THE BLOG

Labour Faces a Decisive Test in Its Battle Against Antisemitism - We Must Hope It Is Equal to the Challenge

13/07/2016 16:41 | Updated 13 July 2016

Even as the country has been gripped by the post-Brexit unravelling of the political status quo, the Labour Party's continuing battle with antisemitism has not escaped notice. The party is now at a crossroads. While a battle is waged over its leadership, it faces a parallel test - the conclusions of which will reverberate down the years. It has an opportunity to restore confidence that decisive action will be taken to draw out the poison of antisemitism and, if it shows genuine willingness and conviction, it can rely of the support and encouragement of the Jewish community to do so.

There is some pessimism and this is not without some justification. One needs only look at the aftermath of the Chakrabarti Inquiry Report. The Jewish Leadership Council, jointly with our colleagues from the Community Security Trust (which advises the Jewish community on matters of security and antisemitism), had issued a statement calling upon the party rapidly to implement the recommendations that had been made. Since then, questions have begun to be asked about whether there is any real willingness in the Leader's Office or the NEC to implement the recommendations.

Words now need to be followed with deeds and there are actions that the Labour Party can and should take which will be welcomed by the community. Before we discuss these, it is worth reminding ourselves how we arrived at this point.

Remember that many in the Jewish community felt that the Party did not need to hold any inquiries into antisemitism at all. A party founded on tolerance, equality, respect and social justice would surely have rules sufficiently robust to be able to take action against those people whose language behaviour and actions were intimidating, discriminatory, racist or simply brought the party into disrepute. Simply apply the current rules and take robust action.

Still, the community took at face value the party's motivation in asking Baroness Royall to investigate serious allegations of antisemitism within the Oxford University Labour Club and beyond. Now, some months later, Baroness Royall's report remains hidden. There was a summary of recommendations, but the NEC determined that the remainder of the report should not be made public. Not even a redacted version was to be released, nor was there to be any publication of whether disciplinary action would be taken against those against whom the complaints had been made, i.e. the events that triggered the actual report. Repeated calls by the Union of Jewish Students, and most recently in an open letter from Presidents of University Jewish Societies, for the Royall report to be published have not been heeded. The students, who were the first victims of these allegations, have been left high and dry.

We took at face value the commissioning of a second inquiry following the much publicised comments of Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone. We accepted Ms Chakrabarti's assurances that the report would be robust and independent. We submitted evidence to the inquiry and met with Ms Chakrabarti. We had confidence that all evidence submitted would be taken into account.

Then came the shambles of the launch of the report. Since that day, Ms Chakrabarti's conduct has been anything but that of an independent author of the report. She did the tour of the media studios the next day, defending Jeremy Corbyn's conduct during the launch. She was seen handing notes to Mr Corbyn during his appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee. All of this undermined confidence in the independence of her report.

Now rumours abound that the NEC will not properly consider the recommendations in the report for some time.

If the Labour Party genuinely wants to retain the confidence of the Jewish community that it is willing to tackle antisemitism it needs to implement some visible confidence building measures immediately. The NEC should respond to the many calls to publish the Royall report.

At its first available opportunity, the NEC should publicly commit itself to implementing in full the recommendations of the Chakrabarti Report.

British Jews do not need platitudes, nor more Inquiries or calls for evidence. They need confidence that words will be followed with meaningful action. Failure to take action will have consequences that leave the party further hamstrung. Decisive action, on the other hand, will be welcomed as a sign that the party remains a friend to the community and, once again, a possible vehicle for its hopes and aspirations.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS