Lib Dem ex-leader of Hertfordshire council accused of blocking adoption of antisemitism definition

A motion preventing a debate on IHRA was put forward by councillor Sara Bedford and passed narrowly


The former leader of Three Rivers District Council in Hertfordshire been accused of blocking attempts by the body to adopt the internationally recognised definition of antisemitism.

A motion on hate crime put forward by Liberal Democrat councillor Sara Bedford – which was narrowly passed at an extraordinary council meeting last week – noted that “half of all religious hate crime is directed against Muslims, whilst almost 20 per cent is antisemitic” and included a clause preventing any future debate on the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

A motion to adopt IHRA, proposed by independent councillor Alex Michaels, who had quit the Lib Dems in April, was expected to pass had it been heard later at the meeting.

Three other equality motions has also been tabled by councillors, but Cllr Bedford’s motion was narrowly passed, with three of her 20 colleagues failing to support it.

Tory and Labour councillors in the Lib Dem-dominated council also voiced anger at Cllr Bedford’s use of a clause to ensure the other motions were effectively gagged.

Labour group leader Stephen Cox later said “debate had been stifled” while Conservative councillor Debbie Morris, whose family had been affected by antisemitism in the past, spoke of her anger over the failure of the council to adopt IHRA.

Speaking to the JC, Cllr Michaels said:  “I am extremely disappointed and saddened by the council’s failure to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. 

“The vast majority of councils have adopted it effortlessly, with the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick writing to every council in the country telling them to do so without hesitation.

“We may be the only council now in the country to have chosen not to do so when presented with the opportunity.

“It's an embarrassment to the councillors, staff and everyone who works in partnership with us to deliver services to the community.

“I had proposed a perfectly good motion on the agenda to adopt the IHRA definition. I'm hoping the majority of councillors will now change their position on this so that we can now correct this mistake.”

As a result of the motion being passed, a sub-committee will be established at the next meeting of the council’s policy and resources committee to discuss any changes needed to the council's Comprehensive Equality Policy. Those recommendations will be brought back to the council.

Cllr Morris said: “I am incredibly disappointed and angry that the motion was passed.

“I felt particularly emotional when speaking on this because antisemitism is something which is part of my personal history. My late father and most of his family fled Germany shortly before the outbreak of World War II but tragically, his grandmother along with other family members died in a concentration camp.

“I think that the Jewish community will feel very let down by Three Rivers.”

Alan Moss, the chairman of Northwood United Synagogue, who lives in Three Rivers along with many of the shul’s members, said: “The majority of the Jewish community accepts there is an agreed definition of antisemitism.

“All racism is vile and abhorrent but that shouldn’t stop the adoption of IHRA and a separate motion to accept the definition of Islamophobia because it is as vile as antisemitism.”

Cllr Bedford – who stood down as Three Rivers Council leader earlier this year – had been at the centre of attempts to stop the council adopting IHRA as a single definition since July 2019.

She had originally attempted to put forward motions which attempted to combine the IHRA definition with the definition of Islamophobia as suggested by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims last year.

But this was withdrawn on the day of that meeting last July, and when the motion returned to council in February this year it spoke more broadly about hate crime.

Her local opponents have long  argued that the council should first adopt the IHRA definition before then moving on to a debate over a suitable Islamophobia definition.

Nationally the Lib Dems have adopted the IHRA definition, as have most councils across the UK.

After the May 2019 elections the Lib Dems had 24 seats on the council, the Tories 12 and Labour three. But two former Lib Dem councillors are now standing as independents.

The JC has contacted Cllr Bedford for comment over her motion and over claims she has blocked the adoption of IHRA by Three Rivers District Council.

It is understood that Cllr Bedford told the July 28th meeting that she had originally proposed accepting both the definitions of antisemitism and Islamophobia a year ago but had “come under pressure to remove one or both definitions”. 

She said there was “absolutely no refusal on the part of the Liberal Democrats to accept the definition of antisemitism, just as desire to see all faiths treated similarly”.

On Tuesday a letter issued by Mr Moss, and Leslie Moss and Susan Boobis  of Northwood and Pinner Liberal shul's said:" We call on all Councillors in Three Rivers to come together constructively to resolve this issue at the earliest opportunity.

"It is frankly disgraceful that racism against any group should have become a political football in this manner. All forms of racism are abhorrent, and it is the duty of political leaders to ensure that measures are in place to prevent it."

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