Labour MP: Jewish groups should not be able to define antisemitism to party

Pro-Palestinian MP claims to have faced 'a torrent of abuse' over the years


A Labour MP has questioned the right of Jewish groups such as Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council to set the party's definition of antisemitism "without any further inquiry or discussion".

MP Richard Burden, who chairs the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, also suggested that the broader International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of Jew hate, which the party has refused to adopt, had been used  to “shut down” criticism of Israeli government policies.

Writing to all Labur MPs ahead of the crunch Parliamentary Labour Debate on the issue on Monday evening, he said his years of campaigning had seen him face "a torrent of abuse often alleging antisemitism".

He writes: "The issue here is not whether or not you agree with such campaigns or comparisons. The issue is whether they should be shut down altogether as a result of allegations of antisemitism.

“Having campaigned for a just peace in the Middle East for many years I know only too well that if you speak up for the rights of the Palestinians you will face a torrent of abuse often alleging antisemitism."

While the MP said he was not "intimidated by it", he added: “It does concern me when other people tell me that they feel constrained from putting their heads above the parapet in support of Palestinian rights for fear that doing so will leave them labelled as antisemitic."

He adds: "The reality is, however, that the IHRA examples have already been invoked a number of times to try to prohibit campaigns designed to change Israeli policy by – for example - advocating boycotts or by drawing parallels between discriminatory laws and practices adopted by the Government of Israel and Apartheid.”

Mr Burden – a long-time supporter of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement – sent his letter out on Sunday evening to urge them to oppose the motion from Jewish Labour MPs Alex Sobel and Luciana Berger that calls for the party to abandon its attempt to introduce its own antisemitism code in place of the IHRA version.

He also claims that Labour’s new code -- which removed four examples of antisemitism  previously contained in the full IHRA - did not contradict the party's commitment to the MacPherson principles, which allow minorities themselves to define the nature of prejudice they face.

Mr Burden writes: "One of the issues for Monday’s PLP to consider, however, is whether or not it would breach the Macpherson principles for the Labour Party to take a different view from that of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council on whether the illustrative examples of antisemitism circulated by the IHRA would benefit from further clarification.

“The views of bodies like the Board of Deputies and the JLC should, of course, be taken very seriously.

“Nowhere, however, did the Macpherson report suggest that communal organisations should have the power to specify to political parties or any other organisations the precise wording of frameworks to tackle racism without any further inquiry or discussion.

“In that spirit, the Muslim Council of Britain has characterised its efforts to draw up a working definition of Islamophobia as proposals for wider discussion rather than a demand for wholesale adoption. Hopefully Jewish communal organisations will approach the examples used to illustrate the IHRA definition of antisemitism in a similar way.”

Mr Burden suggests that views of prominent anti-Zionist campaigners – including Michael Rosen, Alexei Sayle and Moshe Machover who all signed a recent Guardian letter calling for a new definition on antisemitism – should also be treated “seriously.”

He writes: “Views on both sides of the argument in the Jewish community should be treated seriously.”

On Monday, the Guardian reported Labour’s new antisemitism definition could breach the Equality Act.

But a Labour spokesman said it was “entirely untrue” that the party’s code of conduct was not fully in line with the Macpherson principles.

Communal organisations and Jewish Labour MPs have been angered because the rewritten Labour version of the IHRA definition did not include some formal examples of antisemitism, such as accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than their own nations and claiming that the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour and comparing Israeli actions to the Nazis.

Labour’s governing body, the national executive committee, meets on Tuesday to vote on the new antisemitism code which has already been unanimously approved by a smaller sub-committee.

A JLC source told the JC:"The JLC maintains that it's for the Jewish community to define racism against them.

"Any move to tinker with a definition which has been so widely adopted concerns us."

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