Jeremy Corbyn speaking at Chatham House. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Jeremy Corbyn speaking at Chatham House. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Nothing will appease those who are determined to defeat Corbyn and diminish support for the Palestinians, argues Alex Snowdon

Labour’s national executive committee is set to discuss, and vote on, its own proposed antisemitism code on Tuesday. Following a remarkably virulent and sustained campaign since mid-July, it is widely expected that the NEC will reject its own proposal. It will instead adopt the controversial IHRA version including all its examples (a number of which conflate legitimate points about Israel with antisemitism).

It is being suggested, however, that advocates for justice for Palestine have little to fear because of a proposed ‘exemptions for past misdemeanours’ modification. While it looks very likely that the IHRA code will be accepted in full, it will be with a caveat saying that past transgressions will be exempt from disciplinary procedures.

This is deeply unconvincing. It must be the ultimate illusory concession and offers no reassurance. If Labour has reached the stage where a promise that the elected party leader will not be expelled because of things he said years ago is regarded as a meaningful compromise, or partial victory, then something has gone terribly wrong.

The caveat still implies that such comments as, for example, challenging the founding of Israel as an example of ethnic cleansing are wrong. It’s just that you will be safe from the threat of expulsion if you said it previously (but don’t say it any more). Advocating boycotts of Israel in the past will not get you kicked out, but don’t do it again or you could be in breach of the prohibition against singling out Israel.

That is all the compromise amounts to. It is still a grotesque curtailing of free speech and silencing of Palestinian voices and experiences. It represents a severe limiting of the space for honestly discussing Palestine, its history and the lessons we can take from that history.

It will still frighten many Labour members, including elected representatives such as MPs, from speaking out on Palestine. In such circumstances knowing that you won’t be expelled because of something you said years ago will prove little consolation.

This whole nasty smear campaign has always been partly about using disciplinary action against supporters of Palestine, but much more about political demonisation and shifting the terms of debate. It’s an effort to roll back growing support for Palestine and BDS, as well as a general assault on the left.

The latest series of attacks began several weeks ago, but antisemitism has been periodically weaponised against Corbyn and the Labour left since 2016. This round of attacks has marked a shift from suggesting Corbyn is too tolerant of antisemitism to alleging he is personally antisemitic. As it has unfolded, the attacks on Palestine solidarity have become more explicit, with stories concerning Palestine being foregrounded more and more.

Consequently, there is no basis for thinking that the whole debate can be ‘put to bed’ by a vote of the NEC. Nothing will appease those who are determined to both defeat Corbyn and push back against the growing tide of support for the Palestinians. Our response has to be uncompromising on the specific question of the NEC code and determined in redoubling our efforts to support justice for Palestine.  

Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.​ He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).