Fireworks in store and it’s not even bonfire night!

There’s the prospect of fireworks tonight when Hastings Borough Council meets in full session for the first time since February and Councillor Dany Louise – who quit the Labour party over alleged anti-semitism last year – asks that the authority endorses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism.

Dany Louise

That’s likely to put her at odds with her former Labour colleagues and in particular with Castle Ward’s Councillor Leah Levane who is the co-chair of an organisation called Jewish Voice for Labour which has as one of its core values, “to oppose attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its meaning of hostility towards, or discrimination against, Jews as Jews.”

When she quit Labour in February 2019 Ms Louise, who represents Old Hastings, said: “Sensible people have long ago abandoned the Hastings and Rye branch of the Labour Party,” who she said had ‘driven her out’ because Labour had become a ‘welcoming environment for antisemities’.

In November last year Ms Louise published a 7,500 word dossier detailing instances of anti semitism in the local party. At the time a spokesman for the Hastings Constituency Labour Party told Hastings In Focus they believed the document to be defamatory and were considering legal action. However despite the document being widely published no legal action has ever been started and with a time limit of a year to begin actions for defamation time to do so is running out.

Last year one local Labour activist was dropped as a potential council candidate and then suspended from the party for posting what were deemed to be anti-semitic comments on social media.

Ms Louise’ motion to council says: “Hastings is a Community of Sanctuary and a town with increasingly diverse communities and residents. This Council recognises that it needs to lead by example on anti-racist conduct and the growing tide of antisemitism we are seeing in this country. Hate crime figures show that antisemitic hate crimes, along with all religious hate crimes, have risen alarmingly in the last five years.

“In 2018 – 2019, antisemitism accounted for 18 per cent of all religious hate crime in the UK, despite the Jewish population being less than 0.5 per cent of the total population. The IHRA definition is the most widely accepted and recognised definition of anti-Jewish racism, and the vast majority of the Jewish community welcomes it as providing the protection they need. Therefore this Council resolves to join with 260 other local authorities, and the national Conservative and Labour Parties, to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism with all its working examples, to be included in the Council’s policy and practices.”

The sticking point is that the IHRA offer 11 specific definitions of what it considers to be anti-semitism, organisations cannot pick and choose which definitions they want to support it’s all or nothing, in the eyes of the IHRA you either support its cause or you are deemed anti-semitic.

In what is widely being see as an attempt to derail Ms Louise Labour’s Judy Rogers is proposing an entirely separate motion that says: “Hastings has a long tradition of welcoming people from a range of diverse backgrounds and celebrating difference, something which we all should be proud.  Just some of the things we as a town have been support are: City of Sanctuary, Lift the Ban, Black History month, International Women’s Day, Holocaust Memorial Day, One Hastings Many Voices.

“We work closely as a council to support and engage with the numerous faith groups right across the Borough with strong links for example to the Hastings Mosque, the Inter Faith Forum and the Chinese Community where we join together every year to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

“Our festivals which the council are proud to be involved in include Hastings Pride, Jack in the Green, Bonfire celebrations, Hastings Old Town Week and Carnival, Hastings Week, Storytelling Festival and these help to bring together our community.

“During this time the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement has been a stark reminder also of the inequalities that people of a BAME background still face. Hate crimes of homophobia and towards religious groups continue to rise.

“Unfortunately, there is evidence to suggest that some groups are looking to exploit these differences and divide communities. We cannot afford to let the rich fabric of our town to be torn apart by letting such ideas take hold.”

Ms Rogers proposal includes the clause: “As part of our commitment… the council will formally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition on antisemitism which defines antisemitism thus:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

However because Ms Roger’s motion makes no mention of the 11 examples that are intrinsic to the definition of antisemitism in the eyes of the IHRA it is worthless.

Given that there has been no meeting of the full council since February there has already been criticism on social media about some of the issues up for discussion and just what relevance they have to charting the recovery of the town from the ravages of lockdown.

‘Council-watchers’ we have spoken to say they expect the meeting, being held remotely via Microsoft Teams, to be ill-tempered at times and it’s thought to be unlikely that all business on the agenda can be dealt with in one sitting with the expectation being a time limit will be imposed.

What do you think your council should be discussing at its first meeting in eight months? Tell us in the comment section below.

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