Britain adopts broader anti-Semitism definition to fight hate crimes against Jews
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Britain adopts broader anti-Semitism definition to fight hate crimes against Jews

Effort designed to make it harder to evade repercussions through lack of clarity on what anti-Semitism is, Downing Street says

Illustrative photo of an Orthodox Jew walking past the Ahavas Torah Synagogue in the Stamford Hill area of north London on March 22, 2015. (AFP/Niklas Halle'n)
Illustrative photo of an Orthodox Jew walking past the Ahavas Torah Synagogue in the Stamford Hill area of north London on March 22, 2015. (AFP/Niklas Halle'n)

Britain will be among the first countries worldwide to adopt an international definition of anti-Semitism in efforts to fight hate crimes and incitement targeting Jews which have been on the rise this past year.

On Monday, in pre-released excerpts of a speech she is set to give, British Prime Minister Theresa May said “it means there will be one definition of anti-Semitism – in essence, language or behaviour that displays hatred towards Jews because they are Jews – and anyone guilty of that will be called out on it,” according to Reuters.

“It is unacceptable that there is anti-Semitism in this country. It is even worse that incidents are reportedly on the rise. As a government we are making a real difference and adopting this measure is a groundbreaking step,” her speech reads. It was not yet clear when she would give the address.

The definition adopted by Britain was formulated earlier this year by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and is designed to make it harder to evade repercussions for discriminatory or prejudiced behavior because of a lack of clarity or differing opinions on what constitutes anti-Semitism.

The intention was to “ensure that culprits will not be able to get away with being anti-Semitic because the term is ill-defined, or because different organizations or bodies have different interpretations of it,” read a statement by Downing Street, cited by the Guardian..

The IHRA definition reads: “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.”

According to the definition, “manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be
regarded as anti-Semitic.”

It was adopted in May as a non-legally binding working definition by the group’s 31 member countries, which include Britain, the US, Germany, Canada, France, Spain and Israel.

Earlier this year, a watchdog group noted an 11 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Britain in the first six months of 2016.

The Community Security Trust, or CST, registered 557 anti-Semitic incidents in that period, compared to 500 in the first half of 2015.

The 557-incident total is the second-highest CST has ever recorded in the January-June period of any year, after 629 incidents recorded in the first half of 2009.

Illustrative: Haredi Orthodox men walking along the street in the Stamford Hill area of London, Jan. 17, 2015. (Rob Stothard/Getty Images via JTA)
Illustrative: Haredi Orthodox men walking along the street in the Stamford Hill area of London, Jan. 17, 2015. (Rob Stothard/Getty Images via JTA)

The first half of 2016 also saw a polarizing debate in the United Kingdom about whether the country should exit the European Union, a decision favored by 52% of voters in a national referendum that took place on June 23.

According to CST and police figures, Britain saw a considerable increase in xenophobic incidents following the vote, where immigration was a central theme. Jews, however, were not singled out for such attacks after the vote on the British exit, or Brexit.

Last week, a British court found a man guilty of waging an anti-Semitic internet campaign against Jewish lawmaker Luciana Berger.

In October, a British parliamentary committee of inquiry upheld claims that the UK’s Labour party’s leadership was failing to confront seriously anti-Semitism in its ranks.

The report followed intense scrutiny of Labour in the British media, that have reported on dozens of cases involving hate speech against Jews or Israel by party members, including senior lawmakers loyal to its leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Raised persistently by leaders of British Jewry following the election last year of Corbyn to lead Labour, the accusation was reaffirmed in the publication of the scathing report entitled “Antisemitism in the UK” compiled by the Home Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons, the lower house of the British Parliament.

Corbyn’s “lack of consistent leadership on this issue, and his reluctance to separate antisemitism from other forms of racism, has created what some have referred to as a ‘safe space’ for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people,” read the withering report, which was agreed upon unanimously by the 11 lawmakers who wrote it. Five of them were from Labour.

The document was the first major independent probe into anti-Semitism in Labour under Corbyn – a problem that the Board of Deputies of British Jews and other community organs have accused Corbyn of downplaying and even whitewashing in internal party probes.

At the time, the Home Affairs report called on Labour to adopt a definition of anti-Semitism, take stricter action against those caught making anti-Semitic statements and train members on the difference between criticizing Israel and disseminating anti-Semitism, among other steps.

On Monday, a spokeswoman for Corbyn said he and the Labour party agreed with the IHRA’s definition.

“Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party share the view that language or behaviour that displays hatred towards Jews is anti-Semitism, and is as repugnant and unacceptable as any other form of racism,” the spokeswoman said.

JTA contributed to this report.

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