An investigation into anti semitism in the Labour Party conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found Labour responsible for “unlawful” harassment and discrimination during Jeremy Corbyn’s 4 and a half years as leader.
When the 130-page report was published, Corbyn said the scale of anti semitism within Labour had been “dramatically overstated” by opponents. Shortly after, a Labour spokesman announced that Corbyn was being suspended for “a failure to retract his words.” What happened exactly and what is the Labour anti semitism row about?
After it was announced that Corbyn would be suspended, he reacted on Twitter by calling the move “political” and promised to “strongly contest” it. In other words, the previous leader of the Labour Party, who identifies himself as a socialist, is openly denying Labour’s anti semitism problem, even after being presented with flagrant and shocking evidence.
Corbyn’s suspension will remain in place while the party carries out an investigation into his remarks. Sir Keir Starmer, who has been Labour’s leader since April 2020, said the publication of the report had brought “a day of shame” for the party. The party added that Corbyn had been suspended “in light of his comments” and “his failure to retract them subsequently.”
The EHRC report found Labour responsible for three breaches of the Equality Act: political interference in anti semitism complaints, failure to provide adequate training to those handling anti semitism complaints as well as harassment, including the use of anti semitic tropes and suggesting that complaints of anti semitism were fake or smears. The EHRC found evidence of 23 instances of “inappropriate involvement” by Corbyn’s office.
Sir Starmer promised to implement the report’s recommendations “as soon as possible in the New Year.” While Corbyn tweeted that those who denied the party had an anti semitism problem were wrong and that he would “continue to support a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of racism,” in an interview, he did not retract his earlier comments and said: “I’ll be appealing to the party and those who made the decision to kindly think again.”
Sir Starmer defended the decision to suspend Corbyn, saying: “We cannot say ‘zero tolerance’ and then turn a blind eye. I was very disappointed in Jeremy Corbyn’s statement and appropriate action has been taken, which I fully support.” He further explained that he would not interfere with the party’s internal investigation into Corbyn’s statement.
Since 2016, Labour has been plagued by accusations of anti semitism and a number of MPs left the party in protest when Corbyn was leader. Jewish Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge said: “[The suspension] is the right decision following Corbyn’s shameful reaction to the EHRC report. [Labour] was finally saying enough is enough, anti semitism can never be tolerated.”
Although many applauded the decision to penalise Corbyn for his denial of anti semitism, which in itself is a clear act of anti semitism, groups on the left of the Labour movement attacked the decision to suspend him. The Socialist Campaign Group said it firmly opposed the move, adding “We will work tirelessly for his reinstatement.”
Momentum, one of Corbyn’s strongest backers, said: “It is a massive attack on the left by the new leadership and should be immediately lifted in the interests of party unity.”
What disturbs me is how surprised everyone seems to be by the results of the EHRC report. Is it really that unexpected? This investigation was launched in May last year after the EHRC received a number of complaints from organisations and individuals, including the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement.
Modern-day anti semitism can take many forms. Conspiracy theories about Jewish control of the global financial system and the media, attacks on synagogues, verbal abuse and hate speech, abusive memes on social media—these are, sadly, only the tip of the iceberg.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) defines anti semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” This implies that even ignoring anti semitism is an anti semitic act in itself. But let’s be honest here, Corbyn did more than simply disregarding anti semitism in the Labour Party.
Anti semitism was actually not regarded as a big problem in the Labour Party until Corbyn came along as leader in September 2015. Under his leadership, the party saw an influx of new members, many of whom were vocal critics of Israel. They believed that the UK, along with the US, should be tougher towards Israel, especially regarding its policies towards the Palestinians and its building of settlements in the occupied territories.
After Corbyn’s election as leader, attention quickly focused on what elected representatives were saying (and had previously said) on social media and elsewhere about Israel and Jewish people. There were claims that anti semitic tropes were being widely propagated and a number of incidents within the Labour Party attracted a great deal of attention.
Suspensions were made over alleged anti semitic comments while Jewish groups and even some of Corbyn’s own MPs constantly accused him and his team of failing to take the issue seriously enough. Several high-profile MPs walked out over abuse they received, the row threatened to tear the party apart. In response, Corbyn repeatedly insisted that anti-Jewish hate would not be tolerated in the party, yet critics said he was not doing enough to root out the problem.
In 2018, anti semitic hate incidents in the UK reached a record high, according to the Community Security Trust. When Sir Starmer was elected, he made tackling anti semitism a top priority and promised in his acceptance speech to “tear out this poison by its roots.” After firing his shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey in June 2020 because she had shared an article containing an anti semitic conspiracy theory, perhaps it is time for Sir Starmer to stay true to his promise.