Brent Council has voted to adopt an extended definition of anti-Semitism that includes criticism of Israel, but not before last-minute amendments.
Councillor Joel Davidson of the Conservative Party had earlier submitted that the Council adopt the new International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, including the definition’s much-criticised working examples.
One amendment, submitted by Councillor Reg Colwill, also on behalf of the Conservatives, sought to withdraw the IHRA examples from the Brent motion, instead only using the IHRA’s main definition.
The working examples, listed in bullet points, are designed to explain how anti-Semitism can manifest itself through behaviour or comment, but critics say this risks limiting free speech. Examples include the argument that Israel is a racist state, or the requirement to hold Israel to a different or higher standard than other states.
Council members voted not to allow Colwell’s amendment, and instead debated the motion that included the working examples.
Davidson said: “We strongly support the original motion which we believe to be essential to join over 100 other local authorities who have signed up… There has been some dispute about the rise in hate crimes and the effects on the Jewish community but I think everyone at Brent must be aware that anti-Semitism is at its highest level since formal records began.”
The IHRA definition states that anti-Semitism “is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities”.
Davidson said: “Brent has a problem with anti-Semitism. We all know this. It’s historic, going back a long time. The Council and Members need to reflect on what exactly it is that they can possibly object to.”
Labour Councillor Shafique Choudhary proposed another amendment, suggesting that one particular example – denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination – be changed to reflect an equal right of self-determination for the Palestinian people. This met with widespread support in the Council and was adopted, Davidson being the only councillor to vote against Choudhary’s amendment.
Labour Councillor Tom Miller said he had received some “well-intentioned emails, cautioning us against adopting the IHRA definition, some of which have been from Jewish people. Many were worried about the impact on free speech on Israel.” He added: “Despite the potentially difficult wording of this motion, we need to remember that ‘never again’… is a call to action at the political level.”
The Council then overwhelmingly voted to adopt Davidson’s motion but with Choudhary’s amendment, with only independent Councillor Helen Carr voting against and four abstentions.
Philip Rosenberg, director of public affairs at the Board of Deputies, on Tuesday thanked Brent councillors for passing the motion, saying: “The fact that you did so with cross party support and without any votes against is a tribute to the commitment of Brent to come together to supporting all of its communities.”