The Board of Deputies’ president has branded as “absurd” a Manchester-based lawyer’s motion calling for the organisation to “terminate all contact” with the leadership of the Labour Party.
Robert Festenstein, who resigned his Labour membership when a disciplinary panel did not expel former mayor Ken Livingston, served his Notice of Motion this week, just as the party begins consulting on its code of conduct on antisemitism.
The motion calls for the Board to cease all contact with Jeremy Corbyn or his office until the Labour leader “publicly acknowledges his own personal failings” in relation to antisemitism and “offers an unreserved apology to British Jews and to the Israeli victims of terrorists with whom he has shown solidarity”.
Board president Marie van der Zyl was unimpressed, however, saying the motion would tie the Board’s hand at a crucial time.
“While we agree with many of the concerns expressed in the motion, such severe constraints on the Board’s ability to act or challenge problems directly with the leadership of Labour or any party would be totally counterproductive,” she said.
“We need to be nimble to stand up for the community, not retreat behind red tape. I am certain that Deputies will reject this absurd motion.”
At a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee in September, Corbyn suggested a caveat to the party’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and its working examples.
Corbyn’s proposed addition said: “It should not be considered anti-Semitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.” The addition was rejected by Labour’s ruling body.
In addition to Festenstein’s pre-condition that Corbyn first apologise to British Jews and Israelis, he said the Labour leader should also apologise “for the offence caused by his proposed statement on 2 September, the intent of which was to qualify the IHRA definition”.
Festenstein is a director of Jewish Human Rights Watch, a vice-chair of the Zionist Central Council in Manchester and the Deputy for Prestwich Hebrew Congregation. He unsuccessfully sought election as a Board vice-president in May.
In his campaign manifesto this year, Festenstein said: “It is the regressive left’s attack on our community which is of principal concern today. Universities, charities and trade unions have all lined up alongside the current Labour Party leadership to belittle our community and define for us what is and isn’t antisemitism.”
It is understood that Festenstein’s motion will now be discussed at the next meeting of the Board’s Defence division, which meets on Monday.
- Robert Festenstein
- Board of Deputies
- Ken Livingston
- Jeremy Corbyn
- Labour’s National Executive Committee
- International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism
- British Jews
- Jewish Human Rights Watch
- Zionist Central Council in Manchester
- Prestwich Hebrew Congregation
- Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue