A council has finally adopted definitions of both antisemitism and Islamophobia after a year-long dispute.

Three Rivers District Council agreed a recommendation to pass the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) definition of Islamophobia during a virtual extraordinary council meeting on Tuesday evening (September 1).

The first attempt to adopt them was in a motion which had been put forward by former council leader Sara Bedford in July 2019, but this was withdrawn from the agenda on the day of the meeting. A later version of the motion was put forward in February.

Council leader Cllr Sarah Nelmes said there had been almost unanimous consensus on adopting the IHRA definition but little support for the Islamophobia definition.

When Cllr Bedford delivered a revised hate crime motion in July, it did not include either definition and also blocked other motions from being debated that evening.

Cllr Bedford’s presentation noted that Islamophobia accounted for 50 per cent of hate crimes, while antisemitism accounts for 20 per cent.

That hate crime motion was passed and any subsequent changes to the council’s policy have been scrutinised by the council’s policy and resources committee.

The committee returned with two recommendations for Tuesday night’s meeting – to adopt definitions on both antisemitism and Islamophobia. Both definitions were adopted, separately.

After the IHRA definition was passed, Jewish Independent councillor Alex Michaels said: “'All four of my grandparents came to this country in the 1930s after suffering antisemitism in Germany. I've heard first hand how their lives were turned upside down by the rise of the Nazis and the traumatic circumstances in which they left their homes, businesses and families.

“Many Jews suffered similar circumstances and six million were systematically murdered. By passing this motion Three Rivers makes it loud and clear antisemitism will not be tolerated in our communities in the future."

Labour group leader Cllr Steve Cox added: “We’ve had a year of dither, delays and dissatisfaction and this has taken far too long.

“I feel much happier that progress has been made at long last.”

Deputy leader of Three Rivers District Council, Stephen Giles-Medhurst, said: "I am pleased that the council has at last agreed these formal definitions and regret the delay. 

"Hate crime must be tackled at all levels and effects a significant number of our community.

"Agreeing this is the first step in helping those affected and I and others will work hard to ensure our community partnership prioritise hate crime and do all we can to root it out."

Although the APPG definition of Islamophobia was also passed with support from Liberal Democrats and Labour, Conservative councillors abstained, as did Cllr Michaels.

Cllr Nelmes urged councillors to adopt the definition.

She said: “Our comprehensive equalities policy asks that we identify and eradicate any forms of discrimination.

“This is a way of us identifying and indeed we will look to do similar for other groups who suffer from discrimination of this abhorrent type.”

Conservative group leader Alex Hayward said during the meeting that “this is still a very confusing area”.

She said: “This recommendation is not appropriate. It does not properly serve our Muslim residents and it is for that reason that we will abstain and await the proper work of the independent advisor appointed to reach an effective acceptable definition.”

Cllr Michaels added: “I do think there is a difference between the very timely passing of the IHRA definition and the passing of the Islamophobia definition.

“As Cllr Hayward alluded to it is a little bit confusing as not everybody agrees on it.

“It is not universal and there are lots of communities that are not happy about the impact it will have.”