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Fri, 27 November 2020

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Labour Broke The Law And Was Responsible For Anti-Semitic Discrimination And Harassment, The EHRC Has Found

Labour Broke The Law And Was Responsible For Anti-Semitic Discrimination And Harassment, The EHRC Has Found

Jeremy Corbyn said he did not accept all of the EHRC's conclusions (PA)

13 min read

Labour has been found to have broken the law over the issue of anti-Semitism in the party, according to a damning report by the equalities watchdog.

An investigation has identified serious failings in its leadership in addressing anti-Jewish hatred over the last few years and an inadequate process for dealing with complaints.

The long-awaited inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission has concluded with Labour being served with an “unlawful act notice" after the party was found responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination.

The EHRC accused it of three breaches of the Equality Act 2010, relating to political interference in anti-semitism complaints, a failure to provide adequate training to those handling anti-semitism complaints, and harassment.

It has made a series of recommendations, which if Labour does not draft an action plan to implement by 10 December are legally enforceable by the courts, meaning they could face further legal action.

The report does not specifically identify the former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s role, but Alasdair Henderson from the EHRC said he "has a responsibility ultimately for those failings”.

Mr Corbyn was later suspended from the party following a full internal investigation, after he claimed the scale of the anti-semitism problem was "dramatically overstated" for political reasons.

The commission’s lead investigator told a press conference: "Blame for the anti-semitism in the Labour Party can't be placed on one person, we looked at the party as a whole.

"And it went beyond the role of Jeremy Corbyn. That said, the failure of leadership, although it extended across the party through the period of example that we looked at, was of course during the time when Jeremy Corbyn was leader.

"And as leader of the party, and with evidence of political interference from within his office, he does have a responsibility ultimately for those failings."

The watchdog found evidence of political interference in the complaints process, with 23 instances of “inappropriate involvement by the Leader of the Opposition’s Office”.

This included a complaint against Mr Corbyn himself after he showed support for a mural deemed anti-semitic in 2018.

Overall it was found Labour treated complaints poorly and unfairly, saying the specific inbox was “largely left unmonitored for a number of years” and 62 of the 70 files the EHRC reviewed had records missing.

The report also found evidence from at least June 2017 to mid-2018 Labour operated a policy of "not investigating complaints about party members' social media activity if they only liked or shared content without commenting on it".

It said the party sought to justify this by claiming sharing posts did not necessarily reflect the views of the person who shared them, which meant that one member was not investigated despite helping disseminate Holocaust denial content.

The EHRC found Labour's complaints unit did not investigate concerns over likes, retweets and shares "even when it was appropriate to do so, which meant that potentially anti-semitic conduct went unchallenged".

The report identified two individuals - former Mayor of London Ken Livingston and a councillor in Rossendale, Pam Bromley - whose “anti-semitic conduct the Labour Party are responsible for”.

But it added: “These cases were only the tip of the iceberg. A further eighteen ‘borderline’ cases were found where there was not enough evidence to conclude that the Labour Party was legally responsible for the conduct of the individual. 

“These were people such as local councillors, local election candidates and Constituency Labour Party office holders. 

"Many more files contained evidence of anti-semitic conduct by an ‘ordinary’ member of the Labour Party, who did not hold any office or role and the Labour Party cannot be held directly responsible for under the Equality Act 2010.” 

Caroline Waters, the EHRC’s interim chair, said: “The Labour Party made a commitment to zero tolerance for anti-semitism. Our investigation has highlighted multiple areas where its approach and leadership to tackling anti-semitism was insufficient. 

“This is inexcusable and appeared to be a result of a lack of willingness to tackle anti-semitism rather than an inability to do so.”

The equality body’s analysis points to “a culture within the party which, at best, did not do enough to prevent anti-semitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it”.

The EHRC has warned Labour must do more to regain the trust of the Jewish community, the public and many of its members. 

Ms Waters added: “It is encouraging to see the party’s new leadership has committed to implementing our recommendations in full. 

“If the party truly wants to rebuild trust with its members and the Jewish community, it must acknowledge the impact that numerous investigations and years of failure to tackle antisemitism has had on Jewish people, and take swift, sincere action to improve.”

In response to the report, the former Labour MP and government anti-semitism adviser John Mann tweeted: "The moment of greatest shame in the history of the Labour Party. 

"And to think how many said it was all made up and exaggerated. Which amongst them will stand up and say that I am truly sorry?"

The crossbench peer added:  "The elderly Jewish couple, lifelong Labour voters, who sobbed when they went into the polling station. Cried as they voted. Wept as they went out. They are what today’s day of shame for the Labour Party is really about.”

And the Labour peer Andrew Adonis tweeted: "Jeremy Corbyn should properly resign from Parliament after this report.”

Ex-Labour MP John Woodcock told PoliticsHome Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner "should apologise personally for their own failure to act on the evil that was being highlighted to them day after day". 

He added: "There were many difficult and conflicting issues at play while Jeremy Corbyn was Labour’s leader, but it ultimately came down to a binary choice. Those who now hold positions of high office in Labour all chose to try to install the former anti-semitic regime in Downing Street at the last election which would have allowed this sickness to spread far wider into public life.

“One of the ways in which Labour’s healing from antisemitism will be judged will be in its relationship with the likes of Luciana Berger, Louise Ellman and Ian Austin who had the courage to take a stand while others kept their heads down. Sir Keir should be begging all three to return to Labour and direct the recovery from this monstrous period.”

The Jewish Labour Movement said the report “provides Jewish Labour members with the relief that they have been seeking from the Labour Party, but which it failed, over five years, to offer”.

In a statement, it added: “Since 2015, we have consistently warned the Labour Party about a deepening casual culture of anti-Jewish racism, that saw Jewish Labour members and activists harassed and discriminated against. 

“Instead of listening to our growing concerns over the scale of the challenge, we were told that this racism was imagined, fabricated for factional advantage or intended to silence debate. Today’s report confirms that our voices were marginalised and our members victimised.

“As set out in forensic detail by the EHRC, the blame for this sordid, disgraceful chapter in the Labour Party’s history lies firmly with those who held positions of leadership - those who possessed both power and influence to prevent the growth of anti-Jewish racism, but failed to act. 

"What the report shows is that, worse than simply failing to act, the leadership of the Labour Party actively interfered in the processes relating to anti-semitism, for political reasons. 

“This failure of leadership amounted to unlawful conduct that facilitated anti-semitism to become normalised within the Labour Party, a situation that continues to this day, that must be stopped, and must never happen again.”

A joint statement from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust said: "This report is a damning verdict on what Labour did to Jews under Jeremy Corbyn and his allies.

"It proves why British Jews were so distressed and it disgraces those who attacked us for speaking out against anti-Jewish racism.”

It adds: "Jeremy Corbyn will rightly be blamed for what he has done to Jews and Labour, but the truth is more disturbing as he was little more than a figurehead for old and new anti-Jewish attitudes.

"All of this was enabled by those who deliberately turned a blind eye.

"Now the task of cleaning out the problem lies with the current leadership. We welcome the start that Keir Starmer has made, but the scale of the challenge that lies ahead should not be underestimated.

"We will continue to give our support to all who work to drive racism out of our politics and out of our society."

The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism said: “The EHRC's findings and recommendations today - that Labour's leadership and culture created an unlawful environment that discriminated against Jews - closely align with the hundreds of pages of evidence and argument that we submitted to the EHRC over many months.

"Frankly, this report would not be much different had we written it. It is the dispensing of British justice that British Jews have sorely awaited, but has been denied for too long.

"Jeremy Corbyn and those around him who took part in or enabled the gaslighting, harassment and victimisation of Britain's Jewish minority are shamed for all time.

"Those who defended and stood by them are shown to have made possible the closest flirtation that mainstream British politics has had with anti-semitism in modern history.”

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said: "I have read the report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission with much sadness.

"The fact that an institution which has been so central to the governance of our country for the last century has been found to have fallen to such depths represents a historic nadir for the Labour Party and must prompt us all to ask: Why was this allowed to happen?"

And anti-racism campaign group Hope not Hate said: “The findings of the EHRC investigation are both unequivocal and damning and vindicate the concerns of many in the Jewish community, both within the Labour Party and outside. 

“Those who led, ran and administered the Labour Party over this period have serious questions to answer, and the entire party from members to MPs and Peers should reflect on this period and ask themselves how this was allowed to happen for so long.”

It added: “The one of the most serious accusations levelled at the leadership was found to be true – that of unlawful political interference from the Leader of the Opposition’s Office, compounded with obstruction of the EHRC investigation. 

“This is a matter of the utmost concern and the party must now consider the future within the Labour movement for all involved at this level.”

Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell said the findings represented "a shameful day" for her party.

She added: "A day to reflect on the enormity of what happened in the last five years, on the pain and suffering inflicted and endured, and to collectively renew our steadfast resolve to ensure it can never ever happen again."

Her colleague, the Jewish Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, also tweeted: "This is a truly appalling day for the Labour Party.

"Under Corbyn's leadership, Labour committed unlawful acts of harassment and political interference.

"This should never have been allowed to happen and this report must act as a watershed moment."

And the Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard said:  "I imagine there will be some tears shed in the homes of Jews and their allies in the fight against anti-semitism. December 2019 was a huge relief. This feels like recognition of what we have endured. “

In a statement posted on Facebook Mr Corbyn said he did not accept all of the EHRC's findings.

He said: "The EHRC's report shows that when I became Labour leader in 2015, the party's processes for handling complaints were not fit for purpose. 

"Reform was then stalled by an obstructive party bureaucracy. But from 2018, Jennie Formby and a new NEC that supported my leadership made substantial improvements, making it much easier and swifter to remove anti-semites. My team acted to speed up, not hinder the process.

"Anyone claiming there is no anti-semitism in the Labour Party is wrong. Of course there is, as there is throughout society, and sometimes it is voiced by people who think of themselves as on the left.

"Jewish members of our party and the wider community were right to expect us to deal with it, and I regret that it took longer to deliver that change than it should.

"One anti-semite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media. That combination hurt Jewish people and must never be repeated.

"My sincere hope is that relations with Jewish communities can be rebuilt and those fears overcome. While I do not accept all of its findings, I trust its recommendations will be swiftly implemented to help move on from this period."

Following the former leader's suspension, a Labour spokesperson said: "In light of his comments made today and his failure to retract them subsequently, the Labour Party has suspended Jeremy Corbyn pending investigation. He has also had the whip removed from the Parliamentary Labour Party.”

Mr Henderson also rejected Mr Corbyn's claim the scale of anti-semitism within the Labour Party was "dramatically overstated".

"I can only take you back to the findings of our report and ask you to compare them,” he said.

“We found two specific unlawful acts, 18 more in the sample that we found, and that's the tip of the iceberg.

"There were a lot more instances of anti-Semitic conduct by members of the party in that large group of files that we looked at which didn't quite meet the threshold for us to say they were an unlawful act, but were definitely there and taking place."

Ms Formby released a statememt of her own, saying: "Under Jeremy Corbyn's initiative, we brought reforms to conference which were passed by Labour members and affiliates that enabled rapid expulsions.

"Mistakes were made along the way, and of course I wish we could have made the reforms more quickly, although some of them required rule changes which are necessarily slow.

"But the record shows that as a result of the changes we made, Labour's previously unfit processes were transformed, becoming more rapid, robust and more independent than any other political party."

The EHRC’s final report sets out a number of recommendations to Labour, which include commission an independent process to handle and determine anti-semitism complaints, acknowledge the effect that political interference has had on the handling of such complaints and implement clear rules to stop it happening again.

The party should also review its social media code of conduct, commission and provide education and practical training for all individuals involved in the anti-semitism complaints process, and ensure all members found to have engaged in anti-semitic conduct undertake an educational course, and engage with Jewish stakeholders to instil confidence for the future.

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