Robert Peston

Is Jeremy Corbyn preparing to back down over Labour’s anti-Semitism row?

Is Jeremy Corbyn preparing to back down over Labour's anti-Semitism row?
Text settings

Labour is belatedly about to adopt the IHRA anti-Semitism definition with all its examples, according to three members of its ruling NEC. They tell me this should happen at the next full NEC meeting on 4 September. This would seem to represent a big climbdown by Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in the face of great pressure from many in the Jewish community. In particular, he and his closest advisers, led by Seumas Milne, have been fervently resisting the IHRA examples which define as anti-Semitic any statement that the Israeli state is racist or that question the right of Jewish people to national self determination.

“It looks like we will adopt the IHRA wording and examples in their entirety” said a senior Labour member. But there is a but.

“There may be addendums, put into the rulebook, which weaken the force of the IHRA examples” said another NEC member.

That implies, of course, that the mainstream Jewish community may still be wary of whether Corbyn truly understands their concerns.

On the other hand, in the absence of such addendums which interpret the IHRA examples, there would be a risk that previous comments made by Corbyn and his director of strategy Seumas Milne could be seen to have breached Labour’s rule book – which they would naturally enough wish to avoid.

I am told that the implementation of the IHRA definition and examples will be done in a way that would mean disciplinary action could not be taken against anyone who breached the IHRA examples in the past – which would protect Corbyn and Milne from the risk of being investigated for their historic comments.

What is striking is that Jon Lansman, the founder of Momentum and the activist who used to be seen as the most ardent of Corbynistas, is said to be fighting to prevent the least possible dilution of the IHRA examples.

“He is being very courageous” said one NEC member. “He is alienating many of his friends on the left. There is even talk they could try to get him out of Momentum and the NEC”.

The driving force to find a compromise that would end Labour’s long hot summer of controversy about whether it is doing enough to root out anti-Semitism is the powerful Unite union.

“What hasn’t been noticed is that the last NEC meeting effectively ripped up our approach to anti-Semitism” said another NEC member. “The anti-Semitism working group has been meeting all summer and should conclude its deliberations this week”.

The thorniest issue for Labour is how to legitimise criticisms of Israeli politicians and governments without appearing to question the right of Jews to national self-determination. Milne has argued to colleagues that the way Israel was founded, such that many Palestinians became refugees, undermined its legitimacy. He has been challenged by other senior Labour figures.

“We cannot be seen to be questioning the right of Israel to exist” said one.

There has been a campaign by some Labour activists to persuade the NEC not to change its approach to anti-Semitism. They have sent NEC members thousands of emails urging them not to “back down”.

This post originally appeared on Robert Peston's Facebook page

Written byRobert Peston

Robert Peston is a British journalist, presenter, and founder of the education charity Speakers for Schools. He is the Political Editor of ITV News and host of the weekly political discussion show Peston.