Britain’s main opposition Labour Party has announced it will fully adopt an internationally recognised definition of anti-Semitism as it tries to end a long-running internal debate that engulfed senior members and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
The party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), its governing body, decided at a meeting in London on Tuesday to endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, as well as its list of 11 examples.
A party spokesperson said that the NEC had also adopted “a statement which ensures this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians”.
“The NEC welcomed Jeremy Corbyn’s statement to the meeting about action against anti-Semitism, solidarity with the Jewish community and protection of Palestinian rights, as an important contribution to the consultation on Labour’s code of conduct,” the statement added.
Tuesday’s announcement came two months after Labour endorsed a code of conduct that left out four of IHRA’s 11 examples, including one that cautions against “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”.
Corbyn has previously expressed concern that aspects of the IHRA definition – signed by 31 countries including the UK and US – could restrict criticism of Israel that is not anti-Semitic in nature.
The debate fed into a months-long row over alleged anti-Semitism in the party, in which MPs and Jewish groups repeatedly accused Corbyn of failing to act.
But Corbyn supporters said the controversy was stirred up by his enemies within and outside of the party to discredit the politician, who has long campaigned for political justice for Palestinians.
Before the hours-long meeting, protesters from both sides of the debate gathered outside the party’s headquarters.
UK’s Labour Party embroiled in row over anti-Semitism
Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee, reporting from London, said the pressure on Corbyn and his leadership team had become “enormous” in recent weeks.
“There has been so much criticism of him and his supporters that they have eventually climbed down [on adopting the full IHRA definition],” Lee said.
“But there is a caveat; they have accepted all the examples of anti-semitism [in the IHRA code] but have said this does not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians,” he added.
Critics, however, said the NEC’s decision to caveat its adoption of the code with an accompanying statement was an “unnecessary qualification”.
Margaret Hodge, a veteran Labour Party parliamentarian, described the move as “two steps forward and one step back” in a post on Twitter on Tuesday.
Glyn Secker, a member of Jewish Voice of Labour, said the decision was “ludicrous”, however.
“This is a party that could become the party of government and we can’t discuss matters of foreign policy, the rights of the Palestinians to their own self-determination, the suffering that the Palestinians are experiencing at the hands of Israel, we can’t discuss that in the Labour Party because it would be defined as anti-Semitic,” Secker told Al Jazeera.
The Jewish Voice of Labour, an organisation comprised of Jewish members of the Labour Party, has described the IHRA’s code as a “threat to freedom of expression and debate” and said it offers an inaccurate definition of anti-Semitism.
“A definition of antisemitism which needs to rely on ‘examples’, which may or may not be anti-Semitic depending on context, fails that test,” the organisation said in its submission to a Labour Party Consultation on Definition of Antisemitism.
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Corbyn, meanwhile, has repeatedly stated that anti-Semitism, racism and prejudice of all kinds have no place within Labour, but in an August 3 article for The Guardian, he added: “It is unfortunately the case that this particular example, dealing with Israel and racism, has sometimes been used by those wanting to restrict criticism of Israel that is not anti-Semitic”.
In the same article, he also admitted that the party had been “too slow” in dealing with “cases of anti-Semitic abuse” committed by members.
The parliamentary wing of the Labour Party is expected to meet on Wednesday to vote on the NEC’s decision.
The controversy followed earlier debates over his role in a 2014 ceremony in Tunis at which a perpetrator of the 1972 Munich Olympics attack – during which 11 Israelis were killed – was honoured and his hosting of a 2010 event at which a Holocaust survivor compared Israel to Nazism.
Corbyn said he attended the event in Tunis as part of a wider event focused on peace and, separately, that he did not condone all views expressed at the event in 2010.