Sunderland council pledges to stamp out hate crime following a national rise in attacks
At Sunderland City Council’s last full council meeting on Thursday, September 18, the city’s Conservative group launched a bid to tackle anti-semitism.
The motion called for the council to embed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism into training for staff/councillors.
It followed a recent report which revealed hate crimes against the Jewish Community had reached a record high – with a total of 1,652 incidents last year.
However, the motion took a rocky road to approval over nearly an hour of debate.
Conservative councillor Dom McDonough, launching the motion, paid tribute to the history of Sunderland’s Jewish Community which is growing once more, he said, after decades of decline.
Following opening speeches, the meeting quickly descended into political finger-pointing over national issues.
This included alleged anti-semitism in the Labour Party and calls to investigate Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn and UKIP all came under fire in the debate.
Despite political differences, a compromise was reached over the motion which was expanded to cover all forms of hate crime.
The amendment from Labour’s deputy leader on the council, Coun Michael Mordey, widened the focus to include Islamophobic hate crime LGBT+, transphobic and disability hate crime.
Coun Mordey said Sunderland has one of the lowest levels of hate crime in the region along with South Tyneside.
But he added partnership work was ongoing to tackle the issue – including a new awareness scheme involving “hate crime champions”.
One potential solution to online abuse, he explained, could include government laws regulating social media.
He told the meeting: “Every single member in this chamber should be concerned with eliminating hate crime in its totality, not just one element that would give you a cheap political point.”
Council leader, Graeme Miller, admitted the Labour party had an issue with anti-semitism and said it needs be dealt with.
But he added issues around Islamophobia within the Conservative Party were “shunned by the mainstream media.”
Liberal Democrat group leader, Coun Niall Hodson, described the rise of hate crimes in the UK as “alarming”.
He claimed the council had taken decisions and positions in the past that were “harmful” towards refugees.
The Lib Dem added that councillors need to be mindful of the “statements they make and positions they take.”
Coun Dom McDonough, closing the debate, accused Labour of trying to “muddy the waters” over the anti-semitism issue.
While acknowledging there was an issue with Islamophobia in the Conservative party, he said it would not be tolerated.
“We could have put a line in the sand here, we could have made a statement and you have ducked the issue and played politics,” he added.
The amended motion was agreed with a unanimous vote.