A debate over hate crime policy ended in acrimony as Liberal Democrats were accused of blocking the adoption of a widely recognised definition of antisemitism.

Liberal Democrat-controlled Three Rivers District Council discussed a motion condemning both antisemitism and Islamophobia during an extraordinary council meeting last Tuesday night.

The motion noted that there are “widely accepted and recognised definitions of antisemitism and definitions of Islamophobia” – but did not mention the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition.

But it included a clause that postponed any other motions on equality until another meeting – including one which included adopting the IHRA definition.

An earlier version of the motion had included both the IHRA definition and the All Party Parliamentary Group definition of Islamophobia – and Cllr Sara Bedford, who presented it, said “we absolutely need to include both definitions”.

Watford Observer:

Cllr Sara Bedford

The motion noted that “hate crime in this country is steadily increasing and that the vast majority of hate crime involves a person's actual or perceived race or religion”.

It added that “half of all religious hate crime is directed against Muslims, whilst almost 20 per cent is antisemitic”.

If approved, it set out how a committee would be set up discuss any changes needed to the council's equality policy.

Cllr Bedford said the Lib Dems “just have a desire to see all faiths treated similarly and to say otherwise is a total misrepresentation of the facts”.

Although her name was on the agenda as bringing the motion, she told the meeting it was amended by the Lib Dem group “as a whole, unanimously” after a long discussion.

Independent and former Lib Dem councillor Alex Michaels accused the Lib Dems of trying to “take away our democratic right” by inserting a clause to postpone other equality motions.

Watford Observer:

Cllr Alex Michaels

He said: “One of these motions is at long last to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. It must be adopted without further delay.”

He called for the removal of the clause stopping other equality motions being debated – a move Cllr Bedford refused.

Conservative Cllr Debbie Morris claimed that the IHRA definition “won’t be allowed” to be adopted in Three Rivers if the motion is passed.

Watford Observer:

Cllr Debbie Morris

She said: “Over the last couple of weeks I have been approached by leaders of the Jewish orthodox and liberal communities in Northwood. They cannot understand the reluctance of the Lib Dem administration of this council to adopt the IHRA definition tonight.

“The Jewish community is watching what is going on tonight, the time for delay is over. Vote against this motion."

Labour councillor Stephen Cox said the “lights would have gone out in this council and darkness will prevail” if the motion is passed.

Watford Observer:

Cllr Steve Cox

He said: “I very much regret that the mover of this motion has not found it within her heart to accept the amendment from Cllr Michaels.

“The motion could have been so much better had greater consensus been sought.”

However, Cllr Bedford said that there is “absolutely no refusal” on the part of the Liberal Democrats to accept the definition of antisemitism.

Conservative councillor Michael Revan said he did not believe the antisemitism and Islamophobia motions should be “put together”.

Cllr Bedford said: “This council does not base its policy on the matter of the Conservative government, and other councils, including Watford, have accepted both definitions.”

Cllr Bedford first brought a hate crime motion to the council in July 2019.

The motion then, which simply agreed the adoption of the IHRA definition and All Party Parliamentary Group definition on Islamophobia, was withdrawn by Cllr Bedford on the day of that meeting.

Cllr Bedford said she took the motion off the agenda last year in “an attempt to reach some sort of consensus, only to be told by everybody that I tried to speak with that they would not accept that definition being in the motion, whatever the circumstances”.

The motion returned to council in February this year, still to adopt both definitions, but spoke more broadly about hate crime.

She continued: “We absolutely need to adopt both definitions, I would not have put the motion forward in the first place if I did not believe that to be the case.”

The motion was passed by 19 votes to 16, while three councillors abstained.