Submission to the Human Rights and Equalities Commission on allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party
Prof Saville Kushner, FAcSS, Professor of Public Evaluation, Edge Hill University
Barry Kushner, Senior Labour Councillor, Cabinet Lead on Children’s Services, Liverpool
The British Labour Party has been referred to the EHRC for an investigation into alleged antisemitism, and that the Party is not compliant with equalities laws and regulations. We respectfully make this submission as a contribution to that investigation.
Between us, the authors of this submission have more than 100 years of active membership of the Jewish community, and many combined years of Labour Party membership. Though not relevant to this submission’s principal argument, we have no direct experience of antisemitism in the Labour Party and we have never been aware of the Party tolerating hatred or animus against Jewish people. To the contrary, we have always seen the Labour Party as a natural institutional refuge from all forms of prejudice and abuse. It would be unsurprising if this Party, like any British institution, had individual members who hold anti-Semitic, sexist, Islamophobic, disability or other prejudices. Such is the complex nature of human organisation, such is the cost of human association.
As keenly interested observers of the issue, we were supportive of the Party taking a considered view of adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Taking a lead from the IHRA definition author, Kenneth Stern, special adviser on antisemitism to the American Jewish Committee, we saw this as a tool for deliberation, guidance and adaptation to context – not as a stipulative instrument (“The definition was intended for data collectors writing reports about anti-Semitism in Europe. It was never supposed to curtail speech –“). We were openly critical of the Party’s leadership of the deliberative process, but we do not confuse lack of finesse with malintent. In any event, we understand that defining antisemitism is, in itself, a complex and controversial matter – see, for example:
- Langmuir, G. I. (1996). Toward a definition of antisemitism. Oakland: University of California Press.
- Marcus, K. L. (2015). The definition of anti-semitism. Oxon: Oxford University Press
Palestinians, of course, are semites.
Critique of Israel/Zionism has only recently fallen under the IHRA definition
Here is the focus of this submission.
Until the passing, in the Israeli Knesset, of the Nation State Law (2018), critique of the State of Israel was discrete from critique of Jewish people or heritage. Israel was, until 2018, notconstitutionally a ‘Jewish state’. Critique of Israel or of Zionism might be felt to be inherently anti-Semitic, but it was not. Just as citizens of democracies enjoy the right to be critical of any other country, so that right extended to critics of Israel – like we, the authors. We know that at least someallegations of antisemitism in Labour relate to hostility to Israeli policy and support for Palestinian people – and the allegations are, thereby, erroneous and confused. There have been times when the current Labour Party leadership has suggested that critique of Israel and Zionism is party policy. This was not antisemitism, just as being critical of Iran is distinct from Islamophobia.
However, the Nation State Act declares that Israel is a Jewish state – it talks of “the Jewish identity of the State”, and it conflates the three key elements which, thus far, had been related, sometimes overlapping, but nonetheless discrete: Israel, Zionism and Jewish ethnicity. The political context has changed. Today, as a result of this Act, to be critical of Israeli policy or of Zionism may be deemed to be anti-Semitic, for Israeli policies are constitutionally enactments of the Jewish people – ie. not of politicians who happen (mostly, not exclusively) to be Jews.
The matter has the utmost seriousness. To reiterate, if we are to conflate antisemitism with critique of Israel or Zionism – ie. if we are to accept the premise of the Nation State Act – then we must accept the corollaries, such as that we cannot be critical of Iranian or Saudi Arabian policy for that would qualify as Islamophobia and, therefore, as a hate crime. We do not accept such limitations in this country. England (not the UK) has a State religion, Christianity. But we do not for a second confuse critique of the Head of State (the Queen) who is also the Head of the Anglican Church, with anti-Christianity.
We, the authors of this submission, are practising Jews, we celebrate Jewish culture in words, actions and writings. We are stern critics of the State of Israel and its apartheid policies. On the basis of findings from DNA archaeology and modern genetics we refute the Jewish claim to racial status and so we reject the base assumptions of Zionism. ‘Jewish’ is an ethnicity – a cultural practice – not a racial/genetic characteristic. We are not ‘self-hating Jews’ and we are not anti-Semitic.
It is for the EHRC to rule on whether expressions of Jew-hating among Labour members amount to ‘institutional antisemitism’ in Labour. We do not have access to the hard data and we cannot submit either way. But we strongly urge the Commission to reject the view that critique of Israel or of Zionism or robust defence of Palestinians – even claims that the Israeli state is racist – can be taken to be anti-Semitic.