Council leader: Labour was correct to adopt IHRA anti-semitism definition, but objectors had right to protest
Former councillor demands 'urgent investigation' into Labour councillor's appearance at demo
06 September, 2018 — By Richard Osley
COUNCIL leader Georgia Gould said protesters who gathered outside Labour HQ to oppose the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-semitism had a “right to make their opinion heard” even though she disagreed with their view.
She was speaking shortly after former Labour councillor Maeve McCormack tweeted annotated photos of the demo, ringing a red circle around new Swiss Cottage councillor Simon Pearson and calling for an investigation into his involvement.
Phil Rosenberg, another former councillor who is director of public affairs at the Board of Deputies, said: “I doubt that the Jewish voters of Swiss Cottage will easily forget his betrayal of them.”
With the party’s handling of anti-semitism under a constant spotlight, Labour’s National Executive Committee agreed the definition and examples after a long meeting on Tuesday. Statements of clarification put forward by party leader Jeremy Corbyn were withdrawn after failing to win support. Cllr Gould said the adoption of the definition was necessary to help “heal” Labour’s relationship with the Jewish community.
Protesters, however, say the definition, adopted by hundreds of institutions around the world including Camden Council, and its examples could stop free speech criticism of Israel.
Geoffrey Robertson QC, father of Labour councillor Georgie Robertson, had said on Friday that the definition was “not fit for purpose”. His analysis for the Palestinian Return Centre, circulated by his Doughty Street Chamber, said the definition was “liable to chill legitimate criticisms of the state of Israel and coverage of human rights abuses against Palestinians”.
Around 200 gathered with placards outside the NEC meeting. Ms McCormack, who stepped down in Gospel Oak ward last year after telling the party she could no longer afford to live in Camden, copied in newspapers to her tweets, including the Evening Standard and the New Journal
She called for Camden Council and the local Labour Party to “urgently investigate” whether Cllr Pearson had broken the Town Hall’s code of conduct by attending the protest, partly organised by members of Camden Momentum group.
“The NEC is rightly (if belatedly) seeking to address concerns of the Jewish community regarding how our party defines and tackles anti-semitism,” said Ms McCormack, whose time on the council did not overlap with Cllr Pearson’s. “If a councillor, who has Jewish constituents, protests against the party taking those steps, what message does it send to those constituents about whether he respects and will heed their concerns?”
She then shared paragraphs of Camden’s code. One of her tweets identifying Cllr Pearson was shared by former council leader Sarah Hayward.
Cllr Gould said: “Camden Council unanimously passed the full IHRA definition of anti-semitism last year, led by Camden Labour group. The code clearly states that this should not prevent criticism of Israel. Alongside Camden’s two MPs, I have urged the party to adopt the full IHRA definition as a first step to healing our relationship with the Jewish community and living up to our values as an anti-racist movement that listens to minority groups.”
She added in relation to the demo: “I disagree with the views of those protesting, but I recognise their right to make their opinion heard. However, they are not speaking for Camden Labour group, which has a clear, public position that minority groups should take the lead in determining racism against them.”
Mr Rosenberg said: “The NEC result represented the high-energy collision of justice, malevolence and incompetence.”