Jewish groups slam decision to drop Oxford Labour club antisemitism probe

Two students were cleared after 11-month inquiry.

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January 18, 2017 11:59
3 minute read.
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Flags are seen above a souvenir kiosk near Big Ben clock at the Houses of Parliament in central London. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Jewish groups in Britain decried the Labour Party’s decision to drop its investigation into antisemitism at the Oxford University Labour Club after 11 months.

Labour’s National Executive Committee decided on Tuesday that the investigation into antisemitism by two members of the club should be terminated and the students cleared without facing any disciplinary action.

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Students testified that members of the club called Jews “Zios” and justified attacks on European Jews because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other antisemitic incidents.

“In her original report on allegations of antisemitism at Oxford University Labour Club, Baroness Royall said that there had been ‘some incidents of antisemitic behavior. Now, 11 months later, the Labour Party has dropped the investigation,” said Board of Deputies of British Jews Vice President Marie van der Zyl. “This inability or unwillingness to confront what is a serious problem is damning for the party and will concern Jewish students on campus who feel their own party offers them no protection against abuse.”

The Campaign Against Antisemitism organization on Wednesday described the decision as an “insult to the intelligence of the Jewish community, and adds that insult to the already traumatic injury to Labour’s once steadfast relationship with it.”

Joe Glasman, head of political investigations and liaison at Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: “The Labour Party’s decision to drop this investigation calls the witnesses liars or simply says that the antisemitism they experienced does not matter.

“It is no longer possible, in our view, to save the Labour Party from its own racism, but it is necessary to defend the Jewish community against what is becoming a waking nightmare.”

In August, a report on antisemitism within the Oxford club was published, in which Labour peer Baroness Janet Anne Royall put forward recommendations to address the “causes that allow the virus of antisemitism the space to breathe.”

While there was no evidence of institutional antisemitism in the club, there had been incidents of antisemitic behavior, she stated.

The National Executive Committee of the Labour Party had tasked Royall with the inquiry, after the resignation of Oxford club co-chairman Alex Chalmers in February. Chalmers left the group because many of its members had “some kind of problem with Jews.”

The baroness sifted through 300 pages of evidence from more than 40 members of the Oxford club, and interviewed eight of them.

British Jewish media quoted her as saying that she was “deeply disappointed by the outcome and fear it will further harm relations between the Jewish community and our party by confirming a widely held view that we do not take antisemitism seriously.

“It also doesn’t bode well for the outcome of the ongoing inquiry into [former London mayor] Ken Livingstone’s behavior,” Royall said.

The Union of Jewish Students slammed the nixing of the probe as “disgraceful.”

“The party had an opportunity to put its values into practice, to demonstrate how seriously they take the issue of antisemitism and to show that Labour clubs are welcome spaces for Jewish students, but they have failed miserably,” the union stated.

“They have let Jewish students down and in doing so, they have created an atmosphere in which antisemitism may thrive without fear of being challenged.

“The alleged antisemitic incidents that took place at OULC [the Oxford University Labour Club] should not be seen in isolation,” it added. “They were, and at times still are, part of a culture which the University of Oxford, Oxford University Students’ Union (OUSU), and now the Labour Party, have failed to grasp.”

The union said it would not rest until action is taken, and will work with the Oxford Jewish Society and Jewish students at the university to explore further avenues to achieve that.


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