Geoffrey Alderman

Will Labour finally stop sweeping anti-Semitism under the carpet?

Will Labour finally stop sweeping anti-Semitism under the carpet?
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In February, the co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club, Alex Chalmers, resigned after having publicly accused the Club of harbouring and articulating rank prejudice against Jews and other minority groups. Mr Chalmers – who is not Jewish – declared that a 'large proportion' of Club members had 'some kind of problem with Jews'. He also suggested that individual members of the Club’s executive had employed offensive language 'with casual abandon', and that some had gone so far as to voice support for Hamas, the terrorist organisation that currently controls Gaza and which is proud to be governed by a charter that calls upon its followers to murder Jewish people.

These were grave charges. And in order to ensure that they were not swept under the carpet Labour’s National Executive Committee asked Baroness Janet Royall to undertake a thorough investigation. Meanwhile, the NEC found it necessary to suspend from membership some of the party faithful – most notably Red Ken Livingstone – against whom (quite outside the universe of the OULC) accusations of anti-Jewish prejudice had also been made. And in order to ensure that these accusations were also not swept under the very same carpet, the NEC asked Ms Shami Chakrabarti, the former head of human rights group Liberty, to undertake a thorough investigation.

Baroness Royall was made a vice-chair of the Chakrabarti inquiry. When some of us asked, very sensibly, whether the outcome of the Royall inquiry would be made available not merely to the Chakrabarti inquiry but to the general public, we were told, politely but firmly, that the only part of the Royall inquiry that would be placed in the public domain would be the Baroness’s recommendations and conclusions. Why? Because, Ms Chakrabarti explained, 'there were individuals involved... I know it is going to upset people when you can’t publish in full, but...Baroness Royall referred individuals who were in that [her] report, to be disciplined.'

We now know that Baroness Royall did nothing of the kind. We know this because the full, unexpurgated Royall report has now – somehow – been publicly revealed in all its grim detail. If Janet Royall had indeed named names, these names could simply have been redacted. But no names were in fact named. So Shami Chakrabarti’s explanation for the attempted suppression of the Royall report is nonsensical.

But what is not nonsensical is that whereas the Chakrabarti investigation amounted to little more than an asinine damage-limitation exercise (made still more fatuous because, at the launch of Chakrabarti’s report, the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth was reduced to tears), the Royall report supports the charges made by Alex Chalmers when he resigned as co-chair of the OULC. It concludes that members of the OULC did indeed engage in antisemitic acts:

'There appears [Royall writes] to be (a) cultural problem in which behaviour and language that would once have been intolerable is now tolerated. Some Jewish members [of OULC] do not feel comfortable attending the meetings, let alone participating. It has been reported to me that this is not a situation which is experienced by the Jewish community alone. This is not helped by the fact that Labour Club membership – albeit non-voting – is open to anyone, including those who do not share our Party’s values.'

But the Baroness goes further:

'It is clear to me from the weight of witnessed allegations received that there have been some incidents of antisemitic behaviour and that it is appropriate for the disciplinary procedures of our Party to be invoked.'

Perhaps Mr Corbyn can now reassure us all that these disciplinary procedures will indeed be invoked – without fear or favour - and that in invoking them there will be a complete transparency of process and of outcome.