Jewish affiliate of UK’s Labour threatens to sue over anti-Semitism definition

Jewish Labour Movement says party members were misled to believe it supported controversial softened document, urges decision be promptly reversed

Luciana Berger, a British Jewish MP who is a leader of the Jewish Labour Movement. (YouTube screenshot)
Luciana Berger, a British Jewish MP who is a leader of the Jewish Labour Movement. (YouTube screenshot)

The British Labour party’s Jewish affiliate has harshly criticized the party’s recent adoption of a softer definition of anti-Semitism than that used by the government, the Guardian reported Wednesday, and has threatened legal action unless the decision is reversed.

The Jewish Labour Movement accused Jennie Formby, the chairman of the National Executive Committee, of misleading party members on the JLM’s position on the matter.

“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 anti-Semitism that were presented yesterday. You were misled,” a letter by JLM chairs Ivor Caplin and Luciana Berger stated.

“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.”

Ivor Caplin, a leader of the Jewish Labour Movement (YouTube screenshot)

The Labour definition is based on the one adopted in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, or IHRA, and since then by several countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany and five others in the European Union, as well as the EU as a whole.

But Labour omits at least four actions defined as anti-Semitic in the original document, including accusing Jews of “being more loyal to Israel” than their own country; claiming that Israel’s existence is a “racist endeavor”; applying a “double standard” on Israel; and comparing “contemporary Israeli policy” to that of the Nazis.

The definition features mostly examples of anti-Semitic behaviors that do not concern Israel, such as calling to harm Jews or denying the Holocaust or the Jewish people’s right to self determination.

The JLM said it “formally requests that the NEC urgently and publicly recalls the decision to approve these papers.”

A Labour source claimed the changes to the IHRA definition were made as certain examples were “too vague for application by a political party, so it has been adapted, expanded on and contextualized.”

He explained that Labour must enable “legitimate criticism of the actions or policies of the Israeli government, but the code makes absolutely clear that any anti-Semitic language or behavior will not be tolerated and will treated as a breach of party rules.”

Meanwhile The Simon Wiesenthal Center on Wednesday also denounced Labour’s choice of the definition, saying the party’s refusal to adopt the entire IHRA document was “a slap in the face to the UK’s Jewish community.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center said the party’s conduct was “an open invitation to anti-Semites and anti-Jewish activists to find a welcome within England’s political mainstream and has negative implications for world Jewry.”

Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl and Jonathan Goldstein, the chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council umbrella group, condemned the new definition in a statement last week.

British Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl. (Courtesy)

“It is for Jews to determine for themselves what anti-Semitism is,” 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.”

Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, a hard-left politician who has called Hezbollah and Hamas his “friends” and who is fighting accusations of harboring anti-Semitic sentiments, has come under intense scrutiny in the media over anti-Semitic rhetoric by its members. In 2016, an interparliamentary committee accused Labour of creating a “safe space for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people.”

Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during a memorial service at St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square in London, on April 23, 2018, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Victoria Jones)

In May, Jonathan Arkush, then president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said Corbyn holds “anti-Semitic views” that could drive Jewish Britons out of the country if he becomes prime minister. Arkush cited Corbyn’s defense in 2013 of an anti-Semitic mural, among other issues.

Corbyn has maintained that Labour will not tolerate racist rhetoric by its members. Dozens were kicked out over anti-Semitic statements. However, the party has kept on many Labour members whom Jewish community leaders said engaged in anti-Semitic hate speech. In recent months, Corbyn for the first time has encountered protests over his party’s anti-Semitism problem during work visits abroad.

JTA contributed to this report.

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