Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party
A report was published by the UK’s human rights watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), about the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. In this article, our analyst Ghila Amati analyses some of the results of the report, and several claims in favour of and against it.
A report was published by the UK’s human rights watchdog – the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – on October 29th, 2020 over the issue of anti-Semitism in the British Labour Party. Allegations of anti-Semitism were made against the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership between 2015 and 2020, when the party turned to a more radical left approach and attracted many anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic figures.
The EHRC’s conclusion
The committee reviewed 70 complaints filed between March 2016 and May 2019. The report concluded that the analysis made by the commision “points to a culture within the party which, at best, did not do enough to prevent anti-Semitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it.” According to Caroline Waters, the interim chair of the EHRC, the report underlined different areas in which the Labour Party’s “approach and leadership to tackling anti-Semitism was insufficient.”
In addition, the EHRC report found the Labour Party responsible for three violations of the UN Equality Act: political intrusion in anti-Semitism complaints; the failure to provide sufficient preparation and guidance for management of anti-Semitism complaints and harassment; and the negation of the complaints of anti-Semitism and the suggestion that they were simply fake. As a result, the EHRC served an unlawful notice to the party. The Labour Party had until December 10th, 2020 to propose a draft of an action plan to apply the list of recommendations suggested by the committee to solve this problem. Once the action plan is settled, the EHRC will keep supervising it. If the Labour Party fails to live up to its promises in the action plan, then the EHRC may take enforcement actions.
Following the publication of the EHRC’s report, Corbyn was suspended from the party for a short period of time. When he was readmitted, he was denied the parliamentary whip. Corbyn responded by arguing that the commission report was “political” and said he intended to “strongly contest” it.
Anti-Semitic, racist and violent threats
The examples of anti-Semitism demonstrated by both the Labour Party and by Corbyn himself are manifold. Let’s now look at some of these episodes to get an idea of the reasons why the EHRC decided to investigate the Labour Party.
In April 2020, The Sunday Times discovered over 2,000 anti-Semitic, racist, and violent threats and posts in private Facebook groups supporting Corbyn. The posts included many attacks against Jews and Holocaust-denying material. 12 senior staff members who work for Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell were members of 20 of these groups. The groups had a total of 400,000 members. A Labour Party spokesperson argued that these groups “are not officially connected to the party in any way.” Other Labour MPs requested Corbyn to ask his supporters to eliminate groups with anti-Semitic posts. As a consequence of these accusations, Corbyn erased his personal Facebook account but not his official page. Moreover, according to the EHRC report, in 2016, a Labour councillor published an image on his Facebook page of the Jewish banker Jacob Rothschild writing that Jews “own our News, our Media, our Oil and even our governments.” According to the report, this incident was not investigated at all by the Labour Party.
In April 2016, Ken Livingstone, a Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) member, defended a social media post published by MP Naz Shah. In the post, Naz Shah argued that the State of Israel should be transferred to the United States. Shah also compared the Israeli policies with those of Hitler. Livingstone argued this post was not anti-Semitic and that the accusations against Shah were part of a campaign by ‘the Israel lobby’ to stigmatise any criticism of Israel. According to the report, “the comments made by Shah went beyond legitimate criticism of the Israeli government, as she acknowledged, and are not protected by Article 10 [that protects freedom of expression]. Neither is Ken Livingstone’s support for those comments.”
Another debatable episode was Labour’s refusal to fully accept and adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s internationally recognised definition of anti-Semitism. Corbyn argued that the aspect of the definition which stated that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” was unfair and this refusal was not to be considered a form of anti-Semitism. This is despite the fact that the IHRA definition allows criticism of Israel, stating that it “cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic” if it is “similar to that leveled against any other country.”   Corbyn’s concerning position on Israel was expressed on two different occasions. In 2019, the Hamas terror group thanked Corbyn for his recognition of the Palestinian mourning over the 71st anniversary of the formation of the State of Israel. It also came out that in 2014, Corbyn participated in a ceremony that honoured the terrorists responsible for the 1972 Munich Olympic terrorist attack.
Criticism on the report
The report encountered quite some criticism from Corbyn’s supporters. In a rally in defence of Corbyn, MP Andrew Feinstein said that Jeremy Corbyn “is as much a racist or anti-Semite as my former boss Nelson Mandela.” Moreover, Feinstein, the son of a Holocaust survivor, while stressing that the Labour left should not tolerate any form of anti-Semitism, argued that the report is “an attempt by the mainstream media and the Labour Party leadership to wish away left-wing Jews” who supported Corbyn. He added that the mainstream media wish “to behave as if we do not exist … an attempt to do away with an extraordinary tradition of Jewish socialism and support for liberation movements from Pretoria to Palestine.” Finally, some have argued that this report is merely a means used by the Labour staff to damage the party’s leader, by exploiting anti-Semitism.
Although we should not underestimate these claims, it seems unlikely that the accusations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party are a mere conspiracy against its then leader, Corbyn. There are many examples, including those presented above, that show the anti-Semitic conduct of members of the Labour Party. Moreover, the EHRC is an impartial commission which has conducted an objective investigation on the topic. Since it has brought proof to its accusations, there is no reason to doubt its integrity. Finally, Jews in Britain have long been supporters of the Labour Party and would not have made accusations against the party if they did not feel they were based on substantial facts.
The Labour Party’s action plan
In response to the report, the Labour Party published an action plan to uproot anti-Semitism in the party ranks, and to respond more effectively to complaints.  During the presentation of the new plan, the party’s current leader Keir Starmer and deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “We failed the Jewish community, our members, our supporters and the country.” Part of the plan is to institute an investigation process inside the party to look into complaints of all forms of discrimination in the party such as anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and sexual harassment. As a part of the new plan, external lawyers will be hired to advise panel hearings on anti-Semitism complaints. Moreover, an advisory board of Jewish members will be established. The board will develop educational material on anti-Semitism for the party. The plan was approved by the EHRC. 
Hoping the plan will be implemented
Accusations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party started since Corbyn’s appointment as leader of the Labour Party in 2015. It is favourable news that the UK government and the EHRC finally decided to investigate these accusations deeply and determined their reliability. Anti-Semitism is a terrible phenomenon that must be eradicated from society. This report is a real step towards this goal, and the hope is that its recommendation and the proposed action plan will be implemented fully by the Labour Party. It still remains a matter of time, however, to see whether the good forces in the Labour Party will eventually be able to eradicate anti-Semitism in the party.
This article was written by Ghila Amati and reflects her personal analysis and opinion, rather than those of EARS.
Interested in similar topics? Go to our Dashboard and receive free updates.