The antisemitism crisis in the UK Labour Party has escalated again, after a respected BBC current affairs show revealed that there was a backlog of 1000 antisemitism allegations waiting to be dealt with, while the Labour leader’s office has allegedly obstructed those in the party responsible for investigating antisemitism.
Since becoming leader of Labour in 2015, Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of allowing a culture of antisemitism to develop within his party.
As reported in the July edition of the Australia/Israel Review, under his leadership, the party has failed to properly investigate accusations of antisemitism or deal with those accused of racism. This claim was reiterated by whistleblowers appearing on the Panorama episode.
In response to antisemitism in Labour ranks, nine Members of Parliament and three Members of the House of Lords resigned from the party. Labour is also being investigated by the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission to determine whether the party has “has unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish”.
Jewish leaders, anti-racism campaigners and some Labour MPs have responded to the Panorama investigation, which cannot yet be viewed in full outside of the UK, though a short clip has been released.
After speaking with more than 20 former Labour officials, the BBC investigation revealed that two senior Labour figures, both closely allied to Corbyn, had interfered in the disciplinary process designed to deal with accusations of antisemitism. The BBC also aired reports from former Labour party investigators that Corbyn’s office had not respected the independence of the investigative process.
In responding to the program, a statement released by an unnamed Labour spokesperson called the episode “a seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided polemic which breached basic journalistic standards”.
The spokesperson said the show was, “was an overtly biased intervention by the BBC in party political controversy” and the political party “will be pursuing complaints at every level”.
The spokesperson went on to say “Labour stands in solidarity with Jewish people and is fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and its organisations.”
This statement stood in strong contrast to the response of senior Jewish leaders.
The Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis responded after Panorama aired, saying: “Hearing the revelations from eight brave individuals in tonight’s BBC Panorama, about the contempt with which the Labour Party leadership regards the problem of antisemitism, must be a watershed moment in this agonising saga.
“This is no longer a question of the leadership’s inability to deal with the scourge of antisemitism but of its direct complicity in it,” Rabbi Mirvis said.
The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Marie van der Zyl also reacted to the accusations aired: “As anti-Jewish racism remains a poison running through the party, it appears to have been watched over by a leader whose henchmen had not the slightest intention of acting to get rid of the problem so long as they could get rid of the negative headlines.
“Jeremy Corbyn, [and party leaders and Corbyn allies], Seumas Milne and Jennie Formby are personally responsible for having turned a once great, anti-racist party into a cesspit of antisemitism.”
The Jewish Labour Movement, which has been formally affiliated with the Labour Party since 1920 and counts former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown as a new member, also weighed in after watching the program.
“Panorama has laid bare the corruption and political interference in Labour’s process and the toxic culture which allows Jew-haters to prosper in the party,” said Mike Katz, national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement”.
“Having uncovered clear wrongdoing throughout the party – from people working directly for Jeremy Corbyn to local party officers, it is clear that those responsible need to be held accountable for their actions,” he added, noting suspensions and sackings would be appropriate actions to take.
There is an obvious moral imperative for a major party in a modern liberal democracy to fight and defeat antisemitism inside and outside its ranks. But on top of this, given the parlous state of British politics, with Brexit unresolved, the contest continuing for the leadership of the Conservative Party – and therefore the country – and a general election scheduled for 2022 but possibly to be held sooner, the impasse in the Labour Party over antisemitism needs to be resolved urgently.