Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s work for the rights and freedoms of the Palestinian people is rooted in opposition to all forms of racism. This involves not only challenging and opposing individual prejudice but any belief or ideology that suggests people have superiority over others based on race, ethnicity, culture or religion, and any laws and policies that might flow from such thinking.
Our commitment to tackling racism in all its forms has led us to make a number of statements and interventions on the question of how antisemitism should be tackled. We have been driven to do so because of our specific concern about the conflation of antisemitism with legitimate criticisms of the oppression of the Palestinian people by the laws, policies, and acts of successive Israeli governments.
The public debate around these issues, as conducted through the media, particularly in relation to the question of antisemitism in the Labour Party has become toxic in a way that not only degrades political discourse but seriously disrupts a coherent response to racism. These issues have now again come to the fore in the aftermath of the publication of the EHRC report
We will not comment on the detail of the report nor on the broader issues of the investigation.
We do believe that simply dismissing all allegations of antisemitism within the Labour Party as a smear is a form of denial that contributes to the problem. Such denial may represent a form of antisemitism in itself in so far as it is motivated by a desire to minimise and denigrate the real and lived experiences of Jewish people. However, we also challenge any notion that it is unacceptable to highlight media reporting that has served to mislead public opinion on the number of cases of antisemitism in the Labour Party. People should not be censured for such legitimate commentary, as has happened with Jeremy Corbyn. Jeremy Corbyn has been a consistent voice advocating for the rights of Palestinians and other oppressed people for many years and we are proud to have him as one of PSC’s Patrons.
We also believe that it is a demonstrable truth that the real existence of antisemitism within the Labour Party has been used by some groups and individuals within the Party as part of a factional battle and by some outside of it for political gain. It is wrong to seek to proscribe the stating of such truths or to define them as inherently antisemitic.
PSC’s central concern remains the conflation of antisemitism with legitimate criticism of the acts, policies, laws and constitutional order of the state of Israel. We note that the Labour Party is now required by the EHRC to draw up an action plan that includes the need to make clear precisely how it will define and understand antisemitism.
PSC has addressed many times its concerns regarding the examples attached to the IHRA definition that conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism. These concerns are shared by the Institute of Race Relations; eminent legal experts including ex-Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stephen Sedley; Liberty; leading academic experts on anti-Semitism Anthony Lerman and Brian Klug; 40 global Jewish social justice organisations, and more than 80 UK-based BAME groups.
We note that in its report, the EHRC made specific references to the concerns that have been expressed about the examples attached to the IHRA definition, and the view of the Home Affairs Select Committee of the need for caveats to protect freedom of expression.
Recently, UK based Palestinians wrote an open letter to the Labour Party that highlighted concerns about how the examples within the IHRA have been used to suppress the ability of Palestinians to express the truths of their own history and their ongoing oppression. They reiterated the call for “the right of Palestinians to accurately describe our experiences of dispossession and oppression, to criticise the nature and structure of the state that continues to oppress us and to openly criticise the ideology of Zionism which informs the actions, policies and laws of that state, be upheld both as a right of a people under oppression and as a right of freedom of expression respected and supported by the Labour Party leadership. Furthermore, the rights of other British citizens to respond to calls for action including via the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement to address that oppression, should also be supported and upheld.”
In order to uphold this right, the Labour Party must make clear in its response to the EHRC recommendations that it will take action to ensure that these core rights, as recognised in Article 10 of the Human Rights Act, will be protected. Without such action, Palestinians in the Labour Party will not feel they have a safe space to articulate the truths of their lived experiences of injustice, and supporters of justice for the Palestinian people will not feel protected in their right to freely express the need for the Party to take action to ensure that these injustices are addressed.
The support offered to the Palestinian people by the UK labour movement has been crucial. PSC welcomed the motion recently passed by the TUC which committed it to ongoing action to oppose Israel’s plans for annexation of further areas of the West Bank which the TUC defined as “another significant step in the creation of a system of apartheid.”
We stand ready to support the Labour Party and all other political parties, institutions, and public bodies in taking the necessary action in support of the core rights of the Palestinian people as an oppressed people, rooted in international law, and the rights of those advocating on their behalf in the UK.