British rabbis call out Labour over definition of anti-Semitism

68 British rabbis sign letter decrying anti-Semitism in Labour, calling on the party to accept international definition of anti-Semitism.

Ben Ariel ,

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn

68 British rabbis have signed an open letter decrying anti-Semitism in the country’s Labour Party and calling on the party to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, JTA reported on Monday.

In a rare united position, rabbis ranging from ultra-progressive to haredi Orthodox signed on to the letter, according to the report.

Labour’s national executive committee is set to meet Tuesday to approve the party’s new code of conduct, which will include a softened version of the alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.

Labour’s definition omits at least four points featured in the original one, including accusing Jews of “being more loyal to Israel” than their own country; claiming that Israel’s existence is a “racist endeavor”; applying a “double standard” on Israel; and comparing “contemporary Israeli policy” to that of the Nazis.

“The Labour party’s leadership has chosen to ignore those who understand anti-Semitism the best, the Jewish community,” the rabbis said in their letter, which was published in The Guardian.

“By claiming to know what’s good for our community, the Labour party’s leadership have chosen to act in the most insulting and arrogant way,” they added.

The Guardian reported that legal advice given to the Labour Party by the Jewish Labour Movement ahead of Tuesday’s meeting warns that the new definition of anti-Semitism could violate the Equality Act in Britain.

The advice, according to The Guardian, says that in crafting the new definition, Labour has ignored the so-called Macpherson principle – that a racist incident is one perceived to be racist by the victim – and therefore when it comes to anti-Semitism, Jews are being treated less favorably than other groups.

A Labour spokesman told the newspaper that is “entirely untrue” that the party’s code of conduct is not fully in line with the Macpherson principles.

The British government formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism in 2016.

In addition to classic forms of anti-Semitism, the definition offers examples of modern manifestations, such as targeting all Jews as a proxy for Israel, denying Jews the right to a homeland and using historical anti-Semitic images to tarnish all Israelis.

The Labour Party continues to deal with allegations of anti-Semitism. Over the last several years, dozens of Labour members have been suspended over their anti-Semitic statements.

Party leader Jeremy Corbyn himself has been accused of holding anti-Semitic views by senior UK Jewish leaders. Corbyn has also been criticized for calling Hamas and Hezbollah his "friends" and for outright refusing to condemn those two terrorist organizations despite being urged to do so by local Jewish groups.

Corbyn has maintained that Labour will not tolerate racist rhetoric by its members. However, the party has kept on many Labour members whom Jewish community leaders said engaged in anti-Semitic hate speech.

In recent months, Corbyn for the first time has encountered protests over his party’s anti-Semitism problem during work visits abroad.