Macpherson definition misunderstood in Labour Party anti-Semitism definition

Macpherson definition misunderstood in Labour Party anti-Semitism definition


Written by: Institute of Race Relations

As the Parliamentary Labour Party and Labour’s National Executive Committee meet to discuss the adoption of a contentious definition of anti-Semitism, the IRR draws attention to its evidence to the Chakrabarti Review, submitted two years ago. 

In June 2016, we drew attention to the dangers of introducing too much subjectivity into the definition of racism, by allowing the victim’s perception of the nature of a hostile act to be determinative, rather than (as Macpherson intended) the starting point of an investigation. We said:

‘in the present febrile climate as regards racism in the Labour Party, to introduce such subjectivity into debates would not in fact clarify matters of racism but open them to personal interpretations and thereby cloud the issue.’

The problem with allowing potential victims the last word as to what constitutes anti-Semitism goes deeper than clouding the issue. If it precludes all investigation into the intention of the impugned act, it interferes with the rule of law, which rarely if ever allows irrebuttable presumptions. In our evidence to Chakrabarti, we said that anti-racism is about justice, fairness, equity:

‘Penalising people for perceived racist feelings or attitudes is itself biased (because based on subjective opinion), contrary to natural justice and unproductive.’

The fundamental right to free expression, recognised in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, is first and foremost the right to impart and receive information. In this context, we are aware of the legitimate concerns raised by Palestinians in the UK, and those who advocate for them, that information about their lived experience, history, and realities will be silenced: they point out that have a right to be heard, to make this information public, while others have the right to hear them and arguments based on these facts.

Related links

Read the IRR’s submission to the Labour Party Inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, including Islamophobia here

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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