Jewish Labour members accuse party leaders of trying to 'censor' conference antisemitism training

Exclusive: Jewish Labour Movement says officials told them to amend course due to be given at party's annual event next month

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Sunday 19 August 2018 09:17 BST
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Margaret Hodge speaks about being on the receiving end of antisemitism as a Labour MP

Antisemitism training at this year’s Labour conference is at risk of being scrapped after Jewish members accused party leaders of trying to "censor" the sessions.

The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) has led courses at the last two conferences, but has withdrawn in 2018 claiming party officials demanded the removal of elements scheduled to be taught in Liverpool next month.

The Independent has been told that, in particular, Labour wanted the omission of references to high-profile cases like that of Ken Livingstone, who claimed Hitler had supported Zionism, and Naz Shah MP, who was suspended over a series of posts including one which appeared to endorse a suggestion that Israelis be deported to the US.

In a letter seen by The Independent, the JLM’s chair told Labour general secretary Jennie Formby that the party had been acting “in a manner to deliberately undermine” Labour’s only affiliated Jewish group and “add to further tension”.

The party declined to comment on the record on the issue and is yet to confirm an alternative course provider has been found.

The withdrawal of JLM comes as Labour’s crisis shows no sign of abating, with a former MP suspended from the party this weekend and a survivor of the Munich massacre accusing Mr Corbyn of being an “antisemite”.

In his letter, also sent to the party’s whole National Executive Committee, JLM chair Ivor Caplin said: “You may also be aware that we have withdrawn from offering to deliver the antisemitism awareness module at party conference in Liverpool after some of its content was censored.

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“We presume this was to make the module compliant with the antisemitism code of conduct that neither JLM or the Jewish community have any confidence in.”

Labour has found itself at the centre of a political storm since attempts were made to rewrite the party’s code of conduct, in order to change the definition of antisemitism from the internationally recognised version.

Mr Caplin also said that, beyond the conference sessions, JLM was “incredibly disappointed” party leaders had rejected its offer to provide antisemitism training to members of the party’s ruling executive and disciplinary body.

He wrote: “It remains unclear how or who will deliver this training.

“Without full transparency, the party will be acting once again in a manner to deliberately undermine its formal Jewish affiliate and add to further tension.”

JLM did not wish to comment but The Independent understands that initial discussions between the group and Labour officials over the conference training sessions took place at the start of this month, shortly before the annual event’s schedule was to be finalised.

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It is understood JLM was told it would need to agree to changes if the training – already given to 2,500 party members – was to be included in the final conference guide, which was set to go to print hours later.

A source with a close understanding of the situation said: “The training programme was commissioned by the party two years ago. It was written in consultation with them and the Jewish community, and agreed by them.

“In discussions relating to this year’s party conference, JLM were told that the leader’s office wanted certain things taken out. It wasn’t a request, it was a command.”

The party did not respond to questions over whether it requested the removal of references to Mr Livingstone and Ms Shah.

Ms Shah apologised after it emerged she had shared a Facebook post suggesting Jews should be “transported” from Israel to the US.

Mr Livingstone insisted he had simply been stating historical facts when claiming Hitler supported Zionism “before he went mad and killed six million Jews”.

Some Jewish members suggested the Labour request to remove these references was because Mr Livingstone might not have been disciplined under the party’s new code of conduct, which says it is not necessarily antisemitic to compare Israeli policies to those of the Nazis.

A Labour source denied any censorship was taking place and claimed the party had simply requested a “discussion” about the training, as in previous years.

The source said: “JLM were invited to deliver training at conference but they declined.”

Labour has since contacted Jewish educational charities about providing the training instead of JLM.

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But The Independent understands at least some approaches have been rejected, raising the prospect that the programme will simply be missing from this year’s conference.

The publication of Labour’s new code of conduct sparked a furious row after it emerged the party had not adopted the full version set out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

The new document does not directly include four of the 11 examples of antisemitism listed in the alliance’s definition.

Joseph Glasman, head of political and government investigations at the Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: “It is unimaginable that they would dare censor the specific anti-racism training delivered by Muslim or black Labour groups, but uniquely in the case of Jews they feel at liberty to censor and distort.”

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