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Labour wrong not to use full antisemitism definition in code of conduct, Sir Keir Starmer says

Shadow Brexit secretary calls for party's policy to be changed 'sharpish'

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Sunday 08 July 2018 22:22 BST
Sir Keir Starmer said Labour needed to 'get to a position where we are supporting the full definition' on antisemitism
Sir Keir Starmer said Labour needed to 'get to a position where we are supporting the full definition' on antisemitism (Getty)

Sir Keir Starmer has criticised Labour's policy on antisemitism amid a row over the party's strategy for tackling anti-Jewish abuse.

The shadow Brexit secretary said it was "really important" that the party listened to people who have criticised it for refusing to adopt a widely-recognised definition of antisemitism.

He called on his party's leaders to act "sharpish" to change the policy.

It comes after Labour was heavily criticised for saying it would not adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which includes a list of examples.

The party omitted four of the examples: accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than the country they live in, suggesting Israel's existence is racist, holding Israel to a higher standard than other countries, and comparing Israeli polices to those of the Nazis.

The decision was widely criticised by Jewish community groups. In a joint statement, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews said it was "impossible to understand why Labour refuses to align itself with this universal definition".

They added: "Its actions only dilute the definition and further erode the existing lack of confidence that British Jews have in their sincerity to tackle antisemitism within the Labour movement."

Top Stories | World Cup, Trump and movie trailer mix upSir Keir said his party had been wrong not to adopt the full definition.

He told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "I believe in the full definition. Councils, institutions across the country have accepted the full definition. I think that's the right position to be in."

Asked why Labour had not adopted the definition, he said: "There's some argument as to whether Labour has or hasn't, but I would urge everybody within the Labour Party to listen to the voices that have come out in recent days and get to a position where we are supporting the full definition.

"I think it's really important, including the examples. We have to be very clear about our position on this."

He added: "I think we need to reflect on what's been said in the last few days and if we are not in a position of supporting the full definition we need to get into that position - and sharpish."

Labour's new code of conduct states that criticism of Israel should not be regarded as antisemitic and makes clear that even "contentious" comments on this issue "will not be treated as antisemitism unless accompanied by specific antisemitic content... or by other evidence of antisemitic intent".

Responding to criticism of the policy, Jenny Formby, Labour's general secretary, claimed the party's code of conduct went further than the IHRA definition.

Writing in Jewish News, Ms Formby, who is overseeing Labour's response to antisemitism in its ranks, said: "I have been asked why we didn’t just adopt the IHRA’s examples as they are and leave it at that. The answer is that they do not go far enough for practical use by a political party.

"Our guidelines address all of the ground covered by the IHRA examples, clarifies those that might be open to different interpretations or be seen as conflicting with other rights, and provides additional examples of anti-Semitic language and behaviour."

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