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Thu, 1 October 2020

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Pressure builds on Jeremy Corbyn as Shadow Cabinet members back full anti-Semitism definition

Pressure builds on Jeremy Corbyn as Shadow Cabinet members back full anti-Semitism definition
4 min read

Two more members of Jeremy Corbyn's Shadow Cabinet have called on Labour to adopt an internationally-recognised definition of anti-Semitism following an outcry from Jewish groups.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the party should "reconsider" its decision not to fully sign up to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) guidelines, along with the examples of anti-Jewish abuse it provides.

In a further blow for the Labour leader, Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner told the Jewish News “it would have been better” to incorporate the entire IHRA code.

The party has come under fire from Jewish groups and many of its own MPs since its ruling national executive committee moved to adopt the new code of conduct, which differs from the full IHRA working definition.

Labour says its new code "expands on and contextualises" the IHRA text, and insists it has only taken issue only with "one half of one of the IHRA's 11 examples" concerning criticism of Israel.

But an unprecedented joint editorial by three rival Jewish newspapers - the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News and the Jewish Telegraph - today accused Labour of showing "contempt for Jews and Israel", and warned that the new guidelines appeared designed to spare "hundreds, if not thousands, of Labour and Momentum members" from expulsion.

Reacting to the joint op-ed, Mr Ashworth said it was "a deeply saddening day that those newspapers feel they have had to come out and speak in such strong terms".

And he urged party chiefs to "reflect carefully" on criticism from the Jewish community.

The frontbencher told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "This international definition, which our democratically-elected members don’t feel is strong enough or appropriate, I think they need to reconsider that.

"It seems obvious to me that we do need to rebuild trust with the Jewish community, and the place to start is by accepting a definition which is broadly accepted internationally."

He added: "This is really serious for us as a party, because if we’ve got the Jewish community feeling upset and feeling that we no longer stand for them, even though on many other issues we probably share the same values, then clearly as a party that aspires to govern the country on behalf of everybody, then we need to respond to that."


Meanwhile, Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner told Jewish News that he believes the party should have adopted the full IHRA guidelines plus its examples, before making any additions needed to make the code more workable.

"My view is that it would have been better for the party to adopt the IHRA definition in full with all the examples and then to add all the clauses necessary to make it enforceable rather than to appear to cavil and weaken the definition," he said.

"Having to prove intent may indeed appear to weaken the definition, but if it does make it easier to evict vile racist anti-Semites from our party then in my view that can only be a good thing."

Labour should, he said, go on to "add those clauses which will enable us to successfully resist any legal challenge by anti-Semitic racists who fight to remain in the party".

He added: "My party is not racist. It is not anti-Semitic and it will always and should always be the party that champions those who are abused and downtrodden."

Party sources indicated that Mr Gardiner was unhappy with the Jewish News article, but did not detail his concerns.

Fellow Labour frontbenchers Keir Starmer and Tom Watson have already joined calls for a rethink, while party chiefs will come under fresh pressure to change tack in September when MPs are expected to use a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to demand the full adoption of the IHRA definition in its rulebook.

Labour has yet to respond to a request for comment.

The party has previously said: "We understand the strong concerns raised in the Jewish community and are seeking to engage with communal organisations to build trust and confidence in our party. We know there is a huge amount of work to do."

Labour has also said its code of code of conduct "expands on and contextualises" the IHRA definition "to produce robust, legally sound guidelines that a political party can apply to disciplinary cases".

The party has also argued that parts of the IHRA definition could be "used to deny Palestinians, including Palestinian citizens of Israel and their supporters, their rights and freedoms to describe the discrimination and injustices they face in the language they deem appropriate". 


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