UK Labour ‘not overrun’ by anti-Semitism

Inquiry into allegations of anti-Semitism in UK’s Labour comes as MPs attempt to oust party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks on immigration and moving on after the EU referendum, in central London
Labour MPs are attempting to oust Corbyn as a report into the Labour Party's alleged anti-Semitism is released [File: Neil Hall/Reuters]

An inquiry into allegations of anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom’s Labour Party has found that it is not widespread, though the report’s author noted “clear evidence” of “ignorant attitudes”. 

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“The Labour Party is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism. Further, it is the party that initiated every single United Kingdom race equality law,” said the report, written by Shami Chakrabarti and released on Thursday. 

At the report’s launch, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Modern anti-Semitism may not always be about overt violence and persecution, though there is too much of that even to this day.

“We must also be vigilant against subtler and invidious manifestations of this nasty ancient hatred and avoid slipping into its traps by accident or intent.” 

Corbyn went on to condemn all forms of racism, saying they had “no place” in society. 

Corbyn added: “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those various self-styled Islamic States or organisations.” 

The comment sparked accusations that Corbyn was drawing a comparison between Israel and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group. 

“I’m not calling it explicitly anti-Semitic,” Oz Katerji, a political analyst and journalist, told Al Jazeera. “But it was a wildly inappropriate, false equivalence to make during an inquiry into anti-Semitism.” 

‘Record of progressive politics’ 

Corbyn, who was elected by 60 percent of members and supporters in September 2015, is from the left-wing end of Labour’s political spectrum. 

Alia Al Ghussain, a 24-year-old London-based activist, dismissed the claim that Corbyn is responsible for instances of alleged anti-Semitism. “He’s never said anything anti-Semitic,” she told Al Jazeera.

“He has a long track record of progressive politics. He even got arrested for protesting about [South African] apartheid.” 

The inquiry came after alleged instances of anti-Semitism among Labour politicians, including MP Naz Shah and former London mayor Ken Livingstone. 

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Shah was suspended after social media postings that suggested Israel should be moved to the United States; Livingstone was also suspended after claiming that German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was a supporter of Zionism. 

Chakrabarti, the chairwoman of Labour’s inquiry into anti-Semitism, nonetheless warned of “an occasionally toxic atmosphere”. 

She also noted concerns “that anti-Semitism has not been taken seriously enough in the Labour Party and broader left for some years”. 

Leadership challenge 

The inquiry comes days after Labour MPs launched a coup attempt against Corbyn’s leadership. Dozens have resigned en masse from Labour’s leadership bench. 

There has been speculation that a number of MPs, among them Angela Eagle, may challenge his leadership; but Corbyn remains adamant that he will not step down following a vote of no confidence by MPs. 

Labour politician Angela Eagle is considered likely to launch a challenge to Corbyn's leadership [File: Reuters]
Labour politician Angela Eagle is considered likely to launch a challenge to Corbyn’s leadership [File: Reuters]

Many MPs accuse Corbyn of not campaigning hard enough to rally behind the Remain camp in last week’s EU referendum, when the UK voted to leave the union of European countries.

Corbyn, however, still enjoys widespread support among party members and supporters. 

A majority of new Labour members who have joined since May 2015 disapprove of Labour MPs’ efforts to oust Corbyn.

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At least 55 percent of new members support deselecting Labour MPs who consistently challenge the leadership, according to a new study by academics from the Queen Mary University of London and Sussex University. 

Sunny Hundal, a British blogger and journalist, argued that Corbyn has failed to present himself as a capable prime minister to the broader public. 

“Corbyn may be popular with members but he is very unpopular with voters, historically, worse than even the last leader, Ed Miliband,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that MPs “are worried he will lead them to a bigger electoral disaster”. 

Yet Alia Al Ghussain said she and many others joined the Labour Party solely because of Corbyn. 

“Many of my friends who wouldn’t normally have joined [Labour] have done so now because they want to prevent a Blairite takeover of the party,” she said, referring to former UK PM Tony Blair. “And to stop what is essentially the undoing of democracy in the party.”  

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Source: Al Jazeera