Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Why Labour’s antisemitism definition is so weak

The foundation of socialism is solidarity. With its decision to devise a weaker definition of antisemitism than is widely accepted, the Labour party appears to have forgotten that for the Jewish community, writes Liron Velleman

I learnt my politics in the student movement, from the Union of Jewish Students and Labour Students. It is often said that student politics are some of the most fractious and deeply divided politics of them all.

However, one principle reigned supreme, the MacPherson principle, that it is up to those who experience an oppression to define it. Jews define antisemitism because Jews face antisemitism. Non-Jews take Jews in good faith when they say that they have been a victim of a hate crime. It is as simple as that. That is the reason the National Union of Students adopted the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia definition of antisemitism, and later on, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition. Jewish students asked them to, so they did.

This week, the Labour party decided that they knew my Jewish identity better than I do. I do not know who wrote the definition that is apparently better than the IHRA definition which is accepted by the Crown Prosecution Service, College of Policing, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, National Union of Students, and 124 local authorities, including scores of Labour-held councils such as Haringey and Greater Manchester. What I do know is that at no point was there sign off from the Jewish Labour Movement, the Jewish affiliate of the Labour party since 1920. The Jewish Leadership Council, Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Community Security Trust were sent the papers after they had been approved, despite them begging for the transparency which is so desperately needed to restore faith between my community and my party.

Antisemitism has plagued the Labour party for close to three years now. It is a complex problem, and some of the solutions will take time. Some of the solutions, however, are easy. The solutions start with listening to the Jewish community, the ones who face antisemitism, and taking it in good faith what they say. When the leadership of the Jewish community tells you to adopt the IHRA definition, you accept what they say. The foundation of socialism is solidarity, but the Labour party appears to have forgotten that for the Jewish community.

The same goes for another paper taken to the National Executive Committee Organisation Sub-Committee. For two years, the Jewish Labour Movement has lead the Labour party’s training session on antisemitism. Two years ago, the Labour party understood that it is Jewish affiliate was the best person to run education and training on antisemitism. Two years on, that is somehow changed.

I have run the training session countless times across the country, I know firsthand the difference it can make when those who are not Jewish sit and listen to the lived experience of antisemitism from Jewish Labour members. JLM has offered countless times to run this for the NEC, National Constitutional Committee and party staff, but this has never happened.

The new paper suggests that the Labour party is the one to run this training nationally, something that directly contradicts the brilliant work the Jewish Labour Movement did with hard working and dedicated party staff under Iain McNicol. For me, it goes to show that McNicol really was not part of a problem, but instead worked hard on working with the Jewish community to find a solution.

When I stood for election as a Labour councillor in the sixth most Jewish ward in the country in May, countless voters, Jewish and non-Jewish, told me they could not vote for us until we sorted our problem with antisemitism. I dread to think what they would say to me today.

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Liron Velleman is the Youth and Students Officer for the Jewish Labour Movement. He tweets at @vellstells

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Photo: Kate Dearden

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Liron Velleman

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