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Labour MPs condemn party leadership over anti-Semitism definition row

3 min read

Labour MPs have condemned the party's leadership for refusing to accept the internationally-agreed definition of anti-Semitism.

In a major rebuke to Jeremy Corbyn, a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party overwhelmingly backed calls for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition to be adopted.

The IHRA guidelines - which are recognised by the Government, Crown Prosecution Service and more than 100 local authorities - say Jewish people should be allowed to define what constitutes anti-Semitism.

A meeting of Labour's ruling national executive committee on Tuesday is expected to endorse a new code of conduct which stops short of adopting the IHRA definition.

It says "anti-Semitism is racism" and brands such conduct "unacceptable in our party and in wider society".

But controversially, it makes clear that "contentious" comments about Israel "will not be treated as anti-Semitism unless accompanied by specific anti-Semitic content".

Critics say that loophole could be used to allow some former Labour party members previously expelled for anti-Semitism to be allowed back in.

Jewish community leaders have condemned the party's stance, while 68 rabbis have written to The Guardian urging Labour bosses to reconsider.

At the PLP meeting, a succession of MPs called on the party leadership to adopt the IHRA definition in full.

Wes Streeting said: "If we pull this absolute mess off the table, it may show for the first time in a great many years that we really are listening."

Luciana Berger MP, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said the party leadership's approach was "unnecessary and inflammatory".

She said: "It is a fundamental anti-racist principle that oppressed groups define their own oppression, not anyone else. The Jewish community must be allowed to define the anti-Semitic hate that is directed towards it, not some members of a Labour party working group. 

"The motion passed at tonight’s meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party sends a strong signal that we adopt the IHRA definition in full, including all the specific examples it includes, and that any attempt to tinker, water down, or otherwise amend it must be resisted."

Meanwhile, Labour MP Chuka Umunna said the party's treatment of the Jewish community met the definition of "institutional racism" contained in the Macpherson Report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

"Part of the reason I joined the party was because I believed it to be anti-racist which is why this horrifies me," he said in a letter to Labour MPs ahead of the PLP meeting.

A Labour party spokesperson said: "This code of conduct is not a new definition of anti-Semitism and does not seek to re-define anti-Semitism. The code adopts the IHRA definition and contextualises and adds to the working examples to produce practical guidelines that a political party can apply in disciplinary cases. They are the most detailed and comprehensive guidelines on anti-Semitism adopted by any political party in this country.

"There will continue to be discussion and dialogue with Jewish communal organisations, rabbis and synagogues about the code of conduct and fighting anti-Semitism."

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