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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Former prime minister Gordon Brown urges Labour leader to act on anti-Semitism

Jeremy Corbyn has come under prolonged attack for refusing to adopt an international definition of race hatred

The Israeli Labour party had suspended its ties with Mr Corbyn earlier this year over the UK leader's "hostility" to the Jewish community. Jane Barlow/PA via AP
The Israeli Labour party had suspended its ties with Mr Corbyn earlier this year over the UK leader's "hostility" to the Jewish community. Jane Barlow/PA via AP

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown urged his opposition Labour party Sunday to adopt the internationally agreed definition of anti-Semitism to resolve a bitter row that has engulfed the party for months.

The issue has opened up deep and bitter divisions within Britain's main opposition party.

And its current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has come under prolonged attack for refusing to adopt fully the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism in Labour's new code of conduct.

He has also been accused of allowing anti-Semitism to spread in the left-wing party.

The Labour leadership has argued that the definition, signed by 31 countries and used by many British institutions, does not allow for full criticism of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

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Before a meeting of its ruling executive committee on Tuesday, Mr Brown – who was prime minister between June 2007 and May 2010 – said the issue touched on "the soul of the Labour Party".

"This is a problem that is real and present and something that's got to be dealt with now," he told a Jewish Labour Movement conference.

"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."

His comments came as Jewish leaders continued to attack Mr Corbyn over the controversy.

Former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks said on Sunday the majority of Jews were questioning whether Britain was a safe place to bring up their children.

He insisted the Labour leader must "recant and repent" and that he risked engulfing the country "in the flames of hatred".

"Jews have been in Britain since 1656. I know of no other occasion in these 362 years when Jews ... are asking 'is this country safe to bring up our children'," he told the BBC.

Arab members of the Israeli parliament meanwhile expressed "solidarity" with Mr Corbyn, defending his position on the definition of anti-Semitism.

"When some try to force the Labour party into using as its litmus test a definition of anti-Semitism that goes far beyond anti-Jewish animus to include anti-Zionism, we must raise our voices and decry these efforts," members of the opposition Joint List wrote in a letter to The Guardian.

The Israeli Labour party had suspended its ties with Mr Corbyn earlier this year over the UK leader's "hostility" to the Jewish community.

Veteran British Labour MP Frank Field, who has sat in the House of Commons for almost 40 years, quit the party's group in parliament Thursday over the mounting anti-Semitism allegations.

In a letter to the party, he said that Mr Corbyn's leadership was overseeing an "erosion of our core values".

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell defended the Labour leader Sunday, telling the BBC that critics had "got it wrong".

"Jeremy has made it absolutely clear we will protect Jewish members of our party from any form of abuse and anti-Semitism," he said.

Mr McDonnell predicted all sides would be "satisfied" with the proposals agreed Tuesday.

"It will be resolved, and there will be a balance about acceptance," he said.