Gordon Brown has called on Labour to support the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism “unanimously, unequivocally and immediately”, saying he “cannot be silent on an issue so fundamental to our future”.
The former prime minister was speaking at the Jewish Labour Movement’s annual conference, two days before the party’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) has to decide whether to adopt the code in full with all its examples, at a time of internal turmoil over the issue.
He conceded the party had a problem with antisemitism and needed to deal urgently with complaints that have clogged up its disciplinary procedures, arguing anti-Jewish sentiment was “a problem of the conspiracy-theory left”.
Brown said he was not appearing as “some sort of backseat driver”, but he had to speak out about antisemitism because equality and solidarity was “what the Labour party is all about, or should be all about”.
The speech did not mention the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, by name, or allude to him, and was clearly aimed at the crunch NEC meeting on Tuesday, which will debate whether to adopt the IHRA code with all its examples, a stance now supported by the leadership after a summer of controversy.
Labour’s leadership had originally suggested it would adopt the code in full, but not all 11 attached examples. But it has gradually retreated from that position and hopes the NEC will follow suit.
Brown spoke about Labour’s history of fighting antisemitism and racism. “It’s very clear we made a promise to the Jewish community that we must honour,” he said.
“You will never walk alone and we will never walk by on the other side. We will not neglect you, we will not forget you, we will not desert you. If your voice is silenced, we will lend you our voice.”
He said he had read the IHRA document and it was clear that “criticism of Israel is not to be taken as antisemitism”, and “you can criticise the government and you can support the Palestinian cause for a two-state solution”.
He added that he supported the creation and existence of the state of Israel and a Palestinian state in the Middle East.