The Green Party needs to get serious about antisemitism
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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I wish the media and Keir Starmer understood the intentions behind the IHRA definition and how it should be applied. Unfortunately, Zach’s common sense, nuanced interpretation is simply not the one being used by the majority of bodies that have adopted the IRHA definition. I think it is overly complex and ambiguously phrased in places, which would enable it to become as problematic within the Green Party as it has elsewhere. It was refreshing to read the list of opinions which are not anti-Semitic:
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.
However, I can guarantee that any public figure would be castigated as an anti-Semite for making any of the statement above. I know Labour members who have been suspended for less controversial statements, and would hate to see such trends infect the Green party.
Someone’s pulling your leg, matey.
Israel isn’t an apartheid state: all citizens are equal by law.
Palestine is an apartheid state: women there are legally defined as inferior, & forced marriages & honour killings are legal, as is the murder of LGBTQs.
In Palestine, free speech & elections are banned.
There is no independent media.
BDS was invented by Hitler.
For a “green” party, it’s weird that you support a place where the missiles & incendiary balloons they fire into Israel, have burnt thousands of hectares of forest & agricultural land.
You hate Israel, a country at the cutting edge of drip technology, desalination, solar energy & windfarms.
Sounds a bit antisemitic.
And the lying bigotI’m responding to, thinks that Israelis are white!
Have to say that I’m in total agreement with Tony Riley below. The statements at the end are mostly erroneous and taken together could certainly be seen as stemming from antisemitic intent.
Definition of what constitutes racism or specifically anti-semitism is unequivocally necessary and desirable to help all on the way forward. We need intellectual tools to help us determine sticking points, principles.
But history and the present are all about context in the midst of the pressing infinitely complex, very messy, rush of human development, in which we have to take our stands.
We who are broadly on the right side of history should remember who the real enemies we are.
I will only expand on one part in the article, that of settler populations resulting from European world imperialism. The list is long, much longer than those mentioned. Where there were native populations without the means or coherence to keep their culture, sometimes their physical survival in the face of European “civilisation” and technology, eg New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United States, the Caribean, South America…(got the point?),a tragic outcome resulted, but not the same result everywhere. New Zealand saw the survival of Maori culture and population, and now Maoris are a subset of the NZ working class. Their culture was not quite mortally wounded. The Caribs were wiped out. Inuit are reduced to a pensioner status, demoralised, in a state of “anomie”, as are Australian “aborigines”, their only choice assimilation to the bottom layers of society. Algeria expelled its settler population, at huge economic cost and and in lives. I hope there are enough examples here to make the point, without going back to pre-history and the probable genocide of rivals by early homo sapiens.
There is nothing new under the sun, but we can affect the future through our thought and actions.
Zionist Israel is unique in European imperial history in that it was the export of a “European” problem, and it is agonisingly ironic that it was created by one oppressed group trying to escape only at the expense of another.
It was created under the umbrella of the world powers, and I believe it will only have a solution under the umbrella of current world powers, optimistcally through the Unitad Nations. This may be wildly optimistic, but all other ways I can imagine will be another extreme tragedy.
I once taught at a school in Tower Hamlets, and took the footbal team to a fixture on a coach. We crossed another territory, and I was alerted by a cry of “Yids, Yids…” and the whole coachload pressed to the pavement side to look at Hassidic Jews, with hats and pigtails. That was nearly forty years after WW2, but before the post-war amnesia about the holocaust, so there is some hope that this may have now changed…
We can argue endlessly about the definition of racism or anti-semitism.
I say we should “smell” anti-semitism when we encounter it, fight it, rather than define it ad infinitum. It is held by people who do not define things, and I am not talking only of those without educational qualifications.
Jeez, you stink of White supremacism.
That definition would render me, a Jew, anti-Semitic. And even Holocaust survivors who’ve compared their treatment by the Nazis with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. So I beg to diffee that this defintion is accepted ny the Jewish community “as a whole”. Jews do not have groupthink, a view that we all think alike is antisemitic.
DFink, by the sound of it you are indeed an antisemitic Jewish person.
It’s obviously antisemitic to suggest Jewish people are incapable of racism.
And frankly, it doesn’t speak well of the supposed ‘antiracists’ that they are unaware one of the common responses of victims of oppression is to believe the oppressors are right, or that sucking up to them is the safest thing to do.
It’s notable that at least one Holocaust survivor has turned into a Holocaust denier. Nothing is impossible.
That’s a reassuring reply. As an ex-member of the Greens, I’m deeply disappointed at the party’s steady drift rightwards, as has happened in Ireland and Germany. At least the IHRA definitions have not, yet, been adopted.
Those words. They appear to come from the less antisemitic end of the Green party, seem to be written by someone who doesn’t really get it but wants to understand… And then conclude with a series of antisemitic statements.
Well done, that’s a very long form version of ‘I’m not a racist, but…’
The fact is that Israel is not an apartheid state. Saying it is one is wrong. You’re either making a false (and historically deeply antisemitic) claim about Israel, or you’re seeking to excuse South African apartheid.
There’s a reason the Jewish community in this country is scared of the Green Party, and that reason is that racism is a prerequisite of membership these days.
Here is the problem with accepting the IHRA, already you are having problems with the definition of apartheid. Which is Dave?
That’s not a problem with the IHRA definition, or the definition of apartheid. It’s a problem with you: you’re either an apologist for apartheid, or overtly (and blindly) antisemitic.
The purpose of the IHRA definition is to make it abundantly clear what you are. If you’re having trouble with it, it’s your antisemitism which is responsible.
I think you are a bit thick Dave you apologise for genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Thank you Dave. You are correct. I would hate to think of yet another leftist party I’m not welcome in 🙁
Let me just briefly debunk the following statements:
> Israel is an apartheid state.
No. All Israeli citizens are equal before the law without exception. Whilst, the situation in Area C of the West Bank (outside of Israel proper) may seem like a form of apartheid to the outsider, it is not a racist form of segregation, but a nationalist one, and is meant to be temporary until agreements on land swaps are finalised (it is the remnant of the 1967 war)
> Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian population is undemocratic.
Again – seem comment about – this goes only for Area C. Areas A and B are under Palestinian Authority rule. Gaza is ruled by Hamas (who are the opposite of democratic)
> Palestinians are increasingly ruled by a military regime they have no democratic control of.
Same again. Although their autonomic regions in the West Bank have grown since 1967 – not shrunk.
Gaza is also ruled by a military (and theocratic) regime.
> Israel should lift the siege of Gaza.
There’s no siege. There is a military blockage by both Egypt and Israel to prevent weapons smuggling from Iran and Syria.
> Israel, like Australia, Canada or the US is a settler colonial state.
No substance whatsoever to this particular bizarre claim. Who are they colonising Israel on behalf of? The Zionist Occupation Government??? (conspiracist joke)
> Racism is a fundamental part of modern statecraft, including in Israel.
Israel is the least racist state in the Middle East. This is not only a false statement by it is so egregious in it’s falsity it could be regarded as borderline antisemitism
> The current Israeli government (of October 2020) is a participant in global white supremacist networks.
This statement is reminiscent of claims made by Neo-Nazis. So yes, this particular claim is antisemitic.
And given most Israelis are not white by any stretch of the imagination, it is also the most unhinged statement on this list.
“Racism is a fundamental part of modern statecraft, including in Israel” -> this is whataboutery in a twist of language. It is the equivalent if those who say “all lives matter” when we are specifically saying “black lives matter”.