The Labour Party held its first training session on “Understanding Antisemitism” online on 14 June.
Anyone expecting a training session which denounced all criticism of Israel as antisemitic, or which cited the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) examples of antisemitism (much and wrongly denounced as banning criticism of Israel) as sole and absolute criteria, would have had their expectations confounded.
The session covered too much in too short a space of time. It leaned towards handed-down “training” rather than to opening up education and discussion. But if it encouraged at least some of its audience to follow up more deeply the material covered, then it was useful.
It suffered from all the usual drawbacks of a Zoom meeting, and the opening comments were too long. It attempted to cover too much in too short a space of time.
But it did examine contemporary forms of antisemitism, especially the forms in which it has manifested itself in the Labour Party in recent years.
Examples were provided of traditional antisemitic tropes — the blood libel, “Jewish wealth”, “Jewish power” — and how they manifest themselves today, especially in relation to debate about Israel-Palestine and to conspiracy theories.
The Soviet “anti-Zionist” campaign of the late 1960s was used as an example of how traditional antisemitic themes can be repackaged as “anti-Zionism”. The same campaign was also used to illustrate the necessarily antisemitic nature of equating Israel, Zionism and Nazism.
The importance of context was stressed. “Free Gaza, Free Palestine” was cited as a slogan not in itself antisemitic but which could be in certain contexts.
The IHRA definition and examples of antisemitism were mentioned only in passing, and that only in relation to its emphasis on the need to take context into account when assessing whether a statement is antisemitic.
What distinguishes antisemitism from racism (or other forms of racism) was also only touched upon, i.e. antisemitism sees Jews as more powerful, more wealthy, and more “cunning”, whereas anti-Black racism, for example, sees Blacks as inferior.
A concluding section covered the differences between legitimate criticisms of Israel and critiques which are warped and shaped by antisemitic assumptions and tropes.