Campaigners lose fight to add ‘Israel racism’ to Tower Hamlets Council’s adopted definition on antisemitism

Cybil Cook presents petition which fails to alter anti-Semitism definition adopted by Tower Hamlets.

Cybil Cook presents petition which fails to alter anti-Semitism definition adopted by Tower Hamlets. Picture: LBTH - Credit: LBTH

Protesters disrupted last night’s Tower Hamlets Council meeting in a failed attempt to add Israel as “a racist state” to the international definition of antisemitism adopted unanimously by the local authority in September.

The meeting had to be stopped for several minutes as banner-waving Palestinian supporters shouted at councillors after their deputation presented a petition to add a caveat to the adopted definition.

The deputation from Tower Hamlets Jenin Friendship Association led by activist Cybil Cock claimed the definition undermined their work in the West Bank town, which was twinned with the borough in 2013 under Lutfur Rahman.

“Antisemitism is on the rise across the world,” she acknowledged. “But this definition doesn’t help to combat it.”

She wanted a phrase added that the Jewish state “is a racist endeavour”.

However, the code adopted by 130 local authorities, the GLA, the Crown Prosecution Service, the EU and 30 countries including the UK, defines calling Israel “a racist state” as antisemitic, while not preventing any criticism of its government, it was pointed out.

Mayor John Biggs was about to respond to the petition when the meeting was brought to a halt by shouting from the public gallery.

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The Speaker Ayas Miah made several attempts to restore order and seemed visibly concerned that it was getting out of control.

He adjourned for 10 minutes, but the disruption continued when proceedings resumed, with a protester shouting “we will not allow business as usual”.

The mayor finally got to his feet and managed to give his response.

“There can be no qualifications or caveats to the definition of anti-Semitism,” he insisted.

“This is an internationally-agreed definition adopted by 30 countries that defines what is not acceptable.

“It’s right to criticise Israel’s government, but to do it in the definition of anti-Semitism is offensive.

“The message such a caveat would send deeply worries me, particularly with the history of the East End.”

The council had felt the petition was “implicitly offensive”, the mayor added, and against its principals in an area that has fought off racism over the decades.