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Treading carefully over prejudice

20 April, 2017 — By John Gulliver

Sir Geoffrey Bindman and, right, Sir Stephen Sedley

A LITTLE war is shaping up – almost unpleasant at times – over the definition of the meaning of anti-semitism.

This would normally be the subject of gentle debate in the hallowed halls of academia but it is now slipping into the mainstream of politics.

On the surface, a motion on anti-semitism before Monday’s full council meeting seems pretty straightforward.

But the adoption by the government of a definition of anti-semitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – this will go before councillors – is contested by two eminent lawyers, both known in the human rights field, Sir Geoffrey Bindman and Sir Stephen Sedley, and both long-associated with Camden.

Stephen Sedley’s opinion should carry weight – before his retirement, he was Lord Justice of Appeal.

At a recent gathering in the Lords they supported a legal opinion of Hugh Tomlinson QC who described the definition as “bewilderingly imprecise”.

He warned that any local authority applying it could be at risk of “unlawfully restricting legitimate expressions of political opinion”.

Unhappy with Monday’s motion, I gather Geoffrey Bindman, who lives in Highgate, intends to meet some councillors this evening (Thursday) where, presumably, he will try to persuade them to tread cautiously. Geoffrey Bindman will be revisiting old haunts – he served many years on the council in the 1980s.

The conflict over what constitutes anti-semitism seems to have got a bit nasty last month when the Kentish Town Community Centre apparently refused to allow Baroness Jenny Tonge, a supporter of the Palestinians, to speak at their hall in Busby Place after objections were made behind the scenes.

Prejudice or any form of bigotry is to be abhorred. But freedom of speech is important, too.

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