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Keir Starmer backs Jewish critics of Labour's new anti-Semitism rules

3 min read

Labour should listen to critics of its new anti-Semitism rules and make changes "sharpish", frontbencher Sir Keir Starmer has declared.

A fresh row erupted in Labour this week after the party's ruling NEC drew up a new disciplinary code which stops short of incorporating the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Jewish abuse.

Community groups including the Jewish Labour Movement and the Board of Deputies of British Jews hit out the party's own definition, which they said omits key examples of anti-Semitism and does not allow Jewish people to define abuse.

Labour MP Luciana Berger warned the move would hand racists a "get out of jail free card".

In a marked split, the Shadow Brexit Secretary today said he believed "in the full definition", and called on the Labour leadership to listen to Jewish groups and make changes.

"Councils, institutions across the country have accepted the full definition," Sir Keir told the BBC's Andrew Marr.

"I think that's the right position to be in."

He added: "I would urge everybody within the Labour party to listen to the voices that have come out in recent days and get to a position where we are supporting the full definition - I think it's really important - including the examples.

"We have to very clear about our position on this."

Labour's new general secretary Jennie Formby - who Jeremy Corbyn has tasked with stamping out anti-Semitism in the party - this weekend defended the new guidance, saying it went further than the IHRA rules.

She said: "I have been asked why we didn’t just adopt the IHRA’s examples as they are and leave it at that. The answer is that they do not go far enough for practical use by a political party.

"Our guidelines address all of the ground covered by the IHRA examples, clarifies those that might be open to different interpretations or be seen as conflicting with other rights, and provides additional examples of anti-Semitic language and behaviour."

But asked this morning whether the party should rewrite the code after feedback from the Jewish community, Sir Keir said: "I think we need to reflect on what's been said in the last few days and if we are not in a position of supporting the full definition we need to get into that position and sharpish."

Sir Keir's stance was endorsed this afternoon by a number of Labour MPs including Karen Buck, Lilian Greenwood and Wes Streeting.

Shadow cabinet minister Tony Lloyd told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the guidance would "match" the IHRA's definition.

He said: "What Labour has most certainly committed to is that we will match up to the standards of the IHRA because that is something that has been adapted and adopted throughout the length and breadth of this country of ours.

He added: "What Labour has tried to do on top of that is to make it something that is applicable, that Labour can operationalise in the event of people breaching that standard."

A Labour spokesperson this week pushed back at criticism of the new rules, describing them as "the most detailed and comprehensive guidelines on anti-Semitism adopted by any political party in this country".

The spokesperson added: "They draw on the IHRA examples and other sources to provide practical examples of anti-Semitism which can be applied to complaints cases and used in political education programmes to foster deeper understanding of anti-Semitism among members."

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