Green Party & Anti-Semitism. What exactly happened at Conference?

Zack Polanski
reen Party Candidate Zack Polanski at Rally Summer 2018

When I first joined the Green Party, I expected to get more involved with issues close to my heart. Issues that are absolutely urgent to the future of our planet.

Issues like the impending climate crisis, sustainable living, a Universal Basic Income and the campaign for a fair voting system. And I have done — and I’ve been really proud of how the party is at the forefront of all these campaigns. If it wasn’t for the Green Party, a lot of these issues just simply wouldn’t be getting debated.

I didn’t expect when I joined that the first speech I would attempt to make at Green Party Conference would be so much more personal though; I didn’t expect that it would be on Anti-Semitism.

Now in this article, I don’t want to sound like I’m justifying things. Let me be clear — and genuinely clear, as opposed to ‘Theresa May’ clear — I am deeply disappointed that the party have not yet adopted the IHRA definition on antisemitism. Whatever you think about the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn or your stance on Israel/Palestine the current context meant the party really had an opportunity to send a message to the Jewish community.

Sending a message both to those who vote Green or otherwise that says ‘You’re all welcome here. We take antisemitism seriously and we have your back.’ That didn’t happen but let’s get the facts straight about what exactly did happen.

This Autumn conference the party conducted a Holistic Review. This, without being too process-y, is a massive undertaking looking at effectively the Green constitution and how the party works. This took up a good 95% of the conference time in the main hall — and with good reason.

As a result though (and the fact it was a late emergency motion after the rise in hate crime,) the antisemitism motion was allocated 20 minutes for debate on the final morning. Now this is a first point of disappointment — it doesn’t take a huge amount of sensitivity to realise that something as contentious as this debate has probably needs more time than to be rushed through a tiny slot.

The debate was fractious, mildly chaotic — and as I pointed out at the time — focused far too much on Israel and Jeremy Corbyn. Instead of discussing how best we combat this particularly unique form of racism, the conversation almost entirely ignored that and focused instead on the motivation behind this motion being put forward — to stifle free speech in support of the entirely legitimate Palestinian struggle.

But let’s be absolutely clear here, the motion — written by young Green Nate Higgins who worked tirelessly to get it together and collect a historic number of signatures — says unequivocally that ‘it is not antisemitic to criticise Israel’.

Now I’m all for debate. After all I’m Jewish. It’s clear to me though that once that line has been included, the rest of the debate is debating something else entirely if you’re still talking about Israel.

Yes — we should have a policy on Israel and that will be a controversial debate. Yes we should have specific policies for Islamophobia and for Justice for Palestinians — hopefully less controversial; but let’s not make that the reason why we don’t protect our Jewish members and friends.

In the end the motion wasn’t voted down — but was referred back until Spring Conference where we will have more time to debate it. I’ve offered to take the main bulk of the work on as proposer — and will be working alongside fellow Jewish Green Councillor Dr Louise Griffiths from the Worcester Party to both get the wording exactly right and to dialogue with people who are concerned.

I’m more than happy to engage with people who are worried about the motion or the policy but I would just ask that we start from a mutual understanding of the basic facts that this policy has very little to do with Israel. And in fact is not even about Jewish people in Britain — but very specifically about protecting Jewish members of the Green Party.

I am more than prepared for us to stand against Benjamin Netenyahu when he commits disproportionate violence against the Palestinian people. Let’s stand against all unfairness around the world , but let’s not do it by trampling on the rights of minorities here at home.

Zack Polanski

Written by

Politics. Theatre. London. Europe. LGBT+ (NFL!)

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