Baroness Royall: ‘No institutional anti-Semitism’ at Oxford University Labour Club

Baroness Royall: ‘No institutional anti-Semitism’ at Oxford University Labour Club

Peer publishes recommendations for both the club and national party and calls for a 'definition of anti-Semitic discourse'

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Baroness Royall has said there is no “institutional anti-Semitism” within the Oxford University Labour Club, despite its vice-chairman resigning amid allegation that members “have some kind of problem with Jews”.

But despite her exoneration, the peer – tasked with investigating claims by the party’s National Executive Committee – 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.

In her report, published only in part on Tuesday, she recommends 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.

Elsewhere, she suggests that Labour “adopt a definition of anti-Semitic discourse,” and that student Labour clubs be “trained” by the Jewish Labour Movement.

Royall, a former advisor to Labour leader Neil Kinnock who later acted as Leader of the House of Lords under Gordon Brown, said that she could not advise the esteemed Oxford club without the Labour Party first addressing its own issues.

“It is not possible to simply make recommendations about the OULC without considering how our party itself responds to these events,” she said. “I am therefore making recommendations about how Labour tackles antisemitism to minimise the chance of any repetition of incidents such as those described.”

Labour MP Joan Ryan, chair of Labour Friends of Israel, pulled no punches in her assessment of the report. She said: “We are disappointed at the NEC’s decision not to publish the report in full, in contradiction of her express wishes. It makes it difficult to judge the report and opened the party to charges of a cover-up. Most importantly, for the victims of anti-Semitism justice has not been seen to be done.”

Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush said: “It is clear from this report that Baroness Royall has concluded that there is a problem of anti-Semitism at Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) which must be addressed. There would be no need for 11 recommendations for ‘immediate and sustained action’ if Baroness Royall had not concluded that there were serious problems to tackle.

“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. 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 antisemitic. These are material considerations when considering what happened in the case of the Oxford University Labour Club.”

Arkush added: “Furthermore, 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 growing up that is not helpful for progress.”

Chief Executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, Simon Johnson said: “We would like to express our appreciation to Baroness Royall for her efforts. However, we regard the exercise as incomplete until the release of the full inquiry and are 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, as was the case when the media were rightly critical when FIFA tried to publish a very sanitised version into the World Cup bidding procedure. We expect the publication of the full Royall report along with the Chakrabarti Inquiry. We will continue to support our colleagues in the community with their submissions to the Chakrabarti Inquiry”

A spokesperson for the Community Security Trust said: “CST thanks Baroness Royall for the sincerity and the outcomes of her inquiry. It is very disappointing, however, that the NEC did not publish her full report, as the Oxford victims’ complaints from February now remain unanswered by the party. CST will work with the Chakrabarti Inquiry to help resolve the complaints; and to get the positive recommendations properly implemented.”

Royall’s intervention, which will feed into a wider inquiry led by former Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, came after OULC co-chair Alex Chalmers resigned in February, alleging that a “large proportion” of club members had “some kind of problem with Jews,” and that many used the slur “Zio” and voiced support for Hamas.

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