Bristol adopts IHRA unanimously

Amidst the Coronavirus gloom there was a bit of good news tonight: Bristol City Council adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism unanimously. Even though the Green Party has not yet adopted the definition, the 11 Green Councillors all supported the motion.

The meeting was shortened to minimise virus exposure so there was little debate on the motion.  But I’m very pleased to publish below the speech that Councillor Carla Denyer made on behalf of the Green group – it’s entirely accurate and really says it all:

I and the rest of the Green councillors support this proposal. [for Bristol to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism into its Equality & Inclusion policy]

Tragically, antisemitism and other forms of prejudice are on the rise in society, and we must do everything we can to challenge it. This includes being honest when we see it in our own organisations and communities. It’s clear that no Council or party is immune. And it is not enough for us to say that we are not racist, we must actively work to be anti-racist

The IHRA definition is rapidly becoming the international standard, and I agree that it is very helpful to have such a widely agreed standard when dealing with a potential incident of hate crime or prejudice.

The Green Party of England and Wales is also currently in the process of considering adopting both the IHRA definition and a similar definition of Islamophobia. I am one of the co-proposers of two motions to Green Party conference endorsing both of these definitions. Unfortunately this weekend’s conference has now been cancelled so those discussions will have to be postponed for now.

I am aware that there has been some controversy around the examples attached to the IHRA antisemitism definition. The accusation is that these examples can be used to prevent legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies.

But as someone who is a strong defender of Palestinian people’s rights and am vehemently opposed to the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, I do not feel that the IHRA definition restricts my ability to criticise Israeli government policy at all. The IHRA is crystal clear in its preamble to the definition and examples: “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

It is only antisemitism if it is disproportionate, for example by holding all Jewish people collectively responsible for the actions of the Israeli government, or by holding Israel to a higher standard than other democratic nations.

On that basis I am very happy to support adopting the IHRA working definition. Thank you.

And here is the excellent speech that Councillor Fabian Breckels of the Labour group prepared:

I rise to support our adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.
I’ve been horrified by the rise of anti-semitism in recent years.  Last year there were 1,805 anti-Semitic incidents, a rise of 7% from the previous year.  That is not ok.
Jewish people have been part of British society for centuries.  There was a disgraceful 300 year period when Jews were expelled from the country by Edward 1 but Oliver Cromwell ended that, and they began to return.
The first British synagogue opened in 1701.  The Jewish community really grew from the late 19th century as pogroms on the continent displaced them and they saw this country as a safe haven.  As a country we did not do enough to save Jews, or others, from the horrors of the holocaust, but we did let 100,000 Jewish people in before the war, including 10,000 children on the Kindertransport.  Lord Dubbs being one of them.
I met some Jewish constituents in my ward during the last General Election campaign.  The rise in anti-Semitism was clearly troubling them and I have to throw my weight behind Bristol adopting the IHRA on their behalf in particular.
I have been frustrated by the way anti-Semitism has been handled own party in recent years.  I joined the Jewish Labour Movement as an Associate member to show solidarity with Jewish comrades, and I have voted for leadership candidates who signed up to the ten points raised by the Board of Deputies.  We need to go back to being the party of Cable Street.
It’s not just my party with issues.  A Conservative MP was recently condemned for attending the National Conservatism event in Rome and associating with “anti-Semite, Islamophobes and homophobes”.
So let’s deal with this together as one Council for one city.
I don’t accept the claim that adopting the IHRA definition curtails free speech.  The fact is you don’t have to breach the IHRA to be an effective advocate for the rights or statehood of the Palestinians.
Lisa Nandy and Ben Bradshaw are both great examples of people who are powerful advocates for the Palestinians without every going near the kind of language the IHRA seeks to stop.  
As someone who visited Israel and Palestine last year, what I want to see is this country working to build bridges with both nations and beyond.  Indeed here in Bristol, we already are.  I was at the launch of a project with Ecopeace looking at water projects with Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians and involving experts from the local water industry to assist.
We pride ourselves in being a diverse and inclusive city but we cannot call ourselves that if any member of any community here feels ill at ease. 
We must adopt the IHRA today to make it very clear that the city of Bristol has not truck with anti-Semitism of any kind and that we want our Jewish friends, colleagues and neighbours to feel wanted, valued, welcomed and affirmed in this great city of ours. 
Let’s do that with a unanimous vote to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-semitism today.


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The video of the meeting is here – see Item 11.