Labour’s new code of conduct would not allow the return of Ken Livingstone, according to an internal party document seen by Coffee House. A briefing note sent to Scottish Labour MPs and MSPs addresses the case of the former London mayor, who resigned from the party two years after he was suspended for claiming that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism before he ‘went mad and ending up killing six million Jews’. The note says:
‘So the Code wouldn’t pave the way for Ken Livingstone’s return to the Party?
‘Not at all. The Code is explicitly clear that Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust distortions and comparisons carry a strong risk of being found to be prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Party, and therefore breach Party rules, which would apply to Ken Livingstone’s comments. However, he is no longer a member of the Party.’
Elsewhere, the document supplies Labour representatives with soundbite responses to criticism of the party‘s failure to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti–Semitism. The briefing paper insists that:
‘The IHRA examples which are not reproduced in the bulleted section, are addressed in the guidelines. It is untrue and misleading to say they are omitted or left out.’
However, this is hard to square with criticism from the chief rabbi, and other rabbis, who have urged the party to adopt the full IHRA definition. Others in the Labour party are also unhappy. A Labour source told Coffee House:
‘This still doesn’t address the issues of the Jewish community — it just looks like a bunker mentality. We are doubling down on the fact we think we are right and everyone else is wrong. It’s the complete opposite of what we should be doing ahead of a so–called consultation.’
So what bits are missing from the Labour code of conduct? The first example omitted relates to claims of dual loyalty, a classic anti–Semitic trope. The IHRA defines this as: ‘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.’ Labour’s briefing note claims:
‘Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal is covered in paragraph 14 and the code plainly treats this as racist behaviour. It says: “It is also wrong to accuse Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.”’
Dual loyalty tropes do not appear in the list of anti–Semitic behaviours given in paragraph nine of the code and are relegated to a later section, which classifies them as merely ‘wrong’. But this creates a distinction between racist and generally improper rhetoric, and places claims of dual loyalty in the latter. This is an implicit assertion that the dual loyalty canard is not anti–Semitic.
The second example missing from Labour’s code is that which says: ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self–determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.’ The memo concedes that this is ‘not explicitly referenced’; however, it says the equation of Israel’s existence with racism is merely a ‘subset to the example about not denying Jewish people the right to self–determination’. While Labour‘s code does allow that the Jewish people have the same right to self–determination as any other people and that denying that right is ‘a form of anti–Semitism’, it does not — contrary to the briefing note’s claims — proscribe members from calling Israel a racist enterprise. Instead, it says:
‘Discussion of the circumstances of the foundation of the Israeli state (for example, in the context of its impact on the Palestinian people) forms a legitimate part of modern political discourse.’
Drawing parallels between Zionism and racism only breaches Labour’s code of conduct if they also ‘deny Jewish people their right to self–determination or hold Israel to different standards than other countries,’ according to the document.
The leaked paper also claims the IHRA example is ‘vaguely worded’, ‘open to misinterpretation’ and could ‘deny other oppressed groups their right to speak about their own oppression’. The wording of the code, the memo says, is ‘essential to ensuring that people are able to make legitimate criticisms of racism practiced by the Israeli state’.
The third IHRA example left out of the Labour code of conduct says in relation to Israel: ‘Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.’
Labour’s briefing note claims the code ‘deals explicitly’ with this issue, referring readers to paragraphs 13 and 14. However, 13 simply says it is ‘not racist’ to judge Israeli actions, or those of other countries, against international laws and norms. The next paragraph does mention double standards but in a separate context, defining it as ‘a form of racist treatment’ to require Jews or Jewish organisations to be ‘more vociferous’ in their criticism of Israel than others. Neither paragraph, explicitly or otherwise, prevents members from holding the Jewish state to a different standard than every other nation.
The fourth and final example relates to Nazi comparisons. The IHRA defines as anti–Semitic ‘drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’. The briefing note points to the widely–discredited Chakrabarti report on this. However, Baroness Chakrabarti of Kennington — as she became just a matter of weeks after unveiling her report — merely concluded: ‘I recommend that Labour members resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel–Palestine in particular.’
Paragraph 16 of the code of conduct cautions that ‘such language carries a strong risk of being regarded as prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Party’. To clarify: not prejudicial but at risk of being seen as such. Not anti–Semitic but harmful to the Labour Party’s interests. This same paragraph in the Labour code of conduct also says that:
‘Discourse about international politics often employs metaphors drawn from examples of historic misconduct. It is not antisemitism to criticise the conduct or policies of the Israeli state by reference to such examples unless there is evidence of antisemitic intent.’
The question of intent leads to the Macpherson principle, established in the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, which holds that ‘a racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person‘. Labour‘s briefing sheet notes that the inquiry addressed policing protocols: ‘Macpherson was not attempting to change any legal definition of racist behaviour, but to change the way alleged racist behaviour is recorded‘. Labour claims that complaints of anti–Semitism will be recorded as such when that is how the victim perceives it (no reference is made to ‘or any other person‘). This leads Labour to boast that ‘our new code of conduct and our disciplinary procedures are fully in line with the Macpherson principles‘.
But this is a selective interpretation of Macpherson. That inquiry was primarily about policing; of its 70 recommendations, 12 related to the prosecution of racist crimes while almost all of the remainder referred to the police. When it comes to anti–Semitism among its members, the Labour Party is the police, prosecutor, judge and jury. The problem lies not so much with how Labour records racist incidents but what the party institutionally understands to be racism and how it ‘prosecutes‘ and punishes these behaviours. In Labour‘s case, the Macpherson principle is embraced at the procedural level but rejected in the party‘s definition of anti–Semitism. In choosing not to adopt the IHRA definition in full, Labour is substituting its perception of anti–Semitism for that of the Jewish community.
Ironically, though, the briefing note is onto something when it cites Macpherson. Macpherson concluded that ‘a new atmosphere of mutual confidence and trust must be created‘ but maintained that the onus lay with the police. The police ‘must examine every aspect of their policies and practices to assess whether the outcome of their actions creates or sustains patterns of discrimination‘. In doing so, they must recognise ‘the different experiences, perceptions and needs of a diverse society‘. Replace ‘police‘ with ‘Labour Party‘ and you can see what Labour needs to do – and what it still cannot bring itself to do.
When approached by Coffee House, Labour said it would not comment directly on the leaked document, but a party spokesperson said: ‘The Code of Conduct adopts the IHRA definition and expands on and contextualises its examples to produce robust, legally sound guidelines that a political party can apply to disciplinary cases. The NEC upheld the adoption of the Code of Conduct on antisemitism, but in recognition of the serious concerns expressed, agreed to re–open the development of the Code, in consultation with Jewish community organisations and groups, in order to better reflect their views.’