UK Jewish Labour leader: Antisemitism row broke ties with Jewish community

Ahead of the UK Labour Party’s annual conference which begins on Sunday, national chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement Ivor Caplin has said that the fierce storm which blew up this summer over the party’s antisemitism definition has “broken its relationship” with the Jewish community.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, Caplin said that the party was taking steps to fix its antisemitism problem and the numerous instances of antisemitic behavior from Labour members in recent years, but that it was too early to tell if Jewish voters would back the party in any forthcoming election.

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In July, the Labour Party adopted a new code of conduct including a watered-down version of the widely accepted definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

The adoption of the incomplete definition, which excluded four key examples of antisemitism stipulated by the IHRA, generated outrage in the Jewish community and amongst Jewish Labour members and MPs for what critics said was an attempt to dictate to the Jewish community the definition of antisemitism and for failing to consult with it on the issue.

The party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) did eventually back down and adopted the full IHRA definition in September – nearly three months later – but with a caveat that it should not “undermine freedom of expression on Israel.”

Even in September, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attempted to add an addendum to the definition to give members the ability to call the foundation of Israel racist, but the document was rejected by the NEC.

“What Corbyn did was ridiculous – it didn’t help. It was two steps forward and one step back,” said Caplin, echoing the sentiments of prominent Jewish Labour MP Margaret Hodge who has strongly denounced with the party.

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Nevertheless, Caplin said that he believes the party is now making progress on tacking the issue.

“I wanted to get the IHRA definition and all of its examples adopted by the NEC. It took a lot of effort, and that was what was achieved,” he said.

He also noted that Labour Party general secretary Jennie Formby wrote two weeks ago to administrators of Facebook groups using the words “Labour Party” or “Jeremy Corbyn” in their title to report antisemitic posts by Labour members to the party itself.

“These Facebook groups are full of rancid antisemitism and it has to be stopped. We have to be prepared to take small steps forward, and these are steps forward,” Caplin said.

ANOTHER KEY concern of the Jewish community regarding Labour has been that complaints about antisemitic incidents made to the party apparatus have taken too long to be addressed.

Caplin said that there was no doubt that complaints had not been dealt with quickly enough, and that it was “unacceptable” that some complaints had taken up to two years to be dealt with, adding that the Jewish Labour Movement now expects a much quicker turnaround of such complaints.

Despite the efforts to tackle antisemitism in the party, the Jewish community clearly remains deeply skeptical of Labour and its leader, who was the subject of several revelations during the summer crisis that he met with Palestinian terrorists, indulged in conspiracy theories about Israel and suggested it did not have a right to exist.

A recent poll for the Jewish Chronicle published last week found that 85% of British Jews believe Corbyn to be antisemitic, while 40% would “seriously consider” emigrating if Corbyn were to become prime minister.

Asked if the Jewish Labour Movement really expects the Jewish community to vote for Labour in any coming elections with Corbyn still head of the party, Caplin said simply: “We’ll have to wait and see on that,” adding, however, that Formby has made a commitment to fixing ties with the Jewish community.

“There is no doubt that what’s happened has broken a long-standing relationship between the wider Jewish community… That’s a shame for Labour and the Jewish community, and we have to fix it… [to] do our utmost to fix it,” he said.

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