When Labour’s leadership and the NEC were debating how to tackle anti-Semitism in the party, Andrew Murray – Jeremy Corbyn’s close adviser and chief of staff to Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey – argued that Labour should embrace a much simpler and less contentious code of conduct than what its ruling National Executive ultimately adopted. His recommendation, I understand, was that the Labour Party should employ the widely used IHRA definition of anti-Semitism with all-but-one of its examples – rather than seeking, as it has done, to resile from four of the examples, and create its own illustrations of anti-Semitic language and conduct. He took the view, shared by many inside and outside Labour, that it was absurd for the party to imply that it has a more authentic and reliable view of anti-Semitism than the Jewish community itself.
To be clear, had Murray’s proposal been adopted by Labour’s leader and the NEC, there would still have been a serious argument with many in the Jewish community – because under his proposal there would have been a debate and consultation around whether it was appropriate for Labour to underwrite the IHRA assertion that one example of anti-Semitism is “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”.
To state the obvious, many Palestinians regard the mere existence of Israel as a manifestation of racism or colonialism – and, over many years, Corbyn himself, and his director of strategy and communications, Seumas Milne, have expressed solidarity with that view. Almost all Jews, like myself, would argue – per contra – that the creation of a Jewish homeland is not in and of itself racist, while reserving the right to criticise the policies of individual Israeli governments.
There is a debate to be had, although I am absolutely clear that any modern pluralist party should have no problem in repudiating assertions that the mere existence of Israel is racist. For what it’s worth, Murray himself has been a critic of Israeli governments, but does recognise the right of Israel to exist within its 1967 borders. The conspicuous problem for Labour, of course, is a practical one. If it adopted that IHRA example, Corbyn, Milne and others would probably see their internal critics launching disciplinary action against them – which would be more than an embarrassment for them.
Or to put it another way, there is no easy way for Corbyn to end the estrangement of the mainstream Jewish community from him and his party. But, according to those close to him, Corbyn has made life harder for himself than he needed to by being too ready to follow the advice and guidance of a small number of anti-Zionist left-wing Jews who he sees as important friends and allies. Their views may be sincere, but they are a small unrepresentative minority within the Jewish community. I am told Corbyn will have another go any day now at reassuring his critics by writing an article and possibly giving a speech.
But perhaps what is most striking and important however is that Corbyn now appears extraordinarily isolated even within his own party over his management of the anti-Semitism furore – facing criticism not only from those on the right and centre of his party whom he would see as the usual suspects, but from his shadow chancellor John McDonnell and the creator of the Corbynista Momentum movement, Jon Lansman.
And even the former Communist and ardent Corbyn loyalist Murray, who works for Unite, the union that has funded the Corbyn project, thought there was a better approach to rooting out the evil of anti-Semitism.
This post originally appeared on Robert Peston’s Facebook page