Labour’s ruling body is set to adopt new guidelines on anti-semitism despite warnings from its own MPs and from the UK’s leading rabbis that the party risks ignoring the Jewish community.
The National Executive Committee (NEC) is due to push ahead with a new code of conduct on Jew hatred and abuse that critics say will allow anti-semites to escape tough sanctions such as being kicked out of the party.
In a strong signal to the leadership, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) voted to endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition and all its examples, including the idea that Jewish people should be allowed to define what constitutes anti-Semitism.
Supporters of the new guidelines say they “contexualise” the international guidelines for disciplinary cases, but after a long debate at a private meeting in the Commons, the MPs voted on Monday to reject the NEC plan.
Proposed by two Jewish MPs, Luciana Berger and Alex Sobel, the motion was aimed at adding further pressure onto Corbyn not to inflame community distrust further following months of rows.
The Jewish Labour Movement, one of the party’s oldest affiliates, has described the new guidelines as a “get out of jail free card for anti-semites” due to a new focus on having to prove anti-semitic intent.
The MPs’ move came as 68 rabbis from across the community united to write a letter to the Guardian attacking the new proposals.
“By claiming to know what’s good for our community, the Labour party’s leadership have chosen to act in the most insulting and arrogant way,” the rabbis wrote.
And the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirivs, who usually steers clear of politics, sent a letter to express his dismay.
He said if the plan goes ahead it will “send an unprecedented message of contempt to the Jewish community”
Birmingham Northfield MP Richard Burden, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Palestine, tried to calm the row by amending the motion or delaying it but was told that more notice was needed.
He said the IHRA definition had a “chequered history” of being used to supress legitimate concerns about Israel’s conduct.
Momentum founder Jon Lansman, who is also Jewish, has strongly defended the new guidelines.
Berger said after the PLP meeting that the IHRA definition had to be defended in full. “Any attempt to tinker, water down or otherwise amend it must be resisted”.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer expressed unease about the new plans last week.
A Labour spokeswoman said the new proposals were “the most detailed and comprehensive guidelines on anti-Semitism adopted by any political party in this country”.
“There will continue to be discussion and dialogue with Jewish communal organisations, rabbis and synagogues about the code of conduct and fighting anti-Semitism.”