Board of Deputies Chief Executive Gillian Merron urged councillors from across the North East of England to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism at a seminar in Newcastle-Gateshead on Sunday.
The seminar, held at the Newcastle Hebrew Congregation, was described as ‘possibly the most sophisticated political engagement our community has ever done’ by the Joint Presidents of the Jewish Representative Council of North East Jewry.
It included around 40 councillors, as well as two of the local MPs, Chi Onwurah and Ian Mearns.
The event was also ground-breaking in terms of the involvement of the Gateshead Strictly Orthodox community alongside the other communal representative and service organisations, with the Jewish Community Council of Gateshead sending representatives to address the councillors.
Councillors were offered a range of sessions on antisemitism, Israel, education and the Strictly Orthodox community. They were able to hear from a range of communal experts, including partners from the Jewish Leadership Council and We Believe in Israel, as well as the Community Security Trust and the local university chaplain and rabbi of the Hebrew Congregation, Rabbi Lipsey.
The session comes in the wake of what Newcastle City Council leader Cllr Nick Forbes described as ‘bumps in the road’ in relations over anti-Jewish social media postings, anti-Israel motions, and questions about how certain councils were managing certain sensitivities around Holocaust Memorial Day in different local authorities in the North East.
Following the event, councillors gave overwhelmingly positive feedback. Two confirmed at the event that they would look to adopt the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism, while another will look to work with the Board of Deputies on Muslim-Jewish relations. Many councillors expressed an interest in making the Board of Deputies’ and local community’s educational resources available to teachers and pupils in their authorities.
Commenting on the event, Board of Deputies Chief Executive Gillian Merron said: “This seminar was part of a series we are putting on around the country, with Greater London and Greater Manchester already great successes and an upcoming event in Leeds in the planning stages. Many of the councillors have not had any engagement with the organised Jewish community in the past and this is a huge opportunity to increase understanding of our community’s needs and concerns. We are already seeing tangible results in terms of councils looking at adopting the IHRA antisemitism definition, and partnership on interfaith and education work.”
Bernard Shaffer and Tony Wortman, Joint Presidents of the Jewish Representative Council of North East Jewry, said: “We were delighted to partner with the Board of Deputies on what is possibly the most sophisticated political engagement our community has ever done. As the representative body for Jews across the North East, we look forward to building on this engagement for the benefit of our communities.”
Leader of Newcastle City Council and Leader of the Local Government Association Labour Group, Cllr Nick Forbes, said: “For local councillors, this was an opportunity to build bridges and learn how we can better know, understand and represent our Jewish communities. We have to go further than knowing when the festivals are. This is about the fundamental freedoms our parents and grandparents fought for. We have to reassure our Jewish communities through our words and actions, we will clamp down on the scourge of antisemitism.”