In Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May called on the Labour party to endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism in full, underlining that “antisemitism is racism” and condemning Labour’s efforts to “redefine antisemitism”.
The Prime Minister’s comments followed the approval of a new code of conduct on antisemitism by the Labour party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) on Tuesday, which omitted a number of the IHRA definition’s examples relating to Israel.
The NEC disregarded advice from Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who warned that approving the code of conduct would send “an unprecedented message of contempt to the Jewish community”.
The omitted examples of antisemitism set out by IHRA include: ‘Accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home country’; ‘claiming that Israel’s existence as a state is a racist endeavour’; ‘requiring higher standards of behaviour from Israel than other nations’; and ‘comparing contemporary Israeli policies to those of the Nazis’.
In response to a question from Conservative MP Helen Whately this week, Prime Minister May said that “the Labour party is trying to redefine antisemitism to allow people to say that “Israel is a racist endeavour”. She added: “Antisemitism is racism. The Labour Party should accept that, the [Leader of the Opposition] should accept that, and we should all sign up, as the Conservative Party has done, to the definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and all its annexes”.
The Conservative Party Chairman, Rt. Hon. Brandon Lewis MP, said that “Labour’s failure to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitic racism in full is shameful”. He emphasised: “Jeremy Corbyn promised a ‘kinder politics’, but his party’s watered-down definition of antisemitism risks giving a free pass to people who do and say things which have no place in public life… and if Labour are serious about tackling antisemitism they should adopt it in full too”.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid criticised the Labour party’s decision, stating on Twitter that “Jeremy Corbyn thinks he knows what racism is – more so than Jewish people who (sadly) experience antisemitism. He doesn’t give a damn”.
68 leading British rabbis wrote a joint letter to the Labour party this week, calling for the adoption of the full IHRA definition and examples. They accused the party of choosing “to ignore those who understand antisemitism the best, the Jewish community”. The rabbis wrote that “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”.