Protest as anti-semitism definition adopted by Brighton and Hove City Council
Anti-racism campaigners and supporters of Palestine protested against the widely-accepted definition of anti-semitism adopted by Brighton and Hove City Council.
Dozens of people waved placards outside Hove Town Hall before a council meeting on Thursday (October 18).
They opposed the council signing up to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism which was the subject of considerable debate in the Labour Party earlier this year.
At the full council meeting, Labour leader Cllr Daniel Yates proposed a motion in favour of the move.
He was supported by the opposition Conservative leader Cllr Tony Janio and Green convenor Cllr Phélim Mac Cafferty.
Before councillors voted they heard questions from veteran campaigner Tony Greenstein as well as deputations from two people with rival views – Nadia Edmond and Fiona Sharpe.
Mr Greenstein, of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, was heckled as he tried to put a question to council leader Daniel Yates – but the heckling arose because his microphone had stopped working.
He said: “Bearing in mind the searing criticism of the IHRA from Jewish former Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stephen Sedley, ‘not a definition, indefinite’, Hugh Tomlinson QC ‘a potential chilling effect on public bodies’ and Geoffrey Robertson QC, ‘not fit for purpose’, perhaps Daniel Yates can spell out the IHRA’s advantages over the common-sense definition of anti-semitism, ‘someone who doesn’t like Jews’.”
Mr Greenstein compared the brevity of his definition from the Oxford English Dictionary to the 500-plus words in the IHRA definition.
He also asked why the council was supporting the only apartheid state in the world.
Cllr Yates said that there could be many definitions of something, citing theft as an example.
He said: “We are going to listen to the people who have identified a problem in the city and what they say.”
Cllr Yates added: “Sussex Jewish Representative Council, who represented hundreds and thousands of Jews, asked us as a city council to take up the issue of hate crimes they are victims of. That is democracy.”
A member of Stand Up To Racism, Dr Edmund, a Brighton University lecturer, spoke on behalf of various community groups opposing the adoption of the IHRA definition.
Her deputation states the council’s “existing policies already make clear its unambiguous opposition to racism”.
She said: “There are elements of quasi laws but without the legitimacy of being properly debated.
“It is used against free speech and open criticism of Israel, making this critisim unlawful.”
In response Cllr Yates said that the council did not believe that the definition curtailed free speech but hate speech.
Speaking for the Sussex Jewish Representative Council, Fiona Sharpe said: “The IHRA definition in no way limits an individual’s freedom of speech and is equally clear that robust, legitimate criticism against the government of Israel is perfectly permissible.
“But as MP Gareth Snell so clearly stated last weekend, ‘If you’re not able to criticise Israel without breaching IHRA, it isn’t IHRA stopping you, its probably that you’re an anti-semite.'”
Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “It is important anti-semitism should not be weaponised to close down criticism.”
Forty-six councillors voted in favour of the IHRA definition with none against and only Labour councillor Penny Gilbey abstaining.
Both Dr Edmond and Ms Sharpe’s deputations will be raised at the neighbourhoods, inclusion, communities and equalities committee on Monday December 3.
Sarah Booker-Lewis is the Local Democracy Reporter for Brighton & Hove.