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Human Rights Commission chief: Labour must prove it is not racist party after anti-Semitism row

Emilio Casalicchio

3 min read

Labour must do more to show it is not "a racist party" after it was engulfed by a fresh anti-Semitism row, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, the organisation's chief executive, said the party must take a "zero tolerance" approach to the problem.

She hit out after a fringe meeting at the party's conference in Brighton heard calls for Jewish Labour Movement to be expelled and that Israelis should be treated like Nazis over their treatment of Palestinians.

In a statement, Ms Hilsenrath said: "Anti-Semitism is racism and the Labour party needs to do more to establish that it is not a racist party.

"A zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism should mean just that. When senior party figures are saying there's a problem, then the leadership should take swift action. It is simply not acceptable to say they oppose these views. 

"These comments by party members show more needs to be done to root out anti-Semitic views that clearly exist in the party. Any suggestion of kicking people out of any political party on the grounds of race or religion should be condemned."

The row also burst onto the conference room floor today as a members debated a key rule change on stamping out racism in the party.

In a furious address, party member Leah Levane accused the Jewish Labour Movement of attempting to link anti-Semitism to criticism of the Israeli state.

But the JLM hit back and urged members to “put aside talk to witch hunts and weaponising anti-Semitism”.

A rule change outlawing hate speech and bullying is set to pass after winning backing from the ruling National Executive Committee and leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Currently, party members cannot be disciplined for “the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions”.

Ms Levane, from the Hastings and Rye Labour branch, demanded clarity in the wording of the change that criticism of Israel and accusations of anti-Semitism should not be conflated.

She blasted: “The JLM have every right to organise in this Labour party. The right they do not have is to speak for me, the other Jewish members of Hastings and Rye and many other Jewish members in this place."

To a standing ovation, she added: “We are not going to risk any chance of absolute clarity that there is not a collision that you can treat anti-Semitism … make that accusation every time you criticise the despicable behaviour of the state of Israel towards the Palestinian people.”

But JLM vice chair Mike Katz shot back: “There is nothing wrong about legitimate criticism of the Israeli government or illegal settlements.

“Jewish Labour members do it all the time, often in strident debate. But you don’t need to use anti-Semitic language and stereotypes to engage in that debate."

He added: “This rule change is about so much more than anti-Semitism. It will give us the power to put a stop to the misogyny the homophobia the racism that can creep into our party, speaking up against bullying and bigotry - that is our tradition.”

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