Archbishop of Canterbury speaks out on antisemitism row, praising Labour MPs and peers in apparent dig at party leadership

Justin Welby welcomes decision to accept international antisemitism definition 'without caveats' - in contrast to party's ruling executive

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Friday 07 September 2018 15:57 BST
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby praises Labour MPs for adopting IHRA definition of antisemitism

The Archbishop of Canterbury has appeared to take a swipe at the Labour leadership over its record on antisemitism.

The Most Rev Justin Welby praised the party's MPs and peers for voting to accept an internationally-recognised definition of antisemitism without the clarifications that the party leadership insisted on making.

Mr Welby said it was "excellent" that the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) had voted overwhelmingly in favour of adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition "without any riders or caveats of any kind".

The comment will be seen as criticism of Jeremy Corbyn and Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC), which finally agreed to adopt the IHRA definition earlier this week but issued a statement clarifying that this would "not in any way undermine freedom of expression".

Mr Corbyn is reported to have wanted the committee to publish a stronger, lengthier statement saying it was not antisemitic to suggest the creation of Israel was "racist".

A dispute over the IHRA definition has been at the heart of the row engulfing the party in recent months.

Mr Welby spoke out while at the home of the chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, who he was visiting to mark Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

He said political leaders needed to be "very clear on giving security to the Jewish community".

Mr Welby told Mr Mirvis: "I find it hugely distressing and depressing that in the 21st Century, any community, especially the Jewish community given the history of Europe and of the last two or three generations, should have a deep sense of inse​​curity.

"I think is appalling - and what that says to me is that the leaders in our nation must be very clear on giving security to the Jewish community in this country, and that steps like IHRA are the beginning of a long journey. I think the extent of that journey has been reinforced to me in listening to you in this conversation.

He added: "Personally, I'm very pleased that the Parliamentary Labour Party has accepted IHRA without any riders or caveats of any kind at all. I think that is excellent news."

Mr Welby said the Jewish community in the UK had gone through a "very demanding, stressful" few months and condemned "unspeakable" attacks on Jewish people on social media.

He said he wanted the Church of England to "formally" adopt the IHRA definition, adding that he found it "distressing" that he believed this was necessary.

Mr Mirvis told his Christian counterpart he believed the situation of British Jews had "deteriorated" in the last year because hope of antisemitism being tackled had diminished.

He said: "Ever since the Holocaust we never thought for one moment we would again need to defend our Jewishness, our identity, our existence. It is, to us, unbelievable what is actually happening now.

He added: "What we've found particularly upsetting is that after three years of inaction during which we have waited for the Labour Party to show they are actually serious about tackling antisemitism, now we have found during the past summer they haven't even known where the starting blocks are, how do you define it."

On Wednesday, the PLP voted by 205 to eight in favour of adopting the full IHRA definition and all its examples into the group's standing orders, without any clarifying statements or caveats.

Labour's NEC had originally omitted four of the IHRA's 11 examples from the party's new code of conduct, amid suggestions they would restrict criticism of Israel, but backed down after weeks of fierce criticism from Jewish community groups and the party's own MPs.

Responding to Mr Welby's comments, Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: "I would like to express my thanks to the Archbishop of Canterbury for his important intervention in advance of Rosh Hashanah, saying that the Church of England should adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

"This moral leadership is warmly welcomed by our community and is a shining example of faith communities uniting against hate."

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