Labour doesn’t value the views of Jewish people, says senior rabbi

Kate Proctor
Campaign: protesters at Labour's headquarters in London in April: AFP/Getty Images

Labour came under renewed fire from the Jewish community today , with a senior British rabbi criticising the party for “not valuing” its opinion.

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner spoke out ahead of a Labour Party vote today to adopt its own definition of anti-Semitism. The National Executive Committee (NEC) was expected to rubber-stamp a new code of conduct that states explicitly that “anti-Semitism is racism. It is unacceptable in our party and in wider society”.

But the code stops short of signing up in full to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, and insists that criticism of the state of Israel and its policies should not automatically be regarded as anti-Semitic.

It says that even “contentious” comments on this issue “will not be treated as anti-Semitism unless accompanied by specific anti-Semitic content … or by other evidence of anti-Semitic intent”.

Critics have questioned why Labour “presumes it is more qualified” to define anti-Semitism than the Jewish community and governments around the world that accept the IHRA definition. Rabbi Janner-Klausner said: “It’s not valuing what Jews are saying. If they did value what Jews are saying there would be a consultation.

“So now, not only do you have to say something that’s anti-Semitic, you have to have intent. We’d ask, why are you setting a completely different bar than is set out in criminal courts? Why aren’t the targets of racism the ones that get to define what happens?”

Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and Jonathan Goldstein, chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, said Labour’s plan to create its own definition “defied logic”. Writing in the Evening Standard today, they said: “Labour’s astounding appetite for a fight with the UK’s Jews will be an issue that concerns people far beyond the Jewish community.”

Critics have also said Labour’s proposed definition, endorsed by Momentum founder Jon Lansman, means there is a “higher bar” for proving party members have spoken or acted in an anti-Semitic way than there would be in a criminal court. Last night the Parliamentary Labour Party said the IHRA definition should be adopted.

A Labour spokesman said: “These are the most detailed and comprehensive guidelines on anti-Semitism adopted by any political party in this country. They produce a practical code of conduct that a political party can apply in disciplinary cases.”@KateProctorES