Brent Council in London has voted in a lengthy meeting to adopt the International Definition of Antisemitism, however councillors have overwhelmingly decided to water the definition down, as well as voting that Jewish rights to self-determination should only be recognised alongside Palestinian rights. The decision was strongly opposed by three Jewish residents who said that Jewish people did not want the definition to be passed.
The motion to adopt the definition was proposed by Conservative Councillor Joel Davidson, using the same wording used by the British Government, the College of Policing, and governments and organisations around the world. On behalf of the Labour group on the Council, Councillor Neil Nerva backed the motion but expressed concern that the definition might create a “hierarchy of hate crime”, so he proposed a second motion which expressed generic opposition to hate crime, to be passed alongside Councillor Davidson’s motion adopting the definition.
However, Labour Councillor Shafique Choudhury gained the support of most of his Labour colleagues and a majority of councillors in his effort to rewrite the definition to make some Jewish rights contingent on Palestinian rights. Whereas Councillor Davidson’s motion stated that “The guidelines highlight manifestations of antisemitism as including…”, Councillor Choudhury’s more equivocal amendment was adopted, stating that “The guidelines highlight possible manifestations of antisemitism as sometimes including…”. Furthermore, Councillor Choudhury gained support for his idea to replace a sentence stating that “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” is antisemitic, with a version demanding recognition for Palestinian rights, replacing the sentence with his alternative wording that “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination alongside Palestinian rights of self determination” is antisemitic.
Brent Council also heard from three Jewish men who attacked the notion of adopting the International Definition of Antisemitism, with one of them even branding the proposal as an “insult”, despite the definition already having been adopted by many other councils, as well as the London Assembly and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. All three men claimed that the definition would be used to stifle criticism of Israel, despite the definition clearly stating that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
Speaking out against the proposal, Rabbi Dr Frank Dabba Smith of Liberal Judaism’s Mosaic Synagogue decried “witch hunts and hateful rhetoric directed towards Jews like me” for criticising the “policies of the State of Israel”. He also criticised the attention being given to antisemitism, saying: “I am very aware that Islamophobia and hatred towards Muslims is much worse than antisemitism in this country”.
David Kaye, who identified himself as a Jewish resident and Labour Party member said that he had come to speak out against the definition. He said that he was representing many Jewish friends and colleagues who felt that adopting the definition would be unnecessary, claiming that the definition was hardly a definition at all because its terms were so vague, despite the definition having been checked and validated in a legal opinion commissioned by Campaign Against Antisemitism. He said that there is “no connection” between antisemitism and the State of Israel, in spite of plentiful evidence to the contrary, and that use of the word “trope” by those proposing the adoption of the definition was “playing tricks” by suggesting that some people opposing Israel might be “secretly” antisemitic and using coded language, even though some clearly do. Mr Kaye also warned councillors that Zionism did not have the support of all Jews, and that debating the resolution was “divisive” and “an insult”.
Mr Kaye was followed by Michael Coleman, who said that he was “from an orthodox Jewish family”, who claimed that he was representing many Jewish families who opposed adopting the definition on the basis that it may “chill free speech”, may be used to attack “[Jeremy] Corbyn and the left” and would be used to “defend the State of Israel from criticism”. He claimed that those promoting the definition did not speak for British Jews, but that he did.
Brent Council’s vote on adopting the International Definition of Antisemitism was turned into a fiasco by people who appeared to be more obsessed with the politics of the Middle East than surging antisemitic crime in Britain. It is deeply regrettable that the debate was hijacked by such people, including Jews who represent a minority view which they claim is widely held, who have successfully ensured that instead of adopting the International Definition of Antisemitism, Brent Council has now adopted its own diluted version.
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