Shadow cabinet minister urges Labour to adopt full anti-Semitism definition

Shadow cabinet minister urges Labour to adopt full anti-Semitism definition

Barry Gardiner calls on Labour's governing body to accept the widely-backed IHRA definition which was rejected by the party's NEC last week

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

Barry Gardiner speaking at Jewish News' Israel Policy Conference in 2016 (Marc Morris Photography)
Barry Gardiner speaking at Jewish News' Israel Policy Conference in 2016 (Marc Morris Photography)

Barry Gardiner has urged Labour to adopt the widely-accepted international definition of anti-Semitism with all its examples – a week after the party’s governing body provoked widespread anger by failing to do so.

General secretary Jennie Formby has previously said the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition with examples doesn’t go far enough and claimed Labour’s new code – which was adopted by the NEC a week ago – is the most comprehensive plan to tackle anti-Semitism by any political party.

But the shadow international trade secretary told the Jewish News: “My view is that it would have been better for the party to adopt the IHRA definition in full with all the examples and then to add all the clauses necessary to make it enforceable rather than to appear to cavil and weaken the definition.

“Having to prove intent may indeed appear to weaken the definition, but if it does make it easier to evict vile racist anti-Semites from our party then in my view that can only be a good thing.”

Gardiner is the first member of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet to break with his leadership by advocating for the adoption of IHRA in full since the NEC voted to adopt a code of conduct that altered or left out four of the accompanying examples of contemporary anti-Semitism accompanying IHRA.

He stressed that the Home Affairs Select Committee had “broadly” accepted IHRA but had proposed “clarifications” to ensure freedom of speech in discussions on Israel. He also pointed to the decision not to prosecute over hateful statements about ‘Zionists’ at last year’s al Quds parade, where the CPS considered both the IHR|A definition and the home office report. “My point is that the IHRA non-statutory definition of antisemitism on its own is simply not adequate to secure a prosecution and it is similarly inadequate to secure the eviction from a party of a person who is willing to instigate a court challenge to the proposed eviction as some members accused of antisemitism have been prepared to do”.

But pointing to a commitment by the NEC to consult with the community on the definition, Gardiner said it was his “earnest wish” that the party will ultimately adopt the full definition with examples “and then add those clauses which will enable us to successfully resist any legal challenge by anti-Semitic racists who fight to remain in the party.

“My party is not racist. It is not anti-Semitic and it will always and should always be the party that champions those who are abused and downtrodden”.

The “real tragedy”, he suggested, was that this “semantic debate” has come “at a time when all of us who care about the future of Israel and the Middle East should be united in condemning the Netanyahu government for legislating that only Jews have the right to self-determination in Israel”.

He said the Conservatives for failing to formally include IHRA within its written code of conduct until after the PM spoke about the issue on PMQs – though the Tories made clear the party recognised it in full at the same time as the government in 2016. Theresa May’s government was the first to adopt the definition within examples.

Gardiner said: “Their failure to include any mention of antisemitism in their own code of conduct does not justify any failures there may be in Labour’s own process, but it does perhaps set the debate in its proper political context. My view is that the current row is not only a matter of what is included and what is not when defining vile and offensive behaviour. It is also about what are perceived to be the wider political positions of some of our leading politicians and in particular of Jeremy Corbyn.”

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