How Lambeth Council is getting antisemitism and the IHRA wrong

This letter was sent to Lib Peck, leader of Lambeth Council, on 13 August by Jewish members of Lambeth Labour Parties.

Lib Peck’s reply to this letter and Mike Cushman’s response: Lambeth Council leader’s weak defence of IHRA adoption

Dear Lib Peck

As Jewish members of Lambeth Labour Party we are dismayed by your letter to the local shul.

Firstly there is no evidence that antisemitism ‘plagues ….our party’ as you assert. There is a problem of a few members out of half a million who have made antisemitic statements or shared material, mainly out of confusion or ignorance, but possibly on rare occasions out of malice. It is important that the Party adopts a rigorous procedure for dealing with any such abuse, which is exactly what the NEC Code of Conduct on Antisemitism  is carefully constructed to achieve. It is exactly what the loosely worded examples appended to  the IHRA definition do not.

Lambeth Town Hall
Lambeth Town Hall

Each time the examples have been seriously interrogated, they have been found to be highly problematic. The Home Affairs Select Committee, of which Lambeth Labour MP Chuka Umunna was a member recommended caveats in their report on antisemitism in the UK. These caveats, translated into an operational form are what inform the Party’s Code of Conduct.

Leading Human Rights lawyers have explained the legal difficulties with  the eleven examples; and that any body that took action on those examples as they stand would be placing themselves in jeopardy.

Eminent Jewish academics who lead the field on antisemitism studies; like Brian Klug and Anthony Lerman, have explained the merits of the Party code. David Feldman, who advised the Select Committee warned strongly about the misinterpretation of the Macpherson Principal.

Even Kenneth Stern who drew up the definition and the examples has publicly stated that it is not a fit basis for legislation and was intended as a monitoring tool and not a disciplinary code.

Paradoxically if it accedes to the demands to adopt the eleven examples in their original form, the Party will be less well placed to confront antisemitism. The NEC code will allow decisive and defensible action against any antisemitism in the Party which adopting the IHRA examples will not.

One form of racism is to assume a homogeneity in a community. This is exactly what you have done you have assumed that all members of Lambeth’s Jewish communities conform to your stereotype of what we should be – in so doing you have, albeit unintentionally, acted in an antisemitic manner.

We urge the Council to take a step back from endorsing the examples appended to the IHRA definition and work with us on a policy that will make clear both our abhorrence of antisemitism and our commitment to free speech and debate. There are already too many instances of those who wish to close down debate using the examples to intimidate Universities and owners of public venues into cancelling perfectly legitimate meetings and events discussing Palestinian rights.

Survey evidence suggests that antisemitic attitudes are declining on the left, as we hope they should, while increasing on the right which is what worries us as socialists and Jews. When the level of debate on the IHRA examples is being led by those who, without foundation, claim that Labour is an existential threat to British Jews, it is time to take a deep breath and ask, what is going on?

We anticipate you will be consulting on the wording of any motion to put before Council. We would be happy to meet you to discuss how to frame a more appropriate policy for the Council to adopt.

Yours sincerely

 

This was in response to:

 

From the Leader of the Council
Our Ref: Leader/2018-08/022
South London Liberal Synagogue,

Wednesday, 1st August 2018

Shalom,

I am writing to you in your capacity as representatives of the Jewish community in Lambeth. Lambeth is proudly one of the most diverse boroughs in the country, home to people from every part of the world and every religion and ethnic group. Our diversity is what makes our borough such a wonderful place to live and work and as a council, we’re committed to recognising and celebrating it as much as possible.

Lib Peck, Labour leader of Lambeth Council
Lib Peck, Labour leader of Lambeth Council

As a Labour administration, we take our commitments to our diverse population extremely seriously. And that is why I am reaching out to you today at a difficult time with the national debate about the Labour Party’s position on anti-Semitism. As an administration, we absolutely condemn antisemitism in all its forms and are united in our condemnation of it. Sadly, antisemitism continues to plague parts of our society and our party and it is incumbent on us all to take all possible steps to eradicate this hatred.

That is why we want to assure you that we stand firmly with the Jewish community against antisemitism in the Labour party. As a council, we support the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism and intend to incorporate it formally into council policy in the Autumn, as many other institutions in the UK and across the world have done. Sadly, the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party failed to do so last month. We are dismayed at this decision and as a Labour council, we are calling on them to urgently reconsider it. I will be working with our Labour MPs in the borough, and using my position in the Labour leadership at the Local Government Association to lobby them to reconsider it as well.

I know this decision has caused distress and concern in the Jewish community and wanted to reassure you that you have our support at this time. I would be happy to meet with you to discuss how we can tackle antisemitism in the Labour party and in our borough if you wish. Please contact Michael Warren in my office to set up a meeting.

Yours Sincerely

Lib Peck

Leader of the Council”

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