UK Chief Rabbi: Labour guidelines show 'unprecedented contempt' for Jews

Labour party formally adopts its own controversial guidelines but says it will be ‘reopened’ for review with Jewish community

July 17, 2018 13:06
3 minute read.
Britain's chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

Britain's chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. (photo credit: TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS)


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The UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirivis strongly criticized the Labour party Monday for failing to adopt in full antisemitism guidelines set out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, saying its omission of critical clauses constitutes an “unprecedented message of contempt to the Jewish community.”

Mirvis wrote his letter to the Labour National Executive Committee (NEC) on Monday, but the body nevertheless adopted its own, heavily criticized guidelines regarding antisemitic behavior on Tuesday afternoon, although reportedly left room to “re-open” discussions on the code of conduct with the Jewish community.

Mirvis wrote his letter to the Labour National Executive Committee (NEC) which was convening on Tuesday to vote on the adoption of new guidelines regarding antisemitism within the party, which has been beset by numerous antisemitic scandals from its members in recent years.

Labour’s new guidelines are based on the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism, but exclude several of 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 in Labour’s guidelines is that is antisemitic to apply a double standard by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

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, Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament and 120 local municipal authorities, as well as 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, together with the Jewish Leadership Council, two leading Jewish communal organizations, have both rejected Labour’s guidelines, while 68 leading rabbis from across the spectrum of Jewish denominations wrote a letter to The Guardian on Monday calling on Labour to adopt the IHRA’s definitions.

“As British rabbis, it is with great regret that we find it necessary to write, yet antisemitism within sections of the Labour party has become so severe and widespread that we must speak out with one Jewish voice,” they wrote.

“The Labour party’s leadership has chosen to ignore those who understand antisemitism the best, the Jewish community. By claiming to know what’s good for our community, the Labour party’s leadership have chosen to act in the most insulting and arrogant way.”

The rabbis said it was not the place of the Labour party to rewrite the widely accepted IHRA definition of antisemitism and urged the Labour party “to listen to the Jewish community, adopt the full and unamended International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism including its examples, and like the organizations listed above, use the IHRA definition alone as their working definition of antisemitism.”

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 does not directly affect the NEC decision.

The NEC was still debating the guidelines and had not taken a vote by press time.

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