Outcry by UK Jewry as Labour adopts controversial antisemitism guidelines

The guidelines are mostly taken from the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definitions, but omit four critical clauses.

July 17, 2018 20:43
3 minute read.
Outcry by UK Jewry as Labour adopts controversial antisemitism guidelines

The leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, delivers a speech in Manchester, Britain, March 22, 2018.. (photo credit: REUTERS/PHIL NOBLE)


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The National Executive Committee of the UK Labour Party adopted on Tuesday afternoon a new set of controversial guidelines on antisemitic behavior which exclude key issues of modern antisemitism and have been strongly opposed by the UK Jewish community.

It said however that debate over the guidelines could be reopened for discussion with the Jewish community.

The guidelines are mostly taken from the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definitions, but omit four critical clauses, leading to accusations that Labour is behaving arrogantly and dismissively of the Jewish community.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews together with the Jewish Leadership Council, two leading Jewish communal organizations, strongly criticized the adoption of the guidelines, while Chief Rabbi of the UK Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis wrote on Monday that Labour’s document constituted an “unprecedented message of contempt to the Jewish community."

In addition, 68 leading rabbis from across the spectrum of Jewish denominations in the UK wrote a letter to The Guardian on Monday calling on Labour to adopt the IHRA’s definitions.

Labour’s new guidelines are based on the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism, but exclude several key clauses, including one which stipulates that accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations, is antisemitic.

Another clause omitted is that applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation, is also not included in Labour’s guidelines.

In his letter to the NEC, which was not intentionally made public, Mirvis urged Labour to adopt the full IHRA guidelines, noting that they have been adopted by the UK government, the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament, 120 local municipal authorities, and the Jewish community.

“It is astonishing that the Labour Party presumes that it is more qualified than all of the above and, in particular the Jewish community, to define antisemitism,” wrote Mirvis.

“Adoption of Labour’s new alternative to the internationally accepted IHRA definition will send an unprecedented message of contempt to the Jewish community… Those who vote for anything but the full IHRA definition will be placing themselves on the wrong side of the fight against racism, antisemitism and intolerance.

The specific clauses of Labour’s new guidelines also omit the IHRA’s clauses that say “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” and “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” are acts of antisemitism.

Separate paragraphs outside of those specific clauses do, however, state: “The party is clear that the Jewish people have the same right to self-determination as any other people,” and that “to deny that right is to treat the Jewish people unequally and is therefore a form of antisemitism.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council said in a joint statement that Labour’s adoption of the guidelines meant that it claims to “understand antisemitism better than the victims of this vile prejudice,” and that it the step put it at odds with the Jewish community.

The statement said that Labour’s guidelines were “a deliberate provocation, built on a misrepresentation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism and double standards for the treatment of British Jews.”

It said that the party’s leadership had placed Labour “on the wrong side of the fight against antisemitism, intolerance and racism,” that “its failure to consult with the Jewish community was “a classic betrayal of basic anti-racist principles,” and that the party was “failing British Jews.”

On Monday, Labour MPs rebelled against the party leadership and voted to adopt the IHRA guidelines in full, but their vote is non-binding and therefore did not affect the NEC decision.

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