The human rights campaigner leading a Labour review into anti-Semitism has insisted she will investigate without “fear or favour”, despite revealing she joined the party on the day she was appointed to the role.
Former Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti was appointed two weeks ago by Jeremy Corbyn at the height of an anti-Smitism scandal that has seen the suspension of at least 20 members and councillors as well as the one-time London mayor Ken Livingstone, who suggested Hitler supported Zionism.
The probe will look at “boundaries for acceptable behaviour and language” and scope out the need for training programmes for members before delivering her findings at the end of June, Chakrabarti said at the inquiry’s formal launch in Parliament today.
She repeatedly stressed her independence “from any person or group”. Though her cross-party work at Liberty had prevented her from joining the party before, the campaigner said, she has now done so to ensure she had the full trust of members who she invited to submit evidence.
“And I do not think I am less independent for making absolutely clear that I share the values of the Labour Party constitution and will seek to promote those values in any recommendations and findings,” she said. “It is a judgment call but I thought that was the most honest thing to do – to be clear that I was undertaking this because I do believe in the values of the Labour Party and want to see them promoted not just in the Labour Party but in the world.”
In a move welcomed by community leaders, Baroness Jan Royall – whose report into allegations of intimnidation of Jewish students at the Oxford University Labour Club will be published tomorrow – was announced as a second vice-chair of the inquiry, alongside Professor David Feldman.
Concerns had been expressed about the latter’s role, in part because he is a signatory to Independent Jewish Voices, which released a statement describing some allegations of anti-Semitism as “disingenuous”. Saying he had distanced himself from that statement, Chakrabarti said: “I am completely confident that he approaches this inquiry with an open mind, as do I.”
But she was at pains to make clear the final recommendations would be hers, adding: “It is my hope everyone in this room will agree with my recommendations but in the end someone has to take responsibility.”
She firmly rejected suggestions that the probe had been “diluted” by the extension of its remit to include Islamophobia and other forms of racism. “There is no hiding from the fact the trigger for this inquiry was concerns about anti-Semitism. But anti-Semitism being a form of racism, it would seem odd to me to say the least not to look at all forms of racism including Islamophobia,” she said.
“It would seem strange and lop-sides and unhelpful not to not to make recommendations in the round because anti-Semitism is a form of racism Why would a progressive party that is looking at itself in the mirror not choose to look at all these issues?”
Chakrabarti – who said she intended to seek evidence from Corbyn as part of a process – invited submissions from members and supporters of Labour as well as members of the Jewish and other communities by 10 June. It was also conirm that the leader will present a new code of conduct to Labour’s NEC tomorrow, though she warned that her remit meant she could propose amendments to it.
Jeremy Newmark, chair of the Jewish labour Movement, had previously stopped short of welcoming the inquiry. But he said: “I welcome this inquiry as a heavyweight and serious attempt diagnose and deal with the problem of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Shami Chakrabarti and Baroness Royall are serious and credible figures who will undoubtedly run and rigorous and robust process.
“This is a meaningful opportunity for our Labour Party to move forward and set a gold standard for how a modern political party deals with anti-Semitism. I hope that we embrace it.”
Labour Friends of Israel’s Joan Ryan said: “I welcome the news that Jan Royall is to become a vice-chair of the Chakrabarti inquiry. It is now obvious that the virulently anti-Israel discourse which exists among a minority within the Labour Party cannot be separated from the issue of anti-semitism.
“I have made this clear in my discussions thus far with Shami Chakrabarti and LFI will be working to ensure this is at the top of her agenda. We will judge the success of this inquiry on its willingness to make the case that while there is nothing illegitimate about criticising the actions of the Israeli government, this must not be allowed to cross the red line into denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and thus the existence of the state of Israel.”
She took a swipe at the Conservatives for failing to set-up a similar inquiry into complaints – including from senior figures such as ex-party chair Baroness Warsi – over the party’s London mayoral campaign against Sadiq Khan.
Chakrabarti added: “I’m not qualified to currently answer questions on the Warsi Inquiry into allegations of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. Is there one? No, there isn’t,” she said. “It is for other parties to look at their own. This inquiry and its findings intend to set the kind of standard that all democratic parties might seek to follow.”
Asked if her decision to take up the role was related to Mr Corbyn being leader, she said: “I joined a Labour Party that has Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. Further, I joined the party on the day I accepted a chalice that may or may not contain water. That is all I want to say about that.”