Jewish leaders have reacted angrily after the Labour Party modified a new definition of anti-Semitism.
It comes after the Party published its code of conduct on anti-Semitism, based partly on the new International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition taken up by councils across England, and by the Welsh and Scottish parliaments.
However, amid a series of revisions, Labour’s new guidance – shared with the Jewish Labour Movement before publication – states: “It is not anti-Semitism to refer to ‘Zionism’ and ‘Zionists’ as part of a considered discussion about the Israeli state.”
While the code spells out that anti-Semitism is “unacceptable” in the party, it says criticism of the State of Israel and its policies should not automatically be regarded as anti-Semitic.
It adds that even “contentious” comments on Israel “will not be treated as anti-Semitism unless accompanied by specific anti-Semitic content… or by other evidence of anti-Semitic intent”.
In an angry joint statement from the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, the leaders of which are due to meet Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s General-Secretary Jennie Formby later this month, the groups said: “It is for Jews to determine for themselves what anti-Semitism is.”
Board president Marie van der Zyl and JLC chairman Jonathan Goldstein said it was “impossible to understand” why Labour refused to adopt the IHRA definition, which in its fullest version includes examples such as calling Israel a racist state.
“The UK Jewish community has adopted in full the IHRA definition, as have the British Government, Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament, 124 local authorities across the country and numerous governments around the world,” they said.
“It is impossible to understand why Labour refuses to align itself with this universal definition. Its actions only dilute the definition and further erode the existing lack of confidence that British Jews have in their sincerity to tackle anti-Semitism within the Labour movement.”
The definition has had a host of critics, and in May, civil liberties group Liberty – which for years was led by Labour’s Shadow Attorney-General Baroness Shami Chakrabarti – urged local authorities not to adopt it, saying it conflates anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel and was therefore a “threat to freedom of expression”.
This followed the publication last year of a legal review by Hugh Tomlinson QC, noting that it was “not legally binding” and describing it as “unclear and confusing”. The Home Affairs Select Committee also recommended making changes to the definition in order to protect free speech on Israel.
Labour had made it widely known that they planned to modify the IHRA working examples, which have been used by Israel advocates to push for the cancellation of Israel Apartheid Week activities on campus.
There were reports this week that new Jewish Labour Movement chair Ivor Caplin, a former Labour MP, had been “played” after attending a meeting with Formby ahead of the new code’s publication.
In an angry letter to Formby following the meeting, Caplin and JLM’s parliamentary chair Luciana Berger MP said: “The Jewish community, and JLM, believe that the best working definition of anti-Semitism is the full IHRA definition, including its examples.
“If the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is good enough for the CPS, College of Policing, Jewish community, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, National Union of Students, and Labour Councils across the country, then it should be good enough for the Labour Party.
“It doesn’t need changing, and it’s unclear for whose benefit these changes have been made. We cannot give anti-Semites a get out of jail free card.”
Following Labour’s decision to adopt the new policy, the Jewish Labour Movement wrote to the NEC expressing its concerns. JLM write: “It is our understanding, that the NEC was informed by the General Secretary that the Jewish Labour Movement had approved the three papers on tackling antisemitism that were presented yesterday. You were misled. The papers were briefly shown to two JLM representatives over a short informal meeting; there was no pre-sight of the papers or opportunity to read them in full.”
JLM’s letter also “formally requests that the NEC urgently and publicly recalls the decision” and if they refuse, “we will be left with no alternative than to bring a formal dispute against the Party”.
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