Labour’s antisemitism row has entered a new phase after the party readmitted Chris Williamson to its ranks.
The Derby North MP was suspended in February after suggesting Labour had been “too apologetic” in its handling of the issue.
It’s understood that Mr Williamson – a left-wing backbench MP and outspoken supporter of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – was reinstated following a hearing of the National Executive Committee (NEC) antisemitism panel.
Today, dozens of Labour MPs, including the deputy leader Tom Watson, issued a statement asking Jeremy Corbyn to overturn the decision.
FactCheck has been trying to get to the bottom of Labour’s antisemitism protocols for a while.
The party refuse to tell us whether they have two contradictory sets of rules in place. They say that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) rules are applied in disciplinary cases, but won’t say if another code of conduct is also in force.
If both still apply, this could offer a get-out clause for members accused of antisemitism, although Labour deny that a loophole exists.
In July 2018, it was reported that Labour had adopted a code of conduct on antisemitism. It omitted four of the eleven examples of antisemitism included in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition:
- “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations”
- “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
- “Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
- “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
The decision not to adopt the full suite of IHRA examples led to a massive row in the party, with three major Jewish community groups describing the code of conduct as a “watered-down definition of antisemitism”.
Labour’s own shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, said at the time that party leaders needed to act “sharpish” to support the full definition, which he described as “really important, including the examples”.
Others disagreed. Huda Elmi – one of the NEC panellists who decided to reinstate Mr Williamson yesterday – argued against using all the examples.
After weeks of internal conflict, in September, the Labour announced that the ruling NEC had adopted all eleven IHRA examples.
(Although as FactCheck reported last month, there’s no mention of the IHRA definition or examples anywhere in the party’s 2018 or 2019 rulebooks, nor on its website).
The questions Labour won’t answer
Four weeks ago, we asked Labour to explain the role of the July 2018 code of conduct and the IHRA examples that the party says it adopted in September.
We wanted to know whether the IHRA rules superseded the July code of conduct. If not, and both sets of rules are still in place, how does Labour reconcile the inherent conflict between the two?
For example, if a party member says the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour, that could be considered antisemitic under the IHRA rules — but such a claim is not listed as an example of antisemitism in Labour’s code of conduct. Which set of rules takes precedence?
Despite repeated attempts by FactCheck to get clarity from the party, we have yet to receive an adequate explanation.
Labour deny that there is a loophole through which people can be found not guilty of antisemitism.
But they won’t answer the key question: does the code of conduct still apply? If it does, then the party has two contradictory sets of rules — one weaker than the other — that could allow members accused of antisemitism to be exonerated.
[This article was edited after publication to reflect the precise wording of the IHRA guidelines. The phrase “the state of Israel” was changed to “a state of Israel”. In the same paragraph the word “would” was changed to “could”.]