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May 3, 2016 4:44 pm

British Watchdog Calls Labour Antisemitism Probe Into Question Over Stance of Vice Chairman

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The neutrality of Professor David Feldman, vice chairman of an independent Labour Party probe into antisemitism, is being called into question. Photo: Pears Foundation.

The neutrality of Professor David Feldman, vice chairman of an independent Labour Party probe into antisemitism, is being called into question. Photo: Pears Foundation.

The vice chairman of an independent probe on antisemitism in Britain’s Labour Party is known for his attacks against the widely accepted definition of antisemitism used by many international governments, an official from a British charity that also serves as a watchdog told The Algemeiner on Tuesday, calling into question Labour’s pick on whom it chose to lead the investigation. 

In response to a Jewish Chronicle report about Professor David Feldman’s affiliation with Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), Jonathan Sacerdoti, director of communications for the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), commented, “Professor Feldman is a fierce critic of the only definition of antisemitism that is widely used by the UK College of Policing, the British Government, the EU Parliament and the US State Department — the EUMC definition of antisemitism. This is the definition we have adopted at CAA and is one we urge Labour to adopt immediately, to help it resolve the antisemitism problem it has.”

According to the report, IJV — self-described as a “network of individuals who wish to have a platform for critical debate on major political questions, and the situation in the Middle East in particular” — said many of the accusations against Labour are “politically motivated” and aimed at discrediting critics of Israel and party leader Jeremy Corbyn. “Some of these allegations against individuals are, in our view, baseless and disingenuous; in other cases, ill-chosen language has been employed,” IJV said in a statement. 

Feldman, who is the director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, is also a signatory of the IJV Declaration, which states in part, “The battle against antisemitism is vital and is undermined whenever opposition to Israeli government policies is automatically branded as antisemitic.”

Feldman defended his ties with IJV, telling the Jewish Chronicle, “It is my view that all allegations of antisemitism require investigation. My starting point is that the rules and norms applied to identify racism for other minorities in British society should be applied consistently, and that means to Jews.” IJV, according to Feldman, supports human rights, opposes all forms of racism and views the battle against antisemitism as a “vital” cause. “It is hard to see what is controversial about these points,” he said.  

Feldman said his initial working assumption during the independent Labour inquiry will be that “people are speaking and writing in good faith and are engaged in an honest disagreement. Allegations of disingenuousness, which come from many sides of this debate, can rarely be proven.” He added that there is “an urgent need for dispassionate consideration and constructive proposals.”

Sacerdoti told The Algemeiner, howeverthat the “Labour Party inquiry is not reviewing Corbyn’s handling of the crisis or existing cases, which suggests that its usefulness will be limited.” He added that “many are worried it will be no more than symbolic.”

Labour’s investigation, Sacerdoti said, “must look at the root causes of why people in the party have such extreme views and unearth any underlying issues which cause them, and then work to fix those. This is an enormous job and not one that seems possible in a short period.”

Also raising issue with Feldman’s criticism of the EUMC definition of antisemitism is a Change.org petition calling on Corbyn to make sure Labour’s investigation is “not a whitewash.”

“We are very concerned about the shocking resurgence of antisemitism in the UK and express the hope that Labour’s inquiry can help to ensure zero tolerance in the Party,” the petition page states. “But we consider that there is little chance of achieving this with a Deputy Chairman who does not accept the EUMC definition. We therefore ask that Professor Feldman is replaced with someone who does accept the EUMC definition.”

Shami Chakrabarti, former director of the human rights campaign group Liberty, has been appointed by Corbyn to lead the investigation.

On Monday, Labour’s antisemitism scandal widened when it was reported by the Telegraph that in the course of two months, Labour had secretly suspended 50 party members for antisemitic and racist comments. Approximately 20 of these suspensions took place over the last two weeks. On Thursday, the UK will head to the polls in key elections and, according to political experts cited by British media, Labour could lose 150 or more council seats.

Corbyn insisted on Tuesday that Labour will strengthen, telling reporters, “We are not going to lose seats, we are looking to gain seats where we can.”

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