THE College of Bishops voted this week to formally adopt the definition of anti-Semitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
The Archbishop of Canterbury recommended the move last week, during a conversation with the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, in which he expressed distress that the Jewish community should be experiencing a “deep sense of insecurity” in the UK.
The vote was taken during the annual residential meeting of the college. The bishops also issued a call to everyone in public life to “reject all language and activity that leads to prejudice, stigma, or hatred towards people on the grounds of their religion, culture, origins, identity, or belief”.
The Church of England’s interfaith team and national advisers already use the definition as the benchmark in their work and ministry.
The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said: “The Jewish community, among whom I live in Salford, carry with them the vivid memory and scars of the Holocaust; they know all too well that anti-Semitism is never far below the surface of our society.
“Today’s statement from the Church of England bishops assures them that we will continue to reject such prejudice and bigotry firmly, in line with our practice over 75 years.
“At the same time, we will continue to speak out critically when governments here and elsewhere act in ways that our faith calls us to challenge.”
Asked whether the definition could be drawn on in disciplinary proceedings against clergy, he said: “We are very clear that, apart from membership of proscribed organisations on the far right, political opinion is not covered by the CDM [Clergy Discipline Measure]. We trust that this has the vast support in the wider Church that it has among the bishops”.
In his conversation with the Chief Rabbi last week, filmed in connection with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Archbishop Welby welcomed the Labour Party’s decision 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”, he 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.
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 they haven’t even known where the starting blocks are. How do you define it?”
Archbishop Welby replied: “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 generations, should have a deep sense of insecurity.”
The Government adopted the IHRA definition in 2016 (News, 16 December 2016).
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