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Labour Party branch 'voted down motion condemning Pittsburgh synagogue attack'

Members reject motion after saying there is too much focus on 'antisemitism this, antisemitism that'

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Saturday 03 November 2018 09:45 GMT
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British Jews are leaving the country because of antisemitism, claims rabbi Jonathan Sacks

A local Labour Party branch has refused to pass a motion condemning the antisemitic attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 people dead, according to a party activist.

Steve Cooke, the secretary of Norton West branch in the Stockton North constituency, said he was “aghast” that the motion was voted down after members claimed there was too much focus on “antisemitism this, antisemitism that”.

Members of the branch reportedly demanded that a reference to antisemitism be removed from the statement on the shooting last Saturday. The alleged attacker, who has far-right links, is said to have shouted “I just want to kill Jews” after opening fire on the congregation.

The motion proposed by Mr Cooke said the murders “demonstrate the dangers posed by the growth in antisemitic sentiments and hate speech internationally” and expressed a commitment to “stand in solidarity with the Jewish community around the world and send our condolences to all those affected by the tragic events in Pittsburgh”.

It also said the branch should recognise ”that antisemitism exists in society and affirm our belief that such prejudice must be confronted and eradicated wherever it arises”.

But when put to a vote, only two members backed the motion and it was voted down.

Mr Cooke said the leader of Stockton-on-Tees council, Robert Cook, and another senior councillor, Steve Nelson, were among those who opposed it.

He wrote on Facebook: ”I am aghast to report that an emergency motion on the Pittsburgh synagogue attack which I took to my Labour Party branch meeting last night was voted down, with the leader of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council and the cabinet member for community safety among its most vociferous opponents.

“I imagined that the emergency motion I had drafted to condemn the Pittsburgh murders, criticise antisemitic hate speech and present the Labour Party as leading the way in opposing such prejudices would be approved without controversy.

“When we got to the emergency motion, however, it was soon apparent that there would be resistance to the whole idea with the chair of the meeting, Cllr Steve Nelson, the cabinet member for community safety, the most implacably opposed.”

According to Mr Cooke, members at the meeting opposed the motion on the grounds that there was too much focus on “antisemitism this, antisemitism that”. They suggested the text on the synagogue attack should not specifically refer to antisemitism but should instead condemn all racism, which Mr Cooke said it already did.

Mr Cooke said previous motions on Islamophobia and anti-migrant rhetoric had not been met with similar demands that they be made less specific and instead refer to all forms of racism.

He suggested Mr Nelson had accused him of trying to “bring the party into disrepute by associating us with antisemitism” and had claimed the row over anti-Jewish abuse in Labour was “just a game being played”.

The motion on the Pittsburgh attack and attempts to educate members about antisemitism were part of this, the councillor is reported to have said.

Jeremy Corbyn releases video apologising for antisemitism in the Labour party

The executive of Stockton North Labour Party had previously voted down Mr Cooke’s attempts to have antisemitism training delivered to members.

Recounting his conversation with Mr Nelson, Mr Cooke wrote on Facebook: ”’Are you seriously going to vote down a motion condemning the Pittsburgh killings?, I asked. ‘Is this for real?’

“’Yes, I am’, replied comrade Nelson whilst physically pushing away the sheet of paper with the motion on it.”

He said Robert Cook, leader of Stockton-on-Tees council, “said nothing to support us” and had voted against the motion condemning the synagogue attack.

Mr Cook and Mr Nelson have been contacted for comment.

Earlier in the week another Labour branch amended a proposed motion on the Pittsburgh attack to remove a pledge to oppose antisemitism.

Members of the Southend West party removed a line that vowed to “recognise that antisemitism exists in society and affirm our belief that all forms of antisemitism must be eradicated”.

A call for Labour to ”lead the way in opposing antisemitism and fighting racism in all levels of society” was also dropped.

It comes as the Metropolitan Police said it was investigating possible antisemitic hate crimes committed by Labour members, after a dossier of cases was passed to its commissioner, Cressida Dick.

Ms Dick said: “We have been assessing some material that was passed to me, in a radio studio of all things, about two months ago and we are now investigating some of that material because it appears there may have been crime committed.”

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