search

UK’s Labour told its anti-Semitism definition may breach anti-discrimination law

Jewish Labour Movement says party’s decision to adopt a softer definition of anti-Semitism than that used by the government means it treats Jews less favorably than other groups

Illustrative: People hold up placards and Union flags as they gather for a demonstration organized by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism outside the head office of the British opposition Labour Party in central London on April 8, 2018. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)
Illustrative: People hold up placards and Union flags as they gather for a demonstration organized by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism outside the head office of the British opposition Labour Party in central London on April 8, 2018. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)

The British Labour party has been warned that its definition of anti-Semitism may breach the Equality Act, a key UK anti-discrimination law,  according to a Monday report.

Legal advice from The Jewish Labour Movement argues that the party’s decision to adopt a softer definition of anti-Semitism than that used by the government means it treats Jews less favorably than other groups, The Guardian reported.

The 1999 Macpherson report, issued in the wake of the racially motivated 1993 murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, argues that each group has the right to define prejudice against it.

According to the Macpherson report, “A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.” The report adds that, “This definition should be universally adopted by the police, local government and other relevant agencies.”

The Jewish Labour Movement argued that by removing key clauses from its definition of anti-Semitism, the Labour Party rejects the rights of Jews to define perceived anti-Semitism, and thus discriminates against Jews.

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

“The Equality Act is an important and significant piece of Labour legislation, which the Labour family strongly supported. To propose a code of conduct, which clearly breaches the law, is unacceptable,” JLM head Ivor Caplin told The Guardian.

The 2010 Equality Act is a UK anti-discrimination law which demands equal treatment by employers and service providers, regardless of age, disability, gender, marital status, race, religion or belief or sexual orientation.

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.

However, 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.

Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking after he retained his parliamentary seat in Islington north London, June 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) is to meet Tuesday to vote on formally adopting the definition of anti-Semitism.

“From the beginning it was clear that Labour writing its own definition of anti-Semitism was morally questionable, the fact it is legally questionable should kill the idea stone dead,” Richard Angell, head of Labour’s pressure group Progress told The Guardian. “Labour should be listening to Jewish people.”

A spokesperson for the Labour Party rejected the accusations of bias.

“This is entirely untrue. Both our new code of conduct and our disciplinary procedures are fully in line with the Macpherson principles,” he said according to The Guardian report. “When the party receives a complaint about an alleged anti-Semitic incident it will record the complaint as one of anti-Semitism when that is how the victim perceives it. This is exactly the same process for complaints about other forms of prejudice received by the party.”

Labour also denied it had created a new definition of anti-Semitism.

“The code adopts the IHRA definition and contextualizes and adds to the working examples to produce a practical guidelines that a political party can apply in disciplinary cases,” the spokesperson said.

Last week the JLM threatened legal action against the Labour Party for misleading its voters, and said it “formally requests that the NEC urgently and publicly recalls the decision to approve these papers.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl and Jonathan Goldstein, the chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council umbrella group also all denounced Labour’s choice of the definition last week.

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

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.”

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.

read more:
comments
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed