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Church should adopt anti-Semitism definition, too, says Archbishop Welby

07 September 2018


Archbishop Welby and Rabbi Mirvis, at the Rabbi’s home

Archbishop Welby and Rabbi Mirvis, at the Rabbi’s home

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the Church of England must formally adopt the definition of anti-Semitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), after expressing distress that the Jewish community should be experiencing a “deep sense of insecurity” in the UK.

In a conversation with the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, on Thursday, he welcomed the decision by the Labour party to adopt the definition “without any riders or caveats”, a move announced this week after months of internal rows (News, 7 September; Comment, 27 April and 27 July; Press, 20 July). It was “excellent news”, the Archbishop said.

In July, Labour’s National Executive Committee omitted four examples from the IHRA definition incorporated into its Code of Conduct, all of which pertained to Israel. These were: “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”; “Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”; “Claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor”; and “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.”

In a discussion about anti-Semitism, filmed at Rabbi Mirvis’s home in connection with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which begins on Sunday, Rabbi Mirvis told the Archbishop that the Labour party’s actions had contributed to a difficult year.

“What we have found particularly upsetting has been the fact that, after three years of inaction, during which we have waited for the Labour party to show they are actually serious about tackling anti-semitism, now we have found during the past summer that haven’t even known where the starting blocks are. How do you define it?”

“Listening to you I find it hugely distressing and depressing that in the 21st century any community, especially the Jewish community, given the history of Europe and of the last two or three generationsm should have a deep sense of insecurity,” the Archbishop replied. “I think that is appallingm and what that says to me is that the leaders in our nation must be very clear on giving security to the Jewish community in this country.”

The adoption of the IHRA was “the beginning of a long journey . . . and it must be pursued determinedly. It’s not a stroll: it’s a march.”

The Jewish community had experienced “a very demanding, stressful time in some ways”, he suggested, noting “the increase in anti-Jewish attacks across the country, on synagogues [News, 27 July], on cemeteries [News, 9 September 2016], on individuals ]Comment 25 August 2017], and the truly unspeakable trolling through social media.”

The situation had deteriorated in the past year, Rabbi Mirvis said. “Ever since the Holocaust, we never felt for one moment we would again need to defend our Jewishness, our identity, our existence. It is to us unbelievable what is actually happening now.

“We are absolutely determined to ensure that there will be a stop to the scourge of anti-Semitism across all institutions in this country. There should be zero tolerance. We want to have a great wonderful and happy future in the country that we love.” He was “proud of the strength that we have shown right now”.

He continued: “Far too much comment is laced with hatred. . . Unfortunately, so many irresponsible world leaders are allowing this to take place, some even encouraging it, and where you have poisonous comments laced with hatred, you can be guaranteed that hatred of the Jew will be coming very quickly.”

The Archbishop remarked that “Anything that permits attacks on one minority group is a threat to the entire structure of the nation, because, once you attack one group, why not attack every other group?”

Turning to global politics, Rabbi Mirvis emphasised that the IRHA definition did not preclude discussing Israel or the Middle East.

“For the sake of heaven, let’s discuss the situation,” he said. “You will find many people agreeing with the policies of the government, some who are not — that’s absolutely fine . . . It’s when you start engaging arguments through which you want to prove that this is a racist endeavour, that Jews have no right to their own homeland — that is pure anti-Semitism.”

In announcing the adoption of the definition, a statement from Labour said that “this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians.”

“We as a Church need to adopt IHRA formally,” the Archbishop concluded. “I am distressed that it should be necessary, but I think it is necessary.”

The Jewish community was “not a foreign community within the United Kingdom: it’s a British community”, he said. Noting the presence of “many communities”, he spoke of the need to be “able to be really honest about our differences, but in a context of profound affection, so that the words are heard in the way they mean, that they are for the sake of heaven”.

He prayed for a “year of sweetness” for the Jewish community.

A statement from the the Chair and Trustees of the Council of Christians and Jews thanked the Archbishop for his comments: “He has shown leadership where it has been lacking, he has created light where there has been darkness. The Jewish community is fortunate to have such a committed, loyal and steadfast friend.”

In January, the Archbishop called on social-media companies to do more to clamp down on anti-Semitism (News, 26 January). He has previously written about the “virus” of anti-Semitism (Comment, 17 November 2016) and apologised for Anglican anti-Semitism (News, 8 May 2015).

The Government adopted the IHRA definition in 2016 (News, 16 December 2016).

Read the definition in full here

Watch the conversation here: https://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/news/latest-news/archbishop-justin-wishes-new-year-peace-and-security-british-jewish-community 



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