Labour guilty of “unlawful acts of harassment” against Jews, UK government watchdog says

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Britain’s Labour party is responsible for “unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination” against Jews, according to the most exhaustive and significant report published to date about Labour’s anti-Semitism problem.

The report was published Thursday by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the British government’s watchdog on racism. It has been worked on since May 2019 and it is the first time the commission has focused on a mainstream political party.

It said that Labour under its previous leader, the left-wing politician Jeremy Corbyn, failed to address and resolve anti-Semitic behavior in its ranks. Among its recommendations, which are legally binding, was that Labour “must live up to its commitment to be a political party with zero tolerance of antisemitism” and give anti-racism training to its staff and members.

“Our investigation found that the Labour Party breached the Equality Act 2010 by committing unlawful harassment through the acts of its agents in two of the complaints we investigated,” said the report, which is based on hundreds of testimonies and cases. There have been “serious failings in leadership and an inadequate process for handling antisemitism complaints across the Labour Party, and we have identified multiple failures in the systems it uses to resolve them,” the report said.


The report may be a significant development in the internal struggle within Labour between Corbyn loyalists and centrist allies of the movement’s new leader, Keir Starmer, who was elected in April. 

Today’s report is not the first of its kind: In 2016, an inter-parliamentary review produced a damning report on Corbyn, who among other actions has praised a mural of Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of Black men; placed a wreath on a monument commemorating Palestinian terrorists and endorsed a blanket boycott of Israel.

Corbyn had vowed to kick out anyone caught making anti-Semitic statements and indeed some members of the party were expelled for this under Corbyn. But others were not disciplined,  including former London mayor Ken Livingston, who said Adolf Hitler was in cahoots with Zionists.

Starmer, a centrist politician, has apologized to British Jews for the growth of anti-Semitic sentiment in the party’s ranks under his predecessor, calling it “a stain” and vowing to “demonstrate a change of leadership” to “restore the trust of the Jewish community.”

The findings of today’s report neither reveal much new information about Labour nor reflect the current mindset of its leader. But the report does provide the most exhaustive verdict to date on Corbyn’s legacy, and it may play a role in an internal struggle being waged within Labour now between Starmer and his allies and the supporters of Corbyn who remain in the party, said Jonathan Sacerdoti, a founding trustee of the Campaign Against Antisemitism watchdog.

“Corbyn is gone, but the problem of Labour anti-Semitism hasn’t,” Sacerdoti told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Labour’s membership and overall makeup changed during Corbyn’s tenure as leader, which began in 2015. Long the country’s center-left mainstay and the political home for most British Jews, the party swerved far to the left. Corbyn has proposed to introduce a land value tax on real-estate properties in areas in high demand; alleviate student debt and has remained neutral on Brexit amid support for it among his anti-globalist base.

Labour’s ranks swelled with members who favor the more radical left-wing policies, and many of them believe that Jews are societal “oppressors,” Sacerdoti said. 

By 2019, about 50 Labour lawmakers had either quit the party or resigned posts to protest Corbyn’s leadership, including on anti-Semitism. Several of them had Jewish ancestry, including Luciana Berger and Louise Ellman.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews addressed this point in their reaction to the report.

Corbyn “will rightly be blamed for what he has done to Jews and Labour, but the truth is more disturbing as he was little more than a figurehead for old and new anti-Jewish attitudes. All of this was enabled by those who deliberately turned a blind eye,” their statement read.

Even though Corbyn and his cronies no longer run Labour, they are still a force to be reckoned with within the party. Starmer, who inherited a polarized movement and an electoral low point of 202 seats out of 650 in the House of Commons, the British parliament’s lower house, has had to calculate his moves carefully to keep an uneasy balance of power, Sacerdoti said.

The new report may “make it easier for Starmer” to make bolder moves, Sacerdoti added.

Indeed, the report’s authors seemed to address this scenario in their 129-page-long document.

Labour should “continue to build on its new leadership’s statement regarding its failure to deal with antisemitism, and acknowledge its responsibility for not living up to its commitment to zero tolerance of antisemitism,” the report’s recommendations chapter read. 

“We remain concerned that the current process does not ensure fair and transparent sanctioning of antisemitism complaints, and fails to implement the recommendations of previous reports,” the report also read.

Starmer, a 57-year-old former prosecutor married to a Jewish woman, has had his every move highly scrutinized by the Jewish community. He has promoted multiple lawmakers with strained relationships with the Jewish community to party leadership positions, including Afzal Khan, a lawmaker who in 2015 shared a video on Facebook with captions about the “Israel-British-Swiss-Rothschilds crime syndicate” and “mass murdering Rothschilds Israeli mafia criminal liars.” Khan later apologized, but then reportedly claimed the video was not anti-Semitic.

But in June Starmer demoted a key Corbyn ally from her post for praising and retweeting an article that claimed falsely that Israeli secret services trained U.S. police in knee chokes of the kind that led to the death of George Floyd.

It was a message to all those who share her “Socialist politics” that it “has no place within Starmerism,” according to Ronan Burtenshaw, editor of the far-left Tribune Magazine and a critic of Starmer.

Starmer’s “political project is to present Labour to the British establishment as a safer pair of hands, a less disruptive force, than even the Tories,” Burtenshaw wrote. “Such an approach might win an election.”

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