Labour in new anti-Semitism row as Luciana Berger accuses party of watering down abuse rules

Posted On: 
5th July 2018

Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger has warned that the party's new guidelines on anti-Semitism risk giving abusers "a get out of jail free card".

The Labour MP took part in a Parliament square demonstration against the party's response to anti-Semitism earlier this year
Credit: 
PA

A group on Labour's ruling National Executive Committee this week unanimously backed a definition of anti-Semitism that the party is set to use in disciplinary cases, after Jeremy Corbyn vowed a crackdown on abuse following a string of high-profile rows.

But Ms Berger reacted with fury to the planned code of conduct, writing to the party's new general secretary Jennie Formby to accuse Labour's top brass of watering down the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism by omitting key examples of what constitutes anti-Jewish abuse.

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Writing on behalf of the Jewish Labour Movement, which is formally affiliated to Labour, Ms Berger said: "The Jewish community, and the Jewish Labour Movement, believe that the best working definition of anti-Semitism is the full IHRA definition, including its examples.

"If the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is good enough for the CPS, Colllege of Policing, Jewish community, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, National Union of Students, and Labour Councils across the country, then it should be good enough for the Labour Party.

"It doesn't need changing, and it's unclear for whose benefit these changes have been made. We cannot give antisemites a get out of jail free card."

In the letter, first obtained by broadcaster LBC and the Jewish Chronicle, Ms Berger also accuses the Labour general secretary of sidelining the JLM at a meeting on the new anti-abuse definition, and says offers to shape the process were "repeatedly rejected, leaving JLM representatives waiting in your office lobby". Party sources disputed that version of events.

The Labour MP said: "It now appears, given the body of the documents you sent, that our evidence was ignored, as we yet again made our position on IHRA clear, among several other points.

"The perception from the new definition will be that the Labour Party are seeking to overturn the long-held view and definition of the Jewish community. The Party should abandon this definition, without haste, and make clear that it has already adopted and actively using IHRA."

A copy of the new guidelines, also published by LBC, makes clear that Labour's definition is "in part" derived from the IHRA standard on anti-Semitism.

 

 

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

But it makes clear that "contentious" comments on the state of Israel "will not be treated as anti-Semitism unless accompanied by specific anti-Semitic content".

The Labour code says: "The party will encourage considered and respectful debate on these difficult topics, but will not tolerate name-calling and abuse."

'SQUANDERING'

Fellow Labour backbencher Wes Streeting echoed Ms Berger's criticisms of the new guidance, accusing the party of "squandering a real opportunity to start rebuilding trust and confidence in our ability to tackle anti-Semitism".

 

 

 

 

Campaign group Labour Against anti-Semitism meanwhile urged Ms Formby to shelve the guidelines, branding them a "toothless document" that would allow anti-Semitism "to flourish further, unchallenged and unpunished".

The group added: "Those within the Labour movement who have campaigned against discrimination in any guise need to understand that they are standing on a precipice of historical judgement.

"They need to understand that they cannot be complicit in endorsing this document, which is an insult to the Jewish community, to Jewish Labour members and to the traditions of the Labour Party."

But a Labour Party spokesperson defended the guidance, describing it as "the most detailed and comprehensive guidelines on anti-Semitism adopted by any political party in this country."

"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."

A party source meanwhile said that the JLM had not raised its concerns with the guidelines in a meeting with Ms Formby on Monday, and said the new guidelines reiterated the need for members not to use Holocaust or Nazi metaphors or comparions in debates about Israel and Palestine.