Chief Rabbi: BBC documentary proves Labour Party’s complicity in antisemitism

Chief Rabbi Mirvis: No longer a question of the Labour leadership’s inability to deal with antisemitism, but of its direct complicity in it

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in London, Britain earlier this month (photo credit: PETER NICHOLLS/REUTERS)
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in London, Britain earlier this month
The UK Labour Party tried to prevent the BBC from broadcasting a documentary on antisemitism within the party, which was released Wednesday, The Mirror reported.
“No proper and serious attempt was made to understand our current procedures for dealing with antisemitism, which is clearly essential to reach a fair and balanced judgment,” Labour said after the documentary was released. “And [instigative journalism program] Panorama distorted and manipulated the truth and misrepresented evidence to present a biased and selective account.”
The special – Is Labour Anti-Semitic? – indicated that top Labour figures “interfered” with the disciplinary process regarding the antisemitism disputes.
Antisemitism has been an increasingly relevant issue within Labour since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader in 2015. Many of the members, including Corbyn, have been outspoken against Israel, and critiques claim these comments often use antisemitic tropes. Since then, Corbyn and his party have tried to look into the issue, but people like Labour chairman John Cryer have said not enough has been done.
According to the BBC, Labour general-secretary Jennie Formby tried to interfere with who sat in on the panel to examine the antisemitism cases. Labour insisted there was no such interference. The team that deals with disputes is supposed to act independently from the party’s political structure. But the party’s former head of disputes, Sam Matthews, saw an email where Seumas Milne – one of Corbyn’s closest aides – called for a review for how the complaints were handled.
Matthews is one of the eight former Labour officials who spoke to the BBC concerning the antisemitism cases. According to the Mirror’s report, they claimed that the Corbyn’s office was “angry and obstructive” in regards to the disputes. They also said that Formby “overruled” disciplinary decisions and lessened punishments.
The whistle-blowers also recalled an occasion where Corbyn’s office ordered antisemitism complaints to be brought to his office and be processed by his aides.
The party was trying to use a nondisclosure agreement against former staffers who spoke to the BBC for a documentary about the party and its antisemitism troubles, The Guardian reported.
Louise Withers Green left Labour, but chose to speak to the BBC despite her nondisclosure agreement.
She said she wouldn’t “be able to live with myself unless I speak up about the horrendous things that I know have been happening,” the BBC reported.
Responding to the revelations of the expose, UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said “hearing the revelations” from the eight whistle-blowers “about the contempt with which the Labour Party leadership regards the problem of antisemitism, must be a watershed moment in this agonizing saga.”
Mirvis said that for more than three years, the Jewish community and anti-racist campaigners of all backgrounds had “implored the leadership of the Labour Party to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism,” adding that much had been said, “but little... achieved.
“This is no longer a question of the leadership’s inability to deal with the scourge of antisemitism, but of its direct complicity in it,” he stressed. “The cloud of hatred and acrimony that this creates must be lifted from our politics and from our society.”
The Jewish Board of Deputies also released a statement saying the Panorama investigation had given “added weight to what we have suspected all along.”
Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl said the expose “suggests that the issue of antisemitism has been treated with disdain by the Labour leader and as a joke by Seumas Milne, and that Jennie Formby and her appointments have repeatedly obstructed justice in disciplinary cases.”
She went on to say that antisemitism “remains a poison running through the party,” which appears to have been “watched over by a leader whose henchmen had not the slightest intention of acting to get rid of the problem so long as they could get rid of the negative headlines.”
The UK Jewish leader went on to say that “this is a terrible indictment of a party unable and unwilling to confront racism in its own ranks,” adding that instead of “making pathetic attempts to blame everyone but themselves, the party should be acting to excise this terrible stain.
“Given... [the] reports and the continued observable failings in disciplinary processes, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Jeremy Corbyn, Seumas Milne and Jennie Formby are personally responsible for having turned a once great, anti-racist party into a cesspit of antisemitism,” van der Zyl concluded.
Mike Katz, national chairman of Jewish Labour, tweeted in response that he was “so humbled by bravery of whistle-blowers who gave crucial evidence on Labour’s institutional racism on #Panorama.
“It took real guts, especially opening up [about] the huge impact on personal lives & mental health,” he said. “You’re all #mensches & have the undying gratitude of @JewishLabour... For Labour’s official response to dismiss their testimony as those of ‘disaffected’ with ‘axes to grind’ shows how the Party has lost any claim to a moral compass.”
Katz added that “the whistle-blowers are the ones with real Labour values.”
The BBC investigation discovered there were a thousand antisemitism allegations that were backlogged this spring, but only 15 people have been expelled from the party. A Labour member said that the claim of a thousand backlogged complaints was untrue.
There have even been complaints from within Labour – including from Izzy Lenga, a party member since 2015.
“The antisemitic abuse I received was what I was subject to every single day,” Lenga said to the BBC. “Telling me ‘Hitler was right.’ Telling me ‘Hitler did not go far enough.’”
The Labour press team rejected the claim that the party was antisemitic on Twitter after the release of the documentary.
“We stand in solidarity with Jewish people, and we’re taking decisive action to root out the social cancer of antisemitism from our movement and society. #Panorama,” the Labour Press Team tweeted.
There was also a screenshot circulating of the press account tweeting, “There we have it folks, proof if any was needed that the Labour Party IS institutionally racist and will be until Corbyn and his cronies go #EnoughIsEnough #Panorama.”
The Labour’s press account later tweeted that they were hacked.
The Labour party released a statement saying that, “Despite claims made in [the documentary], Labour is taking decisive action against antisemitism. Since Jennie Formby became general secretary, the rate at which antisemitism cases have been dealt with has increased more than four-fold.”

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