UK Jewish groups divided on Labour’s adoption of anti-Semitism definition

While Labour Friends of Israel and Labour Against Anti-Semitism slam addition stressing ‘free speech’ on Israel, Board of Deputies welcomes it as a first step

Responses were mixed to the British Labour party’s decision Tuesday to adopt in full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance‘s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism and add a statement that emphasizes the right to “free speech” on Israel, with the UK Jewish community divided on how to treat it.

The national executive committee, the governing body of Britain’s main opposition party, decided to include all the IHRA examples of anti-Semitism in its definition, including those related to racist criticism of Israel, British media reported.

However, Labour also accompanied the adoption with a statement “which ensures this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians,” according to a Labour Party spokesperson.

The exact language of the statement accompanying the decision wasn’t immediately published, but its addition drew fresh criticism, indicating the party may have failed in its bid to put a major anti-Semitism scandal behind it.

Labour Friends of Israel slammed the party and Corbyn for including the clarification.

“It is appalling that the Labour party has once again ignored the view clearly and repeatedly stated by the Jewish community: that it should adopt the full IHRA definition without additions, omissions or caveats,” its director Jennifer Gerber said in a statement.

“A ‘freedom of expression on Israel’ clause is unnecessary and totally undermines the other examples the party has supposedly just adopted. Labour appears determined to provide a safe space for antisemites. This decision is a sad reflection on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party and the culture it has instilled,” she added.

The group Labour Against Anti-Semitism said it was disappointed of the decision, adding that the clarifying statement “risks giving racists in the party a get out of jail card” and that “there can be no caveats, no conditions and no compromises with racism.”

LAAS Comment on Today's NEC Meeting: “There can be no caveats, no conditions and no compromises with racism”We are…

Posted by Labour Against Antisemitism on Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Jewish Leadership Council also condemned the addition as an attempt “to shamefully undermine” the full IHRA definition.

“It is clearly more important for Labour to protect the free speech of those who hate Israel than it is to protect the Jewish community from real threats it faces,” it said in a statement.

In stark contrast, the Board of Deputies of British Jews said the decision was the “right call,” though it demanded firm action and an apology from Corbyn for past deeds.

“It is very long overdue and regrettable that Labour has wasted a whole summer trying to dictate to Jews what constitutes offense against us,” it said, refraining from criticizing the caveat.

But it added that the adoption of the definition was only “the beginning,” saying that “we need to see firm action taken against antisemites and those who bring the party into disrepute by denying the problem of antisemitism.”

“Labour must resolve the outstanding cases; introduce greater transparency to the disciplinary process; tackle the culture of the problem of antisemitism and introduce education and training,” the statement said.

Similarly the World Jewish Congress also called the move “a step in the right direction.”

However, it noted that it will not “be enough to deal with the damaging cases of antisemitism which have struck at the heart of its relationship with the UK Jewish community.”

MP Margaret Hodge, who has been among Corbyn’s loudest critics, called the move “two steps forward and one step back.”

Outside Labour, MP James Cleverly of the ruling Conservative Party charged that Corbyn was part of Labour’s anti-Semitism problem, not part of the solution to it.

Some commentators argued that Corbyn himself has breached his party’s newly adopted own definition of anti-Semitism.

A Labour spokesperson said in a statement after Tuesday’s meeting that “the NEC has today adopted all of the IHRA examples of antisemitism, in addition to the IHRA definition which Labour adopted in 2016, alongside a statement which ensures this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians.

“The NEC welcomed Jeremy Corbyn’s statement to the meeting about action against antisemitism, solidarity with the Jewish community and protection of Palestinian rights, as an important contribution to the consultation on Labour’s code of conduct.”

The crisis over anti-Semitism in the Labour party has caused a major schism within its ranks and led to Jews to express fears over the future in the country.

Labour’s earlier adoption of a more limited definition — omitting some of the alliance’s language around criticism of Israel — renewed claims that the left-of-center party has become hostile to Jews under leader Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause and opponent of Israel.

Corbyn says anti-Semitism has no place in the Labour Party, but he has been roundly criticized over reports of rampant anti-Jewish prejudice, for his own allegedly anti-Semitic statements and activities, and for not backing the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

Activists outside a meeting of the Labour National Executive Committee in London, Tuesday, September 4, 2018. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

Last week, veteran lawmaker Frank Field quit Labour’s grouping in Parliament, saying the party had become a “force for anti-Semitism.”

Corbyn has been accused of failing to expel party members who express anti-Semitic views and has received personal criticism for past statements, including a 2010 speech in which he compared Israel’s blockade of Gaza — intended to prevent weapons from reaching the Hamas terror group —  to Nazi Germany’s sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad during World War II.

In the 1980s, he was also active in a Labour movement that called to “eradicate Zionism” and for a secular Palestinian state in the whole of British mandatory Palestine.

Critics have also condemned him for attending a 2014 wreath-laying to Palestinians whom Israel has linked to the murder of 11 Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Corbyn supporters accuse political opponents and right-wing media outlets of misrepresenting the leader’s views.

Labour’s leadership has argued that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, signed by 31 countries and used by many British institutions, includes what they say is legitimate criticism of Israel.

The four clauses previously rejected by the party relate to unfair singling out of Israel or questioning the loyalty of Jews who support Israel.

Demonstrators hold placards as they protest outside the headquarters of Britain’s opposition Labour party in central London on September 4, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS)

The debate on anti-Semitism came a day after the reelection to the committee of party activist Peter Willsman, who has been accused of anti-Semitism over a claim he made that Jewish “Trump fanatics” were fabricating allegations of anti-Semitism within the party.

Jewish groups and leaders have also criticized the party for its failure to deal with allegations of anti-Semitism, with former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks charging on Sunday that the majority of Jews are questioning whether Britain is a safe place to bring up their children.

The peer, who is not affiliated with any party, insisted the Labour leader must “recant and repent” and that he risked engulfing the country “in the flames of hatred.”

Sacks has also called Corbyn a dangerous anti-Semite. Labour dismissed that claim as absurd and offensive.

Last month comments made by Corbyn in a 2013 speech at the Palestinian Return Centre in London were revealed, where he said of a group of British “Zionists”: “They clearly have two problems. One is they don’t want to study history and, secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either.”

Britain’s Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his house in London ahead of a meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee, in London, Tuesday, September 4, 2018. (Nick Ansell/PA via AP)

Corbyn claimed that he had used the word Zionist “in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people.”

The party leader is now subject to an official complaint “for antisemitism and for bringing the party into disrepute,” lodged by the campaign group Labour Against Antisemitism, over his 2013 comments.

Two weeks ago, footage surfaced of Corbyn accusing Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians during a 2014 rally, as a Hamas flag waved behind him. Corbyn called the terror group “friends” prior to his election as Labour leader two years ago, a statement he has since walked back.

One of the photos published recently showed Corbyn hosting a panel featuring senior Hamas officials in 2012, including members convicted of murdering Israelis in terror attacks.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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