby tool. Over 3,300 have written in already. It takes just 30 seconds.
  • Please also join the protest from 9am on Tuesday called by Jewish Voice for Labour and Camden Momentum. It will take place outside Labour HQ, 105 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QT where the NEC meeting will take place.
  • Take part in the Twitterstorm at 7pm on Monday 3 September using the hashtag #BackNECcode