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DUP hit out at Sinn Fein during Assembly debate on antisemitism

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DUP MLA William Humphrey (Liam McBurney/PA)

DUP MLA William Humphrey (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

DUP MLA William Humphrey (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sinn Fein has been accused of displaying a “shameful” approach to antisemitism and the state of Israel during an Assembly debate on Tuesday.

The DUP’s William Humphrey made the comments while MLAs were discussing his party’s motion proposing that Stormont adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitisim.

Members backed the motion, despite opposition from Sinn Fein and People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll.

Sinn Fein proposed an amendment to the motion, keeping the same wording, but removing all references to the IHRA and its examples of antisemitisim.

West Belfast MLA Pat Sheehan said his party could support “much about the motion”, but opposed the IHRA definition because if it was codified in law it would prevent “legitimate criticism of the state of Israel”.

He said it was not just Sinn Fein that held this view, listing a number of Jewish groups and even the original author of the IHRA definition, who have been critical of attempts to “weaponise” it.

Mr Sheehan said Jews were not a “homogenous group” and that many different opinions existed within Judaism in Ireland and worldwide.

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He also noted pressure group Human Rights Watch published a report on Tuesday saying Israel was committing crimes against humanity against Palestinians.

SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole said his party would not be supporting the amendment as it believed the IHRA definition could coexist alongside legitimate criticism of Israel.

“Part of the reason we know this is that people are being robust in their criticisms of Israel. This definition should not and must not chill speech on the unacceptable conduct where it happens of this current Israeli administration,” Mr O’Toole said.

The South Belfast MLA said characterising antisemitisim was important and the IHRA definition was a “useful tool” in this regard.

Andrew Muir backed the DUP motion on behalf of the Alliance Party and noted a recent attack on Jewish graves in Belfast City Cemetery was proof the threat of antisemitisim exists in Northern Ireland.

The North Down MLA said his party’s support for the IHRA definition was “entirely consistent” with its condemnation of the abuse of Palestinian rights and it would not stop them from speaking out.

UUP leader Steve Aiken lamented that former President of Israel Chaim Herzog was born in Belfast, but a plaque erected at his birthplace had to be removed because it had been repeatedly attacked.

Supporting the motion he said “attempts by others to say the motion is pro-Israel or supportive of the policies of the current Israeli government is just another attempt to disguise the very real problem of antisemitism”.

Mr Aiken said the vast majority of Jewish organisations supported the definition.

DUP MLA Paul Frew noted this and said he was concerned the Assembly’s failure to support the definition, “that in itself could be construed as antisemitic”.

“That’s a harsh thing to say, but I think it’s true. Who would tell another race their definition is wrong?,” he asked MLAs.

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said that supporting the motion would put the Assembly “on the wrong side of history”.

He accused the DUP of proposing the notion “in full knowledge it would quell condemnation of an apartheid state”.

Mr Humphrey said he was “disappointed, but not surprised” by Sinn Fein’s amendment.

“Sinn Fein is always keen to tell us that we are on the wrong side of history when it comes to certain issues, yet their own approach to antisemitism and the state of Israel has at times been shameful,” the North Belfast MLA said.

“You cannot say the Jewish people are to blame for the polices and behaviours of a particular Israeli Government.”


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