Why I’m concerned about the IHRA definition of anti-semitism


By Richard Burden

Originally published by Labour List, July 18, 2018

Strictly, meetings of the Parliamentary Labour Party are meant to be private. There has, however, been so much media commentary based on leaks from the meeting that I want to set out a few things to hopefully provide some additional perspective.

The main item for discussion at the Parliamentary Labour Party this week was how Labour can most effectively fight anti-semitism. The importance of doing so is clear: it is not only racism, it is an abhorrent stain on society that is contrary to everything Labour stands for. There is now a growing recognition that anti-Jewish prejudice can develop in parts of the Left as well as the far-right of politics. That is not a new phenomenon but it is something that Labour – and the Left more generally – has been too slow to grasp and to confront.

None of this is in doubt. The disagreement is whether the written framework within which Labour can most effectively fight anti-semitism is best expressed by a new code of conduct agreed by a sub-committee of the party’s national executive committee (NEC) or by a word-for-word adoption of a text issued by an intergovernmental group called the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016. For what it is worth, I think if the two documents were looked at side by side without any preconceptions, most people would be hard pressed to say whether one is stronger or weaker than the other.

But this would be to ignore the context in which this debate is taking place. The Jewish community’s trust in Labour is at an historic low. Some of the criticism is probably unfair, but some of it is not. If a community that faces prejudice feels they no longer consider Labour a reliable ally in fighting that prejudice, it is an issue we can and must address.

Opinion on the IHRA definition is divided. Some analysts of anti-semitism and others within the Jewish community have been critical. However, the biggest Jewish communal organisations have called for its word-for-word adoption. Rightly or wrongly, the consequence has been that whether or not Labour agrees to do so has come to be seen as a litmus test of the party’s commitment to tackling anti-semitism.

Read the full article here.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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