Momentum faces divisions over whether Labour should adopt full international definition of antisemitism

Comes as Labour faces escalating pressure from a string of high-profile politicians to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition without amendments

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 16 August 2018 20:03 BST
Jeremy Corbyn releases video apologising for antisemitism in the Labour party

Divisions have emerged in the influential Jeremy Corbyn-backing Momentum group over whether Labour should adopt an internationally recognised definition of antisemitism.

In an article for The Independent, one of the candidates backed by the activist group for a position on Labour’s governing body, claims adopting the code in full could “raise tensions” further and “create uproar and mayhem” in sections of the party.

But the organisation’s chair and founder Jon Lansman is reported to have been privately lobbying for the opposite outcome – urging Mr Corbyn to take on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition.

Huda Elmi, a former member of the group’s national coordinating group, who is standing for a position on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), claims adopting the IHRA definition will be “several steps backwards” in the party’s attempt to “root out the antisemitic poison”.

A Momentum source also told The Independent: “We’ve definitely had a lot of contact from our members on the IHRA, many of them very worried about the chilling effect it could have on criticism of Israeli state policy.

“Whatever the solution Labour adopt, it has to make sure that Palestinian voices in the party aren’t silenced and that we don’t shut down legitimate political debate because of media pressure.”

In recent weeks, Labour has come under escalating pressure from a string of high profile figures to adopt the IHRA in full after omitting four examples of the 11 unacceptable behaviours in the party’s agreed code of conduct.

Labour says three out of four examples are covered elsewhere in the document, but a consultation remains in place whether to accept the most contentious example – “claiming that the state of Israel is a racist endeavour”.

On Wednesday, Gordon Brown, the former Labour prime minister, threw his weight behind the calls to adopt the code in full. “This cannot keep going on as a running sore and it’s not because it’s an embarrassment, it is because it is simply wrong,” he warned as he addressed an audience at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

In her article for The Independent, Ms Elmi continued: “Adoption of the IHRA examples will not ‘put the issue to bed’, then, desperate as we all are for an easy route out of our current malaise. There’s no use looking for a short cut, and no avoiding the necessarily delicate relationship between Labour’s engagement with the Jewish community and our policies on Israel.”

Referring to recent interventions by the general secretaries of two trade unions, Unison and GMB, urging the leadership to adopt the IHRA definition, she said: “In both their articles, the focus is on creating unity in the party, and rebuilding trust in the Jewish community. These are both vital, non-negotiable aims, but I cannot agree with their proposed course of action.”

While Ms Elmi said the party needed to rebuild trust, she added that adopting all of the IHRA examples is “not a sustainable way to do it”.

She wrote: “In the very short term, it is probably true that however forced such a move may appear, conceding to the biggest single demand of Jewish community leaders would act as a totemic signal, and bring with it some goodwill.

“But we need to look beyond that. Whether we adopt the full definition or not, intense disagreement on Israel and on Zionism will continue to exist at all levels of the party. Any proposal that does not recognise that fact will not be compatible with the need to detoxify spaces infused with the bitter atmosphere that make Jewish Labour Party members feel unsafe in the first place.”

“Adopting a formal position that carries with it well documented ambiguity over key questions of free speech on Israel will only raise tensions further, create uproar and mayhem in many sections of the party and provide a never ending supply of rows and media stories that will only erode the trust of the Jewish community further. It will immediately start to undermine its own gains.”

A Momentum spokesperson said: “Debate inside an organisation is healthy, especially around important political issues such as this. Momentum has not adopted a position on the IHRA, and contrary to some press speculation we have not been lobbying either for or against the definition.”

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