The sneaky deal to have NSW Labor adopt controversial anti-Semitism definition

Oct 20, 2021
jerusalem israel
(Image: Unsplash)

In a surprise move, the NSW Labor Party recently adopted a controversial definition of anti-Semitism without open debate after some last-minute changes to the agenda.

Following a one-day NSW Labor conference held on Saturday October 9, Australian Jewish News reported on the following Monday that the state Labor parties had adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

This outcome would have stunned all but a handful of the 800 conference delegates. They knew nothing about this “adoption” because a motion on this matter was not formally moved, debated or announced.

The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is controversial.

Kenneth Stern, the author of the statement, has insisted he did not expect his draft to set the standard for assessing hate speech. Perceiving the IHRA definition as confusing and ineffective, 200 Jewish scholars published the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism. In the London Review of Books, Israeli international law Professor Neve Gordon says the IHRA document aims to protect the Israeli government from criticism and to stifle a politics of liberation.

At the conference, there were about 30 motions condemning the racist, apartheid policies of the Israeli government.

And yet, a small group of pro-Zionist NSW Australian Labor Party (ALP) members successfully managed to have the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism adopted at the conference.

The group would have been aware of the motions, and that recommendations to recognise Palestine had been passed at NSW party conferences on three previous occasions.

As recently as the March 2021 ALP National Conference, those recommendations became part of the national platform.

Adoption of anti-Semitism definition is absurd and abusive

Given significant opposition to the IHRA definition, adoption at this ALP conference came as a surprise.

Questions about the procedures of a one day ALP conference give clues as to how the IHRA outcome may have been achieved.

Given Covid restrictions, the state conference only ran for one day, and by leaders’ advance agreement, it was assumed that controversy should be avoided. Resolutions placed under the “Australia and the world” committee would not be debated. Instead, the conference preamble said that in reference to chapter seven of the national platform, motions would be referred to deliberations of the recent national conference including decisions to recognise the state of Palestine.

However, a motion from the South Enfield branch, “that the NSW and federal Labor Party at their respective state and federal conferences adopts in full the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism including all the IHRA examples…” was lifted from the Australia and the world committee. That motion was taken to a social justice committee instead, where it escaped the attention it would have attracted as part of the Australia and the world agenda.

Secreted among social justice items concerned with national disability support and Indigenous disadvantage, the IHRA proposal slipped through and was adopted as part of a job lot. Delegates were not alerted. In the confusion of a conference conducted by Zoom and compressed into a single day, the transfer of a motion escaped attention.

It appears that the lobby did not want the IHRA definition the subject of debate.

There was no open debate, no opportunity for discussion, no exposition.

It’s not easy to fathom who was the most influential in achieving the transfer, or who was pulling the strings.

Individuals who were not known as members of the social justice committee were present in discussions to claim that the IHRA definition should be adopted unanimously.

The trumpeted ALP decision to adopt as policy a confusing, heavily criticised document mocks any idea of democracy.

If principles of openness in ALP deliberations had been respected, delegates could have expected an opportunity to mull over the content of significant documents such as the Jerusalem Declaration and the recent Sydney Statement on Anti Palestinianism. That did not happen. Instead, democracy was sullied by a sneaky arrangement to claim endorsement of an IHRA definition.

Even the meaning of those initials apparently remains a mystery to the hundreds who are now said to have adopted it.

Delegates to an annual state conference are bewildered by reports that the conference adopted a definition of anti-Semitism when the subject was literally not mentioned once during their deliberations.

After deliberations, a small but influential lobby gets its way, an Israeli government enjoys impunity but hundreds of ALP delegates are bewildered by a decision in which they did not participate but which has been reported as “unanimous”.

One question stands out. If the IHRA definition has merit, why could it not have been debated openly?

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