Labour MPs and peers back internationally recognised definition of antisemitism as party row deepens

MPs criticise Jeremy Corbyn as Parliamentary Labour Party backs definition that party leaders controversially refused to fully adopt

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Monday 23 July 2018 17:19 BST
Jeremy Corbyn has insisted Labour's new code of conduct will allow the party to tackle antisemitism in its ranks
Jeremy Corbyn has insisted Labour's new code of conduct will allow the party to tackle antisemitism in its ranks (PA)

Labour MPs and peers have voted unanimously in favour of forcing the party's parliamentarians to abide by the internationally recognised definition of antisemitism that is at the heart of a furious row gripping the party.

The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) used an emergency meeting to unanimously pass a motion to make MPs and peers "accept and abide by" the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition, parts of which were controversially left out of Labour's new code of conduct.

The vote will come as a blow to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour's top team, which has opposed adopting the IHRA definition in its current form and insisted the party's own wording is enough.

The matter will need to be put to a full ballot of the PLP when Parliament returns from its summer break in September, but the informal vote at Monday's meeting is likely to deepen the bitter dispute over the party's handling of antisemitism.

A number of MPs used the meeting to criticise the party leadership over the issue. Hilary Benn, the former shadow foreign secretary, told MPs: "This has gone on too long. When you're in a hole.stop digging."

Kate Green, a former equalities minister, said she "can't look Jewish relatives in the eye".

Labour has adopted the IHRA definition in its new code of conduct but has not directly included four of the organisation's 12 examples of antisemitic behaviour, including comparing Israeli policies to those of the Nazis and suggesting the creation of the Jewish state was a racist endeavour.

The other two examples refer to accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home country, or holding Israel to higher standards than other countries.

Labour MPs and Jewish community groups have strongly condemned the decision not to adopt the full definition. Last week the PLP voted overwhelmingly in favour of the doing so.

The latest motion, discussed on Monday, proposed changing party rules to say that members of the PLP must "accept and abide by the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism, including all of its accompanying examples".

That means MPs and peers could be held to a different standard from other elected representatives and ordinary members, who would fall under the new code of conduct that only includes some of the IHRA examples.

The motion was tabled by two of the party's Jewish MPs, Louise Ellman and Ruth Smeeth.

Neither Mr Corbyn nor Labour's general secretary, Jennie Formby, who is on holiday, were at the meeting.

The internal feud over the issue deepened last week after veteran Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge confronted Mr Corbyn over the party's leadership's refusal to adopt the full IHRA definition.

Dame Margaret, who is Jewish, was reported to have called her party leader a "f****** racist and antisemite" and suggested he did not want "people like me" in the party. She has denied swearing during the confrontation.

The day after the incident, she received a letter from Ms Formby informing her that she was the subject of a disciplinary investigation and could be suspended by the party if she displays "behaviour of a similar nature" again.

Margaret Hodge speaks about being on the receiving end of antisemitism as a Labour MP

Margaret Hodge speaks about being on the receiving end of antisemitism as a Labour MP

In response, Dame Margaret's lawyers suggested the investigation was "a veiled attempt to silence her".

They added: "Again, it is a fundamental breach of natural justice and principles of fairness. You have left our client in the bizarre position whereby possible suspension is hanging over her for future unspecified behaviour."

It comes as a new poll revealed almost half of voters believe Mr Corbyn is "letting down" his party on the issue of antisemitism.

The survey, for Jewish News, found 48 per cent of people, and 29 per cent of Labour voters, thought the Labour leader was "letting the party down by failing to tackle antisemitism within some parts of the party".

Only one in five people, and one in three Labour voters, thought Mr Corbyn had handled the issue well.

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