Labour’s partial release of an independent report into anti-Semitism at Oxford University backfired in spectacular fashion this week, after fiery reaction to a “cover-up” from the Jewish community and criticism from the report’s author.
Baroness Royall was tasked with investigating allegations at Oxford Union Labour Club after its vice-chairman Alex Chalmers resigned in disgust in February, claiming members “have some kind of problem with Jews”.
She submitted her full report to the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee, but the NEC only chose to publish the summary and recommendations, which led to a chorus of disapproval.
Royall told the Jewish Labour Movement of her “disappointment and frustration that the main headline coming out of my inquiry is that there is no institutional anti-Semitism in the OULC,” adding: “That is true, but it is only part of the story.”
In a blog, she went on to claim that “in the OULC there is a cultural problem which means that Jewish students do not always feel welcome… Many students reported that, should a Jewish student preface a remark ‘as a Jew,’ they are likely to face ridicule and behaviour that would not be acceptable for someone saying ‘as a woman’ or ‘as an Afro-Caribbean.’”
She further added: “There is sometimes an environment in which Jews cannot debate, or feel safe to do so, unless their every remark is prefaced by criticism of the Israeli Government.” This was, she said, a “double standard,” as women or Muslims are not expected to preface comments with criticism or preconditions.
Royall, who noted that anti-Semitism at OULC could be “used as a factional political tool,” was clearly disturbed by the NEC’s decision not to disclose the full report, a decision widely derided by Jewish community leaders and parliamentarians.
Labour MP Joan Ryan, chair of Labour Friends of Israel, pulled no punches, saying: “We are disappointed at the NEC’s decision not to publish the report in full… It makes it difficult to judge the report and opened the party to charges of a cover-up. For the victims of anti-Semitism justice has not been seen to be done.”
Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush said: “We are disappointed that the full report has not been released, in apparent contradiction to Baroness Royall’s express wishes. We note that the original Labour Students investigation was also not released. There seems to be a culture of suppressing or delaying the release of reports on this crucial issue.”
While the peer found no “institutional anti-Semitism” within the OULC, she made a series of recommendations for both the Club and the national party, which could be seen as criticism of leader Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of recent cases.
She recommended that Labour “consider adopting rule changes that will allow swifter action to deal with anti-Semitism,” in reference to complaints about the party’s tardy approach in some cases, but erred against life-time bans.
Royall, who was widely praised for “gaining trust and confidence” and conducting a “fair and balanced” investigation, also suggested that Labour “adopt a definition of anti-Semitic discourse”. She referred to the MacPherson definition of racism, whereby an incident is investigated if it is perceived as anti-Semitic by the victim.
“We were encouraged by some of these recommendations, namely the suggested use of the Macpherson definition and the idea of training for Labour candidates and activists,” said Arkish. “However, in view of the limited nature of what has been released, it is difficult to judge what the report says on important matters, such as where extreme anti-Israel rhetoric, such as calling Jews ‘Zios’ or singing songs like ‘rockets over Tel Aviv’, becomes anti-Semitic. These are material considerations.”
Chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council Simon Johnson said he regarded the exercise as “incomplete until the release of the full inquiry” and said he was “disappointed with the NEC’s decision to suppress it… Organisations that do not publish full reports tend to lose legitimacy in the eyes of the general public”.
A spokesperson for the Community Security Trust, which deals with anti-Semitism, said Oxford victims’ complaints “remain unanswered by the party” while Jeremy Newmark from the Jewish Labour Movement said the NEC’s decision “risks contributing to the existing problem of denial” within the party.
Newmark reserved some praise for the NEC, however, for adopting “a set of meaningful and important recommendations that begin to deal with the problem,” covering areas such as training, incident reporting and documentation.
Royall’s full set of 11 recommendations include “training and support for those in leadership positions, a better reporting mechanism, a properly resourced procedure to investigate swiftly and take appropriate action when allegations are made,” as well as on the vetting of candidates, social media guidelines and “the boundaries of acceptable discourse”.
She said: “Words like ‘Zio’ and tropes such as ‘blood libel’ are obviously anti-Semitic but there are other words in which the context in which they are used is critical so guidance is necessary.”
Her thoughts will now feed into the larger inquiry led by former Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, which Newmark said “must deliver a more complete solution”.
In a speech to UJIA tonight, Michael Dugher, the former shadow culture secretary, will say all eyes will be on Labour when the final Chakrabarti report is unveiled. “This is an opportunity to finally show that we as a Labour Party stand united in our revulsion at anti-Semitism and we are prepared to do something about it.
“That is why w must recognise the seriousness of the problem – we cannot be in denial. We cannot blame Jeremy Corbyn’s critics or anyone else for the problem we have – the problem for Labour’s anti-Semitism problem lies solely with the anti-Semites. The inquiry must lead to tough new standards that ensure zero tolerance and swift and severe action against perpetrators.” He added that it is “inconceivable” that former London mayor Ken Livingstone will not be kicked out of the party.