Tower Hamlets Council to hear from protesters about its official definition of antisemitism

The council has agreen to allow petitions about its adoption of the official definition of anti-sem

The council has agreen to allow petitions about its adoption of the official definition of anti-semitism. Picture: Mike Brooke - Credit: Archant

A row has erupted over a town hall’s decision to allow petitions about the council adopting the official definition of antisemitism.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, January 15, Tower Hamlets Council will hear from protesters who want amendments to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) statement on antisemitism.

The group claims the council adoption of the definition in 2018 has stifled the ability to "campaign for Palestine".

It wants amendments including that it is "not antisemitic, without additional evidence, to suggest that it displays anti-Jewish prejudice to criticise the government of Israel [or] to criticise Zionism as a political ideology".

The IHRA statement defines antisemitism as "a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews".

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It states that targeting the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collective, can be regarded as antisemitic. But criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country is not.

A petition against the IHRA definition was first brought to full council in November 2018. The meeting had to be temporarily suspended and members of the public removed after activists shouted abuse at councillors who refused to approve the adaptations.

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Jewish councillor Peter Golds said the petition includes "obviously antisemitic tropes".

He said: "I am personally disturbed to see the petition to be presented at the council meeting. This will be the second time that this person has presented this petition, which is designed to negate the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

"The wording of the petition is exactly what the IHRA definition of antisemitism is meant to stop.

"This petition could have been rewritten to remove the obviously antisemitic tropes. At the same time it repeats a petition that has already been rejected in the current municipal year."

Protesters also want to add a clause to the definition stating the council will "recognise the state of Palestine [and] educate residents on the plight of the Palestinian people and their struggle for dignity and self-determination".

It comes after the local authority refused to host a charity bike ride in aid of Palestinian children last year over fears the criticism of Israel could breach the antisemitism guidelines.

Sybil Cock, who set up the petition, said: "This will safeguard our right to campaign for Palestine in Tower Hamlets. This is important in the light of the refusal of the council to allow the Big Ride for Palestine to hold its welcome rally in a borough park."

A council spokesman said: "The council's petition scheme states that an accepted petition on the same subject matter cannot go before the council more than once within a period of six months. As the previous petition was heard in November 2018, the group is within its rights to bring the petition before the council on Wednesday."

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