Chief Rabbi blasts Labour ‘contempt’ over anti-Semitism definition row

Posted On: 
17th July 2018

Britain’s Chief Rabbi has warned Labour it will be “on the wrong side” on the fight against anti-Jewish racism unless it strengthens its rules against anti-Semitism.

Labour is facing increased pressure over its anti-Semitism rule changes
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Ephraim Mirvis said the party faced a “watershed moment” as he called on the leadership to accept the internationally-agreed definition of anti-Semitism.

It comes ahead of today’s meeting of the party’s ruling National Executive Committee, at which it is expected to endorse a new code of conduct which stops short of the widely accepted guidelines.

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The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance rules - 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.

Labour’s own rules, which are set to be rubber-stamped, say "anti-Semitism is racism" and brand such conduct "unacceptable in our party and in wider society".

But controversially, they makes clear that "contentious" comments about Israel "will not be treated as anti-Semitism unless accompanied by specific anti-Semitic content" or other evidence of "intent".

The Labour leadership last night faced a backlash from its own MPs against the decision to tweak the rules, and Mr Mirvis piled in with a strongly-worded letter.

He said it was “astonishing that the Labour party presumes it is more qualified” to define anti-Semitism than the Jewish community.

“Adoption of Labour's new alternative to the internationally accepted IHRA definition will send an unprecedented message of contempt to the Jewish community," he said.

“Other groups might also legitimately ask if they will be next in having the prejudice they are subject to defined for them.”

His criticism coincides with a letter by 68 rabbis to The Guardian, urging Labour bosses to reconsider their plans.

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."