The Labour Party has vowed to take “robust action” against students at Oxford University if they are found to have displayed “anti-Semitic behaviour”, after the co-chair of the university’s Labour Club claimed a large proportion of members have “some kind of problem with Jews”, by Justin Cohen.
Senior Labour MPs Ian Austin and John Mann called for an investigation into allegations made by Alex Chalmers, who resigned after the Club voted to back Israel Apartheid Week, and subsequent claims by the Jewish Society.
Labour Students have now launched an investigation and a party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party condemns anti-Semitism in any form. Following recent allegations of anti-Semitic behaviour and intimidation at OULC, Labour Students have launched an immediate investigation and the Labour Party welcomes and supports this action. If complaints are made about any individual member of the Labour Party, the party will take robust action to deal with any anti-Semitic behaviour.”
Chalmers, who headed the university’s Labour Club since last year, revealed his decision to resign in a hard-hitting Facebook post on Monday. He alleged that members of the Club thrown “around the term ‘Zio’ with casual abandon” and some had expressed “‘solidarity’ with Hamas”, saying: “A large proportion of both OULC and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews.”
He added: “The decision of the Club to endorse a movement with a history of targeting and harassing Jewish students and inviting anti-Semitic speakers to campuses, despite the concerns of Jewish students, illustrates how uneven and insincere much of the active membership is when it comes to liberation.”
A day later, the University’s Jewish Society said in recent months the OULC has become “increasingly dominated by the radical student left” and that it had been approached by other members with a series of allegations in the wake of Chalmers’ resignation.
The claims included that members had sung the song ‘rockets on Tel Aviv’ and that “one member was formally disciplined by their College for organising a group of students to harass a Jewish student and shout ‘filthy Zionist’ whenever they saw her”. The J-Soc also claimed that “one member stated that all Jews should be expected to publicly denounce Zionism and the state of Israel, and that we should not associate with any Jew who fails to do so”.
Mann, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against anti-Semitism, called for “a full enquiry and suspension of Oxford University Labour Club for the allegations of racism.”
Dudley MP Austin told the Jewish News: “This sort of behaviour would be unacceptable anywhere but to discover it’s happening at one of the UK’s largest Labour clubs at one of our most prestigious universities is really shocking. There’s no place for racism of any sort in either the Labour Party or the university and both institutions have got to show they take anti-Semitism as seriously as any other form of racism, so I’m asking the General Secretary and the Vice Chancellor to investigate and deal with the people responsible.”
Also demanding an inquiry, the Community Security Trust said: “There is a clear link between extreme hatred of Israel and the kind 0f anti-Semitic and pro-terrorist attitudes alleged by Oxford Jewish Society.” And Union of Jewish Students’ campaigns director Russell Langer commended “the bravery of former Co-Chair Alex Chalmers in his decision to resign.. bringing this issue to the attention of the wider public”, and called for the matter to be “investigated urgently by the Labour Party with appropriate action taken.”
A spokesperson for the Jewish Labour Movement said “this development, in this context, crosses the red line between legitimate discourse and incitement against Jewish students.”, while Labour Friends of Israel vice-chair Louise Ellman was “deeply disturbed” by the endorsement of IAW and by revelations from Chalmers.
Chalmers’ former fellow co-chair Noni Csogor said she was “deeply upset” from the resignation of her friend, “whose commitment to his principles is honestly admirable”
Saying it was “horrifying” that Jewish students feel unsafe on campus, she added: “It’s unsurprising given incidents like that at KCL Israel Society, and I’m sure OULC members would join me in condemning silencing of Jewish students, who often have uniquely nuanced perspectives on the Israeli state. Jewish students spoke on both sides of the debate this evening, but we take allegations of anti-Semitism in the club very seriously and I will be discussing with my executive committee how to deal with the kinds of statements Alex mentions and what concrete steps we can take to preserve a club that’s been a safe haven for Jewish students in the past.”
She added she was looking forward to contributing to an ongoing discussion about the complex intersection of justice for Palestine and the safety of Jewish students”.
Ahead of the launch of its investigation, a statement on the Labour Students Facebook group said they “were deeply troubled to hear reports of anti-Semitism at one of our most prominent Labour Clubs. We unequivocally condemn any form of anti-Semitism. We are taking these allegations very seriously and will do whatever is necessary to ensure every Labour Club is a safe space for Jewish Students.”