Zionism, anti-semitism and the British Labour Party

Oct 2, 2022
Entrance of Auschwitz II - Birkenau, former German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp - Poland
Image: iStock

Last week Ali Kazak re-published an article,

The article was said to be by Yvonne Ridley and dated 23.12.2021. It addressed the prospect of “(o)ne 82-year-old woman in Britain…(being) expelled from the Labour Party having been accused of posting “anti-Semitic” views on social networks”. “Diana Neslen, though, is Jewish”. The ‘views’ essentially questioned Zionism, asserting that it was based on lies.

The article went on to detail Neslen’s opposition including a solicitor’s letter to the Labour Party alleging “discrimination and harassment’ by the Labour Party.

An issue in the dispute is the Labour Party’s 2018 adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism whereby “(d)enying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour”, and, ergo, an example of anti-Semitism.

Ridley muses whether the Labour Party, in response to Neslen’s legal letter, will apologise to her and desist from further action. She asserts that Neslen will, however, “not drop the legal action”.

Unfortunately, what Ridley, and Ali Kazak did not realise was that the matter had already been dealt with in the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division. The Honourable Mr. Justice Butcher published his decision on 8 July 2021.

As a former Queen’s Counsel, now King’s Counsel, the writer is obviously someone qualified to comment upon the decision. However, I must draw to the reader’s attention the facts that I have not seen the documentation constituting the proceedings, and I am not cognisant of how arguments were put and challenged. I am limited to the Judge’s reasons, and it is not the case that a judge’s reasons are never open to criticism.

What is apparent to me however, is that the Court appears to have been side-tracked into arguments which trace their basis back to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. The Judge asserts: It is no part of this case, or this judgment, to determine whether any of the allegations of anti-Semitism made against the Claimants are or are not well-founded. I should point out that Neslen was not the only claimant.

The first declaration sought by Neslen was that she did not engage in conduct “grossly detrimental to the Party” by reason of the fact that such conduct was anti-Semitic. The Judge details the Party’s adoption in its 2018 Code of Conduct and notes that the Code asserts: To assist in understanding what constitutes antisemitism, the NEC has endorsed the definition produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016. 

That definition does what its proponents desire it to do, i.e., it blurs the distinction between anti-Semitism ‘per se’ and criticism of the State of Israel. It enables proponents of Zionism to argue that someone has overstepped the mark.

And the Judge appears to have fallen for the trap. Rather than avoid uncertainty he appears to have been sidetracked into complex examination of procedures to determine whether Neslen was the subject of unfairness in Party processes.

All His Honour needed to do was to adopt an earlier judicial determination as to what constitutes anti-Semitism, given in Irving v Penguin Books Ltd. [2000] EWHC QB 115. In that case David Irving, self-professed Holocaust denier, sued in defamation in the English High Court. He claimed that it was defamatory of him to call him an anti-Semite. Penguin Books pleaded the defence of truth. The Court accepted Penguin Book’s plea. In doing so it essentially defined as anti-Semitic words “directed against Jews, either individually or collectively, in the sense that they are by turns hostile, critical, offensive and derisory in their references to semitic people, their characteristics and appearances”.

Had His Honour, Mr. Justice Butcher, adopted that definition, he could then say that nothing said by Neslen in criticism of Zionism constitutes anti-Semitism and that it was in the event appropriate to make a declaration, admittedly not in the precise terms as sought by her counsel, namely that she had not engaged in anti-Semitic conduct and hence could not have breached any Party Rule.

So there it is. As someone grounded in English law, both the common law and statute law, I must say that this decision, and those of the English courts appertaining to Julian Assange, have started to dent my hitherto enormous respect for same.

Further reading on Palestine and Israel.

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