Zack Polanski

Motion D4 at the Green Party of England and Wales online Autumn conference calls for the party to adopt new guidance on antisemitism into its of code of conduct. The full guidance document can be found here.

I’ve been keen for a long time for the Green Party to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

I understand the concerns around the definition and we’ve seen the toxicity of the debate when there isn’t an attempt to engage with each other in a respectful and well intentioned way. My hope is that this debate will provide an example of how we can have these discussions in a nuanced and factual conversation that can provide a Green exemplar of how to have difficult political discussions.

I’m thankful that I recognise my experiences with my fellow Greens is that I feel we don’t have the same scale of issues with antisemitism in the Green Party as with other parties do. It is nevertheless still important for us to send a clear message to Jewish communities both in the party and in the wider world that we stand in solidarity with them.

I’m proud that we’re an entirely democratic party and so to adopt definitions can feel like a long process. Unlike other parties, our Conference is entirely grassroots lead. It’s a long process of writing motions, collecting signatures, then a prioritisation ballot (lots of motions don’t make it to the conference floor) and then the real life democratic process on the conference floor (virtual in these times!) to pass motions with or without amendments.

And most of all, I’m proud that our party has been so united in wanting to tackle this problem. With support from Sian Berry, Amelia Womack, Caroline Lucas and Rosi Sexton to name just some of our fellow supporters – and I thank them all for their solidarity in wanting to tackle antisemitism. I’m also cheered by the fact that our motion had so much support during the prioritisation ballot and members clearly felt creating a safe space for Jewish people is important.

The background behind the motion

I think it’s important to clarify the history of this motion. We have never voted on the IHRA definition in the Green Party. The first time it was proposed in 2018, it was felt on the conference floor that not enough time had been allocated to have a complex discussion about the issues. People, including myself, feel strongly that criticism of Benjamin Netenyahu’s government must not be silenced. And although it states explicitly in the motion ‘criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic’ it’s important that party members feel like they’ve not been rushed into a decision. The motion was referred back.

It was a helpful reflection point – and we used the time to reach out to some of the people who had opposed the motion.

Green Party antisemitism guidance and Israel

Let us look at some of their objections. It’s often stated that we must not curtail free speech. And I agree.

This comes up most prominently with the IHRA’s reference to ‘racist endeavour.’ Let’s be clear about what the definition is doing here. If your view is that states like the USA and Israel with settler colonial origins are fundamentally flawed then the IHRA is there to protect your point of view. What it will not defend though is arguing that the state of Israel’s Jewish origins make it uniquely problematic, or more insidiously responsible for all the evils of the world – for example Trump’s treatment of refugees and indeed Theresa May’s ‘Go Home’ vans.

This is especially important at the moment, as Netenyahu’s government pushes forward with its plans to annex the West Bank and fosters Israeli involvement in a network of global far-right governments including the USA and Brazil. It’s important to criticise Israel in the same way we must criticise Trump’s treatment of refugees, the homophobia in Andrzej Duda’s government in Poland and indeed in the ‘hostile environment’ enacted by the ruthless Tory government here in the UK.

Going beyond the IHRA definition

When some members of the Jewish Greens group initially said that they wanted to create a guidance document on antisemitism along with the IHRA definition – I had reservations. It’s important that we are not diluting our approach to tackling antisemitism.

As I read the document though, it became increasingly clear that the guidance would not excuse any genuine antisemitic sentiment. This is not a dilution – it’s an expansion. There are areas, for example, the IHRA definition does not cover – that are nevertheless important issues for our community.

As a vegan, I don’t advocate slaughtering any animal for meat, I would however consider it antisemitic if someone wanted to single out religious slaughter.

And the utility of the IHRA is negated if we adopt the definition and people misunderstand or misinterpret the examples – which has so often been the worry around the single definition.

Therefore this motion adds a guidance document which offers detailed explanations of clauses and examples of the IHRA definition such as the ‘racist endeavour’ example as well as contextualising it within the wider canon of writing on antisemitism.

The document also provides writing on British antisemitism to contextualise what is an international definition. I also feel it’s an important Green holistic value of ours that it also explores other forms of racism and white supremacy as a whole provided by the Rosenblum definition.

This guidance document is an excellent way forward in creating a more nuanced, adult conversation around what has been a complex subject – and I give huge respect to Josh Alston who authored an extremely well researched and thought out document.

Crucially nothing in the guidance document contradicts anything in the IHRA, rather it provides a more holistic and expansive approach. It’s vital that we ensure that we as Greens can ensure we maintain our long standing solidarity with Palestinians and those working for peace in Israel, whilst also ensuring that the Green Party is a safe space for our Jewish members.  We’ve been listening and we think this motion improves the situation and as a Green Party we can be proud of our approach.

Therefore, I’m urging people to back our Antisemitism and Code of Conduct motion . Wherever you are in this debate, I think it’s a truly holistic forward thinking approach to making sure that we are putting our stake in the ground as a party that stands with our Jewish family. I also look forward to supporting in the future a similar motion and guidance on Islamophobia – as we are all so much stronger together.

By not just taking one definition but providing it within a contextualising document it will create a broader understanding of antisemitism and will protect legitimate criticism of Israel as well as Jews from antisemitism.

Finally, I want to thank the work of Vivien Lichtenstein, Elise Benjamin and Josh & Sam Alston for their work in putting this all together.


Q&A on the antisemitism guidance

Antisemitism is on the rise around the world. In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s government have embraced antisemitic conspiracy theories surrounding the Jewish billionaire George Soros, and holocaust revisionism, in order to justify his increasingly autocratic rule. In the Ukraine, neo-Nazi militias are playing a significant role in the ongoing civil war in the Eastern half of the country. Antisemitic attitudes are also widespread in Britain. According to research by the British organisation CST (Community Security Trust), 2019 marked the fourth consecutive year in which reporting of antisemitic attacks had increased.

It is vital that given this global and national landscape of rising antisemitism that the Green Party, as a progressive anti-racist party has its own house in order and sets up processes to help its committees understand and learn about antisemitism.

Why is the IHRA part of our approach?

The IHRA is considered the gold-standard definition of antisemitism by Jewish communal institutions from the Board of Deputies, to CST (which manages community security), to the Union of Jewish Students (which represents Jewish students). It is also used by British and EU governments. As this definition is held in such esteem by the Jewish community as a whole, it is completely natural that this should form a huge part of the Green Party’s understanding of antisemitism.

Adopting the IHRA is also symbolic of the Green Party’s willingness to listen to the Jewish community around antisemitism, and work with the community to help eliminate antisemitism.

Why is there other writing as well?

Part of this document serves to contextualise the IHRA definition, and deal with any misconceptions that people might have surrounding the definition. There is no use in having the IHRA definition as a part of the Green Party’s approach to tackling antisemitism if those that are using the definition don’t understand it.

Adopting the IHRA definition is only the first stage to tackle antisemitism. Those who adjudicate on disciplinary complaints should be expected to engage with a wide range of writing on antisemitism, rather than just the IHRA. This writing should support and contextualise the IHRA. These other documents include excerpts from Rosenblum’s ‘The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere’, which links antisemitism to other forms of oppression and broader political structures, Julius’ ‘Trials of the Diaspora’ which focusses on English (and Welsh) antisemitism and  distinguishes different types of antisemitism and the Sacks’ ‘The Mutating Virus’, which gives an example of a Zionist approach to antisemitism.

There is also a bibliography to guide further reading.

Does this document change our BDS policy?

No. Our BDS policy remains exactly the same. This is a policy about antisemitism not Israel. To make this absolutely clear it has been stated in the text of the motion and prominently in  the guidance document.

Does the IHRA definition stop free speech?

No. It is a definition of antisemitism. As CST (Jewish Community Security Trust)  note, it is intended to be used as a tool for understanding antisemitism, rather than a quasi-legal set of guidelines to be applied. It is unclear how the act of reading a document in order to come to a better understanding of antisemitism would follow through to a restriction of free speech, especially given the guidance document explains potentially controversial clauses in order to prevent misinterpretation.

Sometimes this document mentions Zionism or Israel. Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism!

It is true that Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. It is not racist to criticise Israel, or to be forthright in those criticism. There is no relationship between Anti-Zionism and antisemitism. This means that while Anti-Zionism isn’t antisemitism it also does not preclude antisemitism. Anti-Zionists can have antisemitic views as much as people who hold any other political ideology, like Zionists, liberals, socialists or conservatives.

Sometimes racists pretend to be Anti-Zionist or anti-Israel in order to make their racism seem more respectable. The BNP, for example, often used the slur ‘Zio’, referencing Zionism, to mean Jew.

This motion is intended to protect legitimate criticism of Israel, while providing the guidance needed for the disciplinary committee to fully deal with those who are racist, and those who pretend to be Anti-Zionist to make their racism seem more acceptable.

Will this motion stop criticism of Israel?

This motion is not intended as a set of rules but as an educational resource to enable the Disciplinary Committee to identify and understand antisemitism. It would be completely legitimate and in keeping with Green Party policy and values to criticise Israel for its treatment of Palestinians.

For example, while none of these would be uncontroversial positions, it would not be antisemitic to state:

  •             Israel is an apartheid state.
  •             Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian population is undemocratic.
  •             Palestinians are increasingly ruled by a military regime they have no democratic control of.
  •             Israel should lift the siege of Gaza.
  •             Israel, like Australia, Canada or the US is a settler colonial state.
  •             Racism is a fundamental part of modern statecraft, including in Israel.
  •             The current Israeli government (of October 2020) is a participant in global white supremacist networks.

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