Stephen Daisley

Kicking Corbyn out is only the start of Starmer’s anti-Semitism fight

Kicking Corbyn out is only the start of Starmer's anti-Semitism fight
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There it is, in black and white. For almost five years, Jews warned, nudged, reported, complained, pleaded and protested that there was a culture of anti-Semitism in the Labour party. For the most part, the party ignored them, although others assailed them, denounced them as fifth columnists, accused them of orchestrating a ‘smear’ campaign, of being agents of a well-financed ‘lobby’, of trying to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn in service of Israel.

Scarcely better, and in some ways worse, were those who knew they were telling the truth but whose solidarity with them and commitment to resisting anti-Semitism was conditional on there not being an election in the offing. British Jews were treated as Jews always are when they try to raise the alarm: disbelieved, disregarded and betrayed.

The report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission not only believes Jews, it damns those who didn’t and those who worked against them. It cannot undo the harm done, but in acknowledging that harm — in confirming, in official-sounding language and with footnotes, that the harm happened — it goes some way to correcting the lies and establishing the truth. For those weary, but never worn down, by five years of fighting back, it will come as a relief as much as anything. They no longer have to prove themselves. The burden has shifted to where it belongs.

The EHRC began investigating Labour under the Equality Act 2010 after complaints by the Campaign Against Antisemitism and the Jewish Labour Movement in 2018. Between them and other sources, the CAA and JLM documented 220 allegations of anti-Semitism within Labour and argued that the party had failed to handle complaints properly. The EHRC report, published today, concludes that Labour broke the law in three areas: harassment of Jews, political interference in anti-Semitism complaints and a failure to provide sufficient training to staff investigating those complaints. The statutory body has issued the party with an unlawful act notice and it now has until 10 December to outline how it will implement the report’s recommendations.

This is not one of those legalistic, depends-how-you-interpret-it jobs. The report says there were ‘unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination for which the Labour party is responsible’, ‘serious failings in leadership and an inadequate process for handling anti-Semitism complaints across the Labour party’, ‘evidence of a significant number of complaints relating to anti-Semitism that were not investigated at all’, and a failure to ‘take effective measures to stop anti-Semitic conduct from taking place’. While the report acknowledges ‘some recent improvements’, it finds ‘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’.

The investigation found two cases in which Labour engaged in ‘unlawful harassment through the acts of its agents’, one of which was Ken Livingstone. After Labour MP Naz Shah was found to have shared a social media post calling for the ‘transportation’ of Israel out of the Middle East, the EHRC finds that Livingstone denied the anti-Semitism of Shah’s posts, tried to minimise them as mere criticism of Israel and claimed that Shah was the victim of smears by ‘the Israel lobby’.

Yet the report describes these two harassment cases as ‘the tip of the iceberg’. The probe also identified 18 ‘borderline’ cases in which there was not enough evidence to say whether the party was legally responsible for the conduct of its councillors or constituency branch officers. Additionally, there were ‘many more’ cases of ‘anti-Semitic conduct’ by ordinary members but, as they were not office-bearers, the party could not be held directly culpable.

Some of the most serious conclusions are in relation to the conduct of LOTO — the Leader of the Opposition’s office — in recent years. ‘It is hard not to conclude,’ the report states, ‘that anti-Semitism within the Labour party could have been tackled more effectively if the leadership had chosen to do so.’ 

The investigation finds ‘evidence of political interference in the handling of anti-Semitism complaints’ and that ‘staff from the Leader of the Opposition’s Office (LOTO) were able to influence decisions on complaints, especially decisions on whether to suspend someone’. In one-third (23) of the cases it reviewed, the EHRC found political interference by LOTO staff and others.

The report determines that this practice was ‘not a legitimate approach to determining complaints’ and therefore ‘indirectly discriminatory and unlawful’ and that Labour bears legal responsibility for this conduct. The complaints process itself was ‘inconsistent, poor, and lacking in transparency’ and in 62 out of 70 cases sampled, there was evidence of ‘poor record-keeping’. There was also ‘a failure to deliver adequate training to individuals responsible for handling anti-Semitism complaints’, in contrast to Labour’s sexual harassment complaints process, and this failure ‘indirectly discriminated against Jewish Labour party members’. However, this was not found to be unlawful because, in its August submission to the investigation, Labour undertook to provide the necessary training.

The report makes a series of recommendations for change, including giving substance to Labour’s ‘zero-tolerance’ stance on anti-Semitism, restoring confidence in the complaints process, improving education and training and monitoring progress on these changes. The EHRC notes the change in outlook under Sir Keir Starmer but Labour remains in the foothills of its ascent out of the pit of anti-Semitism. Implementing the report’s recommendations swiftly would represent progress but the reform Labour needs is more fundamental. It is not enough that the ancien regime has fallen, replaced by those who were present but not involved in its outrages. There is an especial onus on Sir Keir, as someone who sat in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet for three-and-a-half years, to mount an all-out war on anti-Semitism.

For many years, a succession of Labour leaders turned a blind eye to cranks on their backbenches and in doing so created the circumstances for the capture of the party. If Sir Keir continues this policy of indulgence, he will indicate to Jews that Labour is interested only in managing anti-Semitism as a political problem, not eradicating it from the party as an ongoing moral crusade. He will also be, like his predecessors, creating the circumstances for this to happen again. His immediate predecessor has released a statement in response to the EHRC report. It reads in part: 

‘One anti-Semite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.’ 

Labour has suspended Jeremy Corbyn today. For a clean break, for a start to the process of reform, and above all for justice for Jews, it must expel him and it must not stop with him.