(JTA) – The leadership of the British Labour Party rejected the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of anti-Semitism, leading to harsh condemnations from Jewish organizations and politicians across the political spectrum.
The IHRA definition has been accepted by governments across the world and is widely endorsed.
Last week, a Labour Party committee pointedly decided not to adopt parts of the definition that related to Israel. Those parts define possible anti-Semitism as accusing Jews of “being more loyal to Israel” than their own country; claiming that Israel’s existence is a “racist endeavour”; applying a “double standard” on Israel; and comparing “contemporary Israeli policy” to that of the Nazis.
In a two-hour meeting on Tuesday, the Labour Party’s national executive committee decided to let stand last week’s decision while the party accepted most of the definition. Labour has previously come under fire by Jewish groups for allegedly refusing to combat anti-Semitism by its members.
Speaking to the London Jewish Chronicle, one senior Labour source called the decision “utterly pathetic” and a “classic fudge.” Prime Minister Theresa May, who heads the Conservative Party, accused her political rivals of trying to “redefine anti-Semitism.” Quoting U.K. Chief Rabbi Efraim Mirvis, May said the decision sent an “unprecedented message of contempt for British Jews.”
“It is astonishing that the Labour Party presumes that it is more qualified than all of the above and, in particular, the Jewish community, to define anti-Semitism,” Mirvis wrote in a letter to the Labour committee. “Adoption of Labour’s new alternative to the internationally accepted IHRA definition will send an unprecedented message of contempt to the Jewish community. Other groups might also legitimately ask if they will be next in having the prejudice they are subject to defined for them.”
In a joint statement, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Community Security Trust condemned the “watered-down definition of anti-Semitism.”
“This is a sad day for the cause of anti-racism in this country,” the statement said. “Labour, for so long a party that put equality and inclusion at the centre of its values, has today decided to claim that it understands anti-Semitism better than the victims of this vile prejudice and to set its face against the clear views of the Jewish community.”
According to the Jewish Chronicle, during the Labour debate over the IHRA definition, national executive committee member Pete Willsman, a close supporter of party leader Jeremy Corbyn, called concerns voiced in an open letter by nearly 70 British rabbis “simply false.” Willsman said he had met an Auschwitz survivor who claimed to have “never seen any anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.”
“Some of the people in the Jewish community are Trump fanatics – I’ll take no lectures from them,” Willsman was also quoted as saying.
Following the decision, Labour Parliament member Margaret Hodge confronted Corbyn, calling him a “f***ing anti-Semite and a racist” and urging him to quit the party. British journalist Kevin Schofield later tweeted that a spokesperson for Corbyn has said that “action will be taken” against Hodge.
Labour member Tal Ofer announced his resignation from the party.
“It is with a heavy heart that I have decided to terminate my membership of the Labour Party – A party I have supported throughout my life, a party I stood for as a candidate in local elections, a party that that was the natural home for British Jews #LabourAntisemitism,” he posted on Twitter.
Ahmad Tibi, an Israeli Arab serving in the Knesset, welcomed Labour’s decision to reject the Israel clauses in the anti-Semitism definition, saying they would only serve to stifle free speech by critics of Israel and supporters of the Palestinians.
“The Labour Party’s new statement, which slams anti-Semitism but defends criticism of Israel, is a huge improvement over the anti-Palestinian policy that preceded it, and should be praised as such,” he wrote in an op-ed for Middle East Eye.
Under Corbyn, a hard-left politician who has called Hezbollah and Hamas his “friends” and is fighting accusations of harboring anti-Semitic sentiments, Labour has come under intense scrutiny in the media over anti-Semitic rhetoric by its members. In 2016, an inter-parliamentary committee accused Labour of creating a “safe space for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people.”
In May, Jonathan Arkush, then president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said Corbyn holds “anti-Semitic views” that could drive Jewish Britons out of the country if he becomes prime minister. Arkush cited Corbyn’s defence in 2013 of an anti-Semitic mural, among other issues.