Tom Watson to back calls for rethink of new Labour anti-Semitism rules after outcry

Posted On: 
12th July 2018

Labour frontbencher Tom Watson is expected to back calls for a rethink of the party’s new code of conduct on anti-Semitism following a backlash from Jewish groups.

Tom Watson with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
Credit: 
PA

The party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) is set to adopt new rules aimed at clamping down on anti-Jewish abuse, but the fresh guidance has been criticised by community groups who say it does not fully adopt an internationally-recognised definition of anti-Semitism.

The Jewish Chronicle reports that Leeds North MP Alex Sobel will on Monday use a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to pile pressure on the NEC to change course, and his motion is said to have the backing of senior figures including deputy leader Mr Watson and Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer.

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PoliticsHome understands that Mr Watson has already raised concerns with party figures about the way Jewish groups were consulted on the proposals, and supports the NEC adopting the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, Mr Starmer has publicly urged the party to adopt the full IHRA guidelines "sharpish", arguing that such a move would bring Labour into line with a host of other organisations.

"Councils, institutions across the country have accepted the full definition," the frontbencher told the BBC. "I think that's the right position to be in."

The motion will say: "The PLP adopts the full IHRA definition of antisemitism, including all of its accompanying examples, and believes this should be used to define, understand and act against antisemitism in the Labour party."

'CLARITY, CONTEXT AND DETAIL'

The move comes after groups including the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) - a formal party affiliate - and the Board of Deputies of British Jews blasted the new guidelines, arguing that they do not allow Jewish people to define anti-Semitism and fail to incorporate the full examples of abuse listed in the IHRA definition.

In a letter to Labour's General Secretary Jennie Formby, JLM parliamentary chair Luciana Berger said: “It doesn’t need changing, and it’s unclear for whose benefit these changes have been made. We cannot give anti-Semites a get out of jail free card.”

But Ms Formby - who has been ordered by Jeremy Corbyn to make a clampdown on anti-Jewish abuse her “number one priority” - has defended the guidance, saying it goes further than the IHRA definition and addresses “all of the ground covered by the IHRA examples”.

Meanwhile Jon Lansman, a member of Labour’s NEC and a founder of pro-Corbyn grassroots group Momentum, today said Labour’s fresh rules offer "clarity, context and detail" over and above the IHRA guidelines.

"Clear and detailed guidelines are essential to ensure that anti-Semitism isn’t tolerated, while protecting free speech on Israel’s conduct within a respectful and civil environment," he wrote in The Guardian.

"This is what Labour’s code of conduct provides. We should be celebrating and replicating it."

Monday’s motion is reportedly set to win the backing of a string of MPs including Ian Austin, Chuka Umunna, Stephen Kinnock, Pat McFadden, Mike Gapes, Liz Kendall, Cat McKinnell, Ann Coffey and Ben Bradshaw.

Lisa Nandy - vice-chair of the Labour Friends of Palestine group - also told the Jewish Chronicle she would be supporting the move.

Mr Austin told The Jewish Chronicle: "The leadership of the Labour Party seems to believe it knows more about anti-Semitism than the Jewish community.

"It really is a depressing low-point for Jeremy Corbyn to reject a definition of antisemitism set by the IHRA."

But a Labour source argued that any motion would be unnecessary and told PoliticsHome the party had already sought to incorporate and "contextualise" the IHRA's guidelines in its code of conduct.

The source said of the motion: "What might be brought forward is about incorporating the IHRA definition and drawing on the examples in whatever procedures and codes the party adopts which, from our perspective, this code does.

"It fully adopts the IHRA examples, most verbatim and some of them contextualised, and does cover the same ground."

A Labour spokesperson said: "These are the most detailed and comprehensive guidelines on anti-Semitism adopted by any political party in this country.

"They adopt the IHRA definition and contextualise and add to the working examples to produce a practical code of conduct that a political party can apply in disciplinary cases."