RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This summer, the British Labour Party got a lot of flak for refusing to adopt a full, international definition of anti-Semitic speech. After all the headlines, yesterday, they finally gave in. How and why did this become such an explosive issue in British politics? NPR's Frank Langfitt explains from London.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Thirty-one countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism, but Britain's progressive Labour Party held out until yesterday. And even then, Labour added that the definition shouldn't undermine free expression about Israel or the rights of Palestinians, highlighting party leaders' concerns that what they see as legitimate criticism could be branded as hate speech. The caveat infuriated some Jewish groups, who called it appalling.
DANIEL SUGARMAN: The Jewish community will believe that, once again, the Labour Party has gone about this in bad faith.
LANGFITT: Daniel Sugarman is a reporter for The Jewish Chronicle in London.
SUGARMAN: It has repeatedly refused to understand the concerns that many within the Jewish community have about connecting anti-Semitism with statements about Israel.
LANGFITT: Leading Jewish groups and newspapers have spent much of the summer attacking Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, resulting in a steady drumbeat of news coverage that sounded like this.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS MONTAGE)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: A Jewish protest taking place down in Parliament Square. It is aimed at Jeremy Corbyn...
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Why has your party become synonymous with anti-Semitism?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Good morning, Mr. Corbyn. Are relations between the Labour leadership and the British Jewish community broken beyond repair?
LANGFITT: In a video earlier this summer, Corbyn acknowledged Labour does have a problem with anti-Semitism.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JEREMY CORBYN: I'm sorry for the hurt that's been caused to many Jewish people. We have been too slow in processing disciplinary cases of mostly online, anti-Semitic abuse by party members. People who hold anti-Semitic views have no place in the Labour Party.
LANGFITT: Many Jewish groups are especially uncomfortable with Corbyn because he's long been a supporter of the Palestinian cause. And Britain's right-wing press, who hate Corbyn because he's a socialist, have been happy to trash him and the party leadership as they floundered on the issue. Adam Walker, who's Jewish and works as a barrister focusing on human rights, says yesterday's decision was a good first step towards addressing the fears of many in the Jewish community.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, Adam Wagner is mistakenly referred to as Adam Walker.]
ADAM WAGNER: I think that this is really the beginning, and certainly not the end, of this issue being resolved, if it can be resolved.
LANGFITT: Now the party will have to apply the international definition it's just adopted.
WAGNER: Labour have the most unbelievably difficult task ahead of them because they have 600,000 members, and they effectively have to police their members for anti-Semitism.
LANGFITT: While Labour's been battling itself, the ruling Conservative Party has been flailing over its plans for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, which Michael Segalov, a journalist and Jewish Labour member, sees as a lost opportunity.
MICHAEL SEGALOV: It's incredibly frustrating that in a summer when the Conservative Party are in disarray, fighting each other over bricks and looking like they're about to fall apart, that we've been forced to be speaking about anti-Semitism.
LANGFITT: Segalov says the party should have addressed the problem sooner, but he hopes it's now struck a balance between the concerns of Jewish members and critics of Israel and can begin to move forward.
Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA'S "ALL THINGS")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.