Jeremy Corbyn and NUS president condemned in anti-Semitism report

Jeremy Corbyn and NUS president condemned in anti-Semitism report

Labour has been accused of 'demonstrable incompetence' in tackling anti-Semitism in a cross-party report addressing the issue

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn alongside Shami Chakrabarti at the enquiry into anti-Semitism in the party
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn alongside Shami Chakrabarti at the enquiry into anti-Semitism in the party

Labour has been accused of “demonstrable incompetence” in addressing anti-Semitism in a stinging report by a cross-party group of MPs, that savages Jeremy Corbyn, Twitter and the leader of the National Union of Students.

The hard-hitting report, following a probe into anti-Semitism in the UK by the Home Affairs Select Committee, also proposes a revised definition of anti-Semitism to be adopted by law enforcement agencies and all political parties.

The Chief Rabbi, Community Security Trust and the leaders of Labour and the Liberal Democrats were among those to give oral evidence.

Jeremy Corbyn – who stands accused by the MPs of not understanding modern anti-Semitism – condemned the greater focus on Labour compared to other parties as the document’s release threatened to reignite the row over anti-Semitism among members of his party.

The MPs from across the House – who stressed they were united in their findings – said they believed the leader’s “lack of consistent leadership on this issue, and his reluctance to separate anti-Semitism from other forms of racism, has created what some have referred to as a ‘safe space’ for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people”.

While Corbyn has a “proud record” of fighting racism, “we are not assured that he fully appreciates the distinct nature of post-Second World War anti-Semitism”.

Unlike other forms of racism, they claimed, “it paints the victim as a malign and controlling force, making it perfectly possible for an ‘anti-racist campaigner’ to express anti-Semitic views.”

Jackie Walker
Jackie Walker

The case of former Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker, who was recently suspended for a second time, illustrates the party’s “demonstrable incompetence” in dealing with accused members, they argued.

The report calls for a public statement outlining the reasons for every expulsion or reinstatement.

The MPs welcomed the leader’s decision to commission an inquiry by Shami Chakrabarti but condemned her and Corbyn over the timing of her elevation to the Lords.

They also claimed her report was “ultimately compromised by its failure to deliver a comprehensive set of recommendations, to provide a definition of anti-Semitism or suggest effective ways of dealing with it. The failure of the Labour Party to deal consistently and effectively with anti-Semitic incidents risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally anti-Semitic”.

However, the report stresses that other parties are not immune to accusations of anti-Semitism and urges all major parties to consider “whether recommended reforms could be applied to their own processes for for training and disciplining members”.

MPs expressed disappointment at Theresa May’s failure to give evidence to the Committee and Lib Dem chief Tim Farron for “the manner in which he referred to disciplinary processes rather than explicitly condemning anti-Semitic statements by members”.

In a strongly-worded response, Corbyn accused the MPs of failing to look in detail at combatting anti-Semitism in other parties, schools or civic institutions – and defended Chakrabarti against “unfair” criticism.

While endorsing some of the recommendations and suggesting the report “echoed” some of the Chakrabarti findings including on training and use of the word ‘Zio’, he attacked the Committee for rejecting requests to give evidence from Chakrabarti and the Jewish Labour Movement and for not taking oral testimony from any women.

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn

The Labour leader added: “The report’s political framing and disproportionate emphasis on Labour risks undermining the positive and welcome recommendations made in it.

“Although the Committee heard evidence that 75 percent of incidents come from far right sources, and the report states there is no reliable evidence to suggest antisemitism is greater in Labour than other parties, much of the report focuses on Labour.

“As the report rightly acknowledges, politicising antisemitism – or using it as a weapon in controversies between and within political parties – does the struggle against it a disservice. Under my leadership, Labour has taken greater action against anti-Semitism than any other party, and will implement the measures recommended by the Chakrabarti report to ensure Labour is a welcoming lace for all.”

The MPs urge Government, political parties and law enforcement agencies to adopt a slightly altered version of The Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. That definition takes into account modern forms of anti-Semitism like comparing Israeli policy to Nazis and denying Jewish people the right to self-determination.

The report calls for the addition of two clauses to make it clear it’s not anti-Semitic to criticise Israeli policy or take a particular interest in Israel without further evidence of anti-Semitic intent.

The Committee also wades into the row over NUS President Malia Bouattia and her “broken” relationship with Jewish students.

They suggest her past comments branding Birmingham University “a Zionist outpost” smacks of “outright racism” and accuse her of displaying “a worrying disregard for her duty” to represent all students and promote balanced debate.

The report also demands that UJS elect a member of the national body’s anti-racism task force – taking issue with a decision that Jewish members of the national executive committee would instead choose a participant of the faith.

Malia Bouattia
Malia Bouattia

On campus life, Universities UK is urged to develop resources to ensure a balanced approach to Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

UJS campaigns director Josh Nagli said the recommendations can provide “the foundations to ensure a safe space for Jewish students.

“The President of NUS should listen to and address the concerns of its members, but too often the concerns raised by Jewish students have fallen on deaf ears. This report must act as a wake-up call for the NUS President and her organisation, because the culture being created on UK campuses is, unacceptably, one that accepts and fails to challenge antisemitism; a culture that is being manifested on her watch.”

NUS accused the report detailing anti-Semitism in the UK of failing to address the “reality” for students by focusing on NUS in relation to anti-Semitism on campus when a large percentage of incidents emanate from far-right groups.

A spokesperson said: “It is disappointing that the report is partial and inaccurate in relation to NUS work in tackling anti-Semitism, although we offered a detailed submission to the Inquiry.

“NUS has a long and proud history of fighting all forms of racism and fascism in the UK. NUS has always sought to build strong, positive relationships with the Union of Jewish Students and many other student-led groups to tackle racism and fascism and we will continue to do so.”

Bouattia described increasing anti-Semitism as “deeply concerning” and tackling it a priority for NUS.

“I will continue to listen to the concerns of Jewish students and the Jewish Community. As I wrote upon my election as president, and in the submission to this inquiry, if the language I have used in the past has been interpreted any other way then let me make this clear – it was never my intention and I have revised my language accordingly.
“Our movement has students, both Jewish and otherwise, who hold a variety of deeply held beliefs on Israel-Palestine but it is a political argument, not one of faith. There is no place for anti-Semitism in the student movement, and in society.”

Turning to the issue of social media anti-Semitism, the Committee expresses shock at the volume of hate-filled messages targeted Jewish MPs and its failure to remove anti-Semitic tweets in response to their own inquiry.

“It is deplorable that Twitter continues to act as an inert host for vast swathes of anti-Semitic hate speech and abuse,” the report says. “It must devote more resources and employ more staff to enable it to identify hateful and abusive users in a proactive manner, and it must introduce more rigorous tools for detecting and filtering.”

The report praised the CST’s “impressive and professional work” and insisted Government funding for security measures should continually as a matter of course rather than relying on Governments to make annual announcements.

Mark Gardner, Community Security Trust (CST)
Mark Gardner, Community Security Trust (CST)

CST director of Communications Mark Gardner, who gave evidence, thanked the Committee for its “serious investigation of antisemitism and we hope its conclusions will be acted upon. This problem has become increasingly acute in recent years and it is vital that British Jews do not end up questioning their futures as is now sadly the case in mainland Europe”.

Jewish Leadership Council chairman Sir Mick Davis said: “We welcome the fact that this independent, cross party group of MP’s has produced a unanimous report which sets out a road map for concrete action to address anti-Semitism in all its forms. The proposal of a working definition for anti-Semitism is a welcome start and their proposals to address the intolerable rise in hate speech online are timely and necessary.

“The report correctly says that it is not anti-Semitic to criticise or campaign against the actions of the Israeli Government but it should be noted that disproportionate criticism of the Israeli Government is problematic.”

Board of Deputies of British Jews President Jonathan Arkush said: “I commend the Home Affairs Select committee for writing such a clear and comprehensive report which will stand as a critical source document for future work in the area. The Board of Deputies of British Jews is greatly heartened that the committee has taken care to listen to the range of concerns expressed in the evidence given to the committee from across the community and beyond.”

Karen Pollock
Karen Pollock

BICOM CEO James Sorene said the report “brings much-needed clarity where previously there had been denial, obfuscation and abdication of responsibility”, while the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Karen Pollock added: “This cross-party inquiry has issued the strong clarion call we have so desperately needed in the fight to tackle antisemitism in all its guises. We must fight this age old hatred as we would fight any form of racism and prejudice – by taking action, not just in Parliament but across society.”

Praise also came for the “uncompromising” report from the Campaign Against AntiSemitism. But while the report said police and law enforcement had been broadly “excellent” in the face of rising hate, CAA chairman Gideon Falter said the response of the Crown Prosecution Service had been “utterly deplorable” – pointing to 12 prosecution for anti-Semitism last year.

John Mann MP, chairman of the All-Party Group Against Antisemitism, said: “We look forward to hearing a positive Government response. We will continue to work hard on a cross-party basis to ensure that antisemitism is effectively tackled.”

Conservative Friends of Israel issued a joint statement, from the Parliamentary Chairman Sir Eric Pickles MP, Honorary President Lord Polak and Executive Director James Gurd, and they strongly welcomed the reports findings:

“The Committee deserves applause for not pulling any punches in confronting the problem of anti-Semitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and Baroness Chakrabarti’s worthless report.

“Anti-Semitism is a cancer in our society and the cross-party endorsement of this timely report highlights the national unity that will be needed to stamp it out”.

Jennifer Gerber, Director of Labour Friends of Israel, said: “The Home Affairs Select Committee is right to criticise the inconsistent leadership provided by Jeremy Corbyn on the issue of antisemitism and the incompetent manner in which the Labour party has dealt with members accused or racism. It is right, too, to highlight the now utterly compromised nature of the Chakrabarti report. Sadly, the reaction of the Labour leader to the Home Affairs Select Committee report simply underlines how far he, and some others in the party, still need to go to grasp and tackle this very real problem.”

Senior Stamford Hill Charedi Rabbi Avrohom Pinter added: “It is regretful that despite the charedi community being the most Jewish identifiable and more likely to be victims of anti-Semitic attacks. The select committee made no attempt to research the Charedi communities experience and does not appear anywhere in the report.”

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