Council chamber
Guests from the Catford and Bromley Synagogue joined councillors in Woolwich Town Hall’s council chamber

Greenwich councillors put politics and town hall drama aside for a short while on Wednesday night to unanimously condemn hate crimes and anti-Semitic violence in Greenwich.

Just days following Holocaust Memorial Day, Greenwich Council voted – like many other authorities – to make the statement of adopting the internationally recognised definition of anti-Semitism.

The term is defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which brings together governments and experts to promote Holocaust education and remembrance.

The Jewish community makes up 0.5 per cent of the population in England and Wales, but is the second most targeted group in religious hate crimes.

Following a poignant prayer by invited guests from the Catford and Bromley Synagogue, councillors agreed to adopt the IHRA’s recognised definition.

Moving the motion at the start of Wednesday’s full council meeting, Labour councillor Ian Hawking said: “As anti-Semitism has mutated through the ages, so has its apparent legitimisation. The inability for society to make space for difference leaves a vacuum for hate to develop.

“The rise of anti-Semitism throughout history has often been humanities warning sign that hatred is rising in other areas as well. It matters to all of us, that is why we must fight it together.

“The society I want to live in is an open one. One where our faith communities are respected and treated with the dignity they deserve. The passing of this motion sends a message loud and clear.”

It is estimated that one in 20 adults do not believe the Holocaust happened, with a further eight per cent thinking its scale has been exaggerated.

Fellow Labour councillor Chris Lloyd said: “That is a terrifyingly high fraction to believe that so many millions were killed fewer than 80 years ago.

“Unfortunately anti-Semitism it not something that has been confined to the history books. That is why this definition is so important and should be adopted.

“There is an overarching consensus on this from all streams of the Jewish community.”

More than 150 authorities have taken the definition on board in England and Wales.

Scotland Yard recorded four anti-Semitic crimes in Greenwich last year, up on the two years before.

The motion was unanimously backed by councillors from both sides of the chamber.

Opposition leader Matt Hartley said: “The motion is a very important one, it rightly expresses the alarm that we all feel around the rise of anti-Semitism in recent years.

“We must not forgot, that in the scheme of history, the Holocaust was a very recent event. Its impact is felt by millions of families and descendants.

“The fact that they or anyone has to put up with the anti-Semitism that lies beneath the statistics is a stain on our society.”

The Government and the Crown Prosecution Service are among the major groups to have adopted the definition recognised by the IHRA.

Neighbouring Bexley signed up to the definition at a cabinet meeting on Monday, while Lewisham commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day on Sunday with a ceremony at the Broadway Theatre in Catford.

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Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Scheme is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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