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2 September 2018

Gordon Brown: Jeremy Corbyn must remove the “stain” of anti-Semitism from Labour

The former prime minister called on the party to “unequivocally” adopt the full international definition of anti-Semitism. 

By Patrick Maguire

Labour must adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism “unanimously, unequivocally and immediately,” Gordon Brown has said.

Speaking at the Jewish Labour Movement’s annual conference in north London today, the former prime minister urged Jeremy Corbyn to remove the “stain” of prejudice from Labour by writing the definition and all of its examples into its new code of conduct.

Brown said the row that has marred his successor’s summer was “not just a procedural issue but about the soul of the party”.


“It is time to say that this wrong must and can be righted,” he said. “This injustice has got to be remedied, this stain must be removed. The sore that exists and the harm that has been done, and the hurt it has caused, has got to be undone.”

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Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee will vote on Tuesday on whether to adopt the definition. After interventions from four trade union general secretaries – each of who has two NEC representatives – in favour of IHRA, it is now certain to do so but there remains the possibility that it could be caveated by an additional appendix or amendment related to criticism of Israel.  

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The latter scenario could hasten a Labour split. Mike Gapes, the Ilford South MP, said this week that he would quit the party if the NEC adopted a “weasel-worded caveat” along with the definition. Louise Ellman, the Jewish MP for Liverpool Riverside, predicted today that the leadership would seek to “water down” IHRA in the days after its adoption.

However, Brown, who was given a standing ovation by activists, nonetheless said he believed that Labour would indeed adopt the definition and said the leadership must resolve the issue quickly.

“I believe that the Labour Party must and should change the policy,” he said. “And I believe this problem must be solved within the Labour Party now.”

“This is a problem that is real and present and something that’s got to be dealt with now,” he added.

“I want to say to you very clearly today that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is something we should support unanimously, unequivocally and immediately.”

Addressing left-wing concerns that the definition could stifle criticism of Israel, he added: “The declaration is about this and this only: to condemn and root out, as they state, anti-Semitism, which ‘is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews’.

“And this declaration is needed now, urgently. Not as some sort of abstract document of philosophy.

“It is needed now to deal with practical threats to confront gathering dangers and on-the-ground realities of very real week-by-week threats to Jewish communities that demand an unequivocal response and unqualified resolve.”

The leadership has yet to publicly endorse the full IHRA definition but privately Labour sources admit its adoption in some form is now inevitable. John McDonnell told the New Statesman that he wanted the NEC to resolve the row “as quickly as possible”.