Theresa May said this week that the Conservative party had adopted the full definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
The Labour party chose not to expressly set out that definition in their own rulebook this week – prompting yet another public row on the Labour benches over the party’s relationship with British Jews.
But from what we’ve seen, the current Conservative party rulebook doesn’t specifically use the term antisemitism at all.
What did Theresa May say?
At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Conservative MP Helen Whately asked Mrs May whether she agreed that all political parties should adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism “without amendments or omissions”.
It was a thinly-veiled reference to the latest controversy surrounding Labour.
Defying calls from 68 British rabbis, Labour endorsed the IHRA definition of antisemitism, but left out four examples of antisemitic behaviour that normally accompany it. Notable omissions include that it’s antisemitic to say that Israel’s existence as a state is a racist endeavour, or to compare the policies of modern Israel to those of the Nazis.
Labour says its definition is the most “comprehensive” of any party. But the UK’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, said Labour’s definition sent “an unprecedented message of contempt to the Jewish community”.
Responding to her backbencher on Wednesday, Theresa May said that she agreed all political parties should adopt the full, unredacted IHRA definition – adding that “the Conservative party has done that”. She later said that “we should all sign up – as the Conservative party has done – to the definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and all its annexes.”
Can you show us the evidence?
We asked the Conservative party to back up Mrs May’s claim and show us where – in its rule book, code of conduct or any official document – the definition of antisemitism was set out.
At first, they directed us to an announcement by the government from 2016 that commits the UK to the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism.
The problem is, we’re not talking about the actions of the Conservative government or the UK as a whole – we’re talking about the rules of the Conservative party.
So what does the rulebook say?
The party’s code of conduct says discrimination “includes victimising or harassing any other person because of race (including colour, ethnic or national origin, nationality, citizenship), sex, gender re-assignment, sexual orientation, marital or civil partnership status, disability, age, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity status.”
You’ll notice there’s a reference to “religion or belief” as a protected characteristic in there. That is presumably how a claim of antisemitism would be dealt with. However, the Conservative code of conduct does not at any point mention the word “antisemitism” or spell out a definition of antisemitism, IHRA-approved or otherwise.
The most recent version of the Conservative party code of conduct was signed off by the party’s board on 11 December 2017, a whole year after the government announced it was adopting the IHRA definition.
How does it compare to Labour?
If the scandal around Labour had never happened, you might say this was something of nothing. The Conservative code of conduct states that discrimination on the basis of “religion or belief” constitutes a breach of the party’s rules. Job done – right?
But as with everything in politics, context is key. Theresa May’s comments in parliament were a direct attack on Labour – specifically, whether and how the party has spelled out a definition of antisemitism in its rulebook.
Labour’s rulebook makes three references to antisemitism, whereas the Conservative code of conduct from December 2017 does not use the word once.
What we don’t know is exactly what happens when a claim of antisemitism is brought to the Conservative party. It’s entirely possible that any disciplinary process or hearings would use the IHRA definition – the party says that it would use the definition as guidance in such a process. But as it stands, we’ve yet to see any documents that make explicit reference to antisemitism or the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
The Conservative party code of conduct does not expressly mention antisemitism once – let alone define it.
The party maintains that they have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Association definition of antisemitism, unlike Labour. The Conservative party code of conduct does include a provision for harassment on the basis of religion and belief, which would presumably be invoked to deal with antisemitic behaviour in the party.
Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that the scandal surrounding Labour is about whether and how it defines antisemitism in its party rules. It is difficult for Theresa May to criticise the Labour on this front – as she did on Wednesday in parliament – when her own party has not specifically mentioned antisemitism in any of its official documents or rulebook.