One of my favourite childhood memories is of my father and his two brothers, uncle Jack and uncle Arnold, at family gathering. Forgive the sexism of this – my mother and aunts were not involved. The brothers were products of their time. They would always sit at a table and argue about the politics of the day – Suez, Hungary, Kruschev, Eden, Gaitskell. They were carrying on a wonderful Jewish tradition, expressed in the lovely saying – three Jews, four opinions. I listened and I learned.
Recently, I rediscovered my cousin Leslie, uncle Jack’s son, in Ramsgate – and what do we do? This time with our partners we sit down at a table and discuss the politics of the day - antisemitism, Corbyn, Israel, Palestine. Now I’m a sort of unrepentant Marxist and I regard Leslie (he can speak for himself) as a sort of liberal socialist. So there is plenty of scope for disagreement. I argue that Israel is a racist colonial settler state, and that it is unacceptable that I as a Jew have a greater right to live in Israel/ Palestine than an evicted, dispossessed, ethnically cleansed Palestinian. There is disagreement inevitably, but perhaps more agreement than either of us would care to admit.
Now under the examples of the IHRA definition, this debate would not be allowed as it outlaws putting the view that the state of Israel is a ‘racist endeavour’.
This would be such a loss. It would be a loss for the participants in the debate. I’m sure both I and Leslie have learned a lot from our dialogue, and gained much self-clarification. So too would anyone else listening in – just as I did that lifetime ago.
The result? For sure I would be expelled from the Labour Party, after 50 years continued membership. But that’s not the worst of it – after all that’s one of the aims of the exercise. As the joint statement of the three Jewish newspapers attacking Jeremy Corbyn makes clear, if the IHRA definition were to be passed in full, hundreds if not thousands of Labour Party members would be expelled.
No, the worst of it is that people like my liberal socialist cousin Leslie would find themselves on the wrong side of the definition and face the chop as well.
And a beautiful Jewish tradition would be lost.
- Graham Bash is a member of the Editorial Board of Labour Briefing