Labour MPs urge Jeremy Corbyn not to dismiss anti-Semitism findings
Senior Labour MPs have urged Jeremy Corbyn not to brush off a report damning his conduct on anti-Semitism in the party, after he dismissed the findings as “disproportionate”.
The Home Affairs Select Committee report said Mr Corbyn’s failure to stamp out anti-Semitism within Labour has helped create a “safe space” for hostility towards Jews.
It said Labour had shown a “demonstrable incompetence” in tackling the issue under his leadership and “risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally anti-Semitic”.
Mr Corbyn said the report was “politicising anti-Semitism” by focusing so heavily on Labour and took evidence from "too narrow a pool of opinion".
In a statement he said: “Although the committee heard evidence that 75% of anti-Semitic incidents come from far right sources, and the report states there is no reliable evidence to suggest anti-Semitism is greater in Labour than other parties, much of the report focuses on the Labour party.”
But fellow Labour MP and member of the committee Chuka Umunna said the allegation was “grossly insulting” and argued that by denying the problem, Labour “would be putting our heads in the sand”.
He added: “For what it's worth, in conducting this inquiry with Committee colleagues I have not shied away from robust questioning of witnesses giving evidence on Labour – I have treated cross examination on this issue just like any other.
“Inevitably I have been criticised for this but I have no regrets - it would have been cowardly to do otherwise because people’s right to freedom from hatred and prejudice is bigger than any one individual or party in my view.
“It is grossly insulting to suggest that those of us who recognise this - Labour Party members or otherwise - do so because of some desire to score political points either between political parties or within them.”
Labour former frontbencher Pat McFadden said “pointing to your own sense of righteousness is no excuse for nastiness or cruelty” and urged his party to take the findings “very seriously”.
Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, he added: “I hope we take the report seriously and I hope we don’t fall into the trap of when these accusations are wielded, that we point to anti-racism records and say ‘look at our virtue and our record here, that must mean we can’t be anti-Semitic’.”
Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Tim Loughton said Mr Corbyn's response showed he was "in denial about the nature and the extent of the problem he’s got within his own party".
But former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who is currently suspended by Labour over his controversial comments linking Adolf Hitler with Zionism, came to the defence of Mr Corbyn, accusing the report of being “rigged”.
He said he had never heard anti-Semitic comments in the party, and branded the report a “political stitch-up” in “whipping up” controversy to attack Mr Corbyn.
He said: “I’ve been in the Labour party for 50 years and until six months ago no Labour MP ever raised the issue of anti-Semitism. I was on Labour’s National Executive Committee under Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair, Ed Miliband and in all that time there never came up to the committee any suggestion or complaints about anti-Semitic incidents.”
The Home Affairs Select Committee report also condemned Labour's internal inquiry into anti-Semitism and racism in its ranks, led by newly appointed peer Shami Chakrabarti.
The former director of Liberty - who admitted she had joined Labour on the day she was appointed to carry out the work - concluded that the party was not “overrun” with anti-Semitism, though she made a series of recommendations to toughen up the rules and penalties for dealing with it.
But the committee said it was “disappointing” neither she nor Mr Corbyn foresaw the likelihood of a charge of 'whitewash' after Mr Corbyn appointed her as a peer and then a shadow minister.
Mr Loughton today questioned the independence of the report and said it was not "worth the paper it was written on".
Mr Umunna said it was “extraordinary” that the Chakrabarti report does not define what is understood to be anti-Semitism.
But Mr Livingstone paid tribute to Ms Chakrabarti as “an incredibly principled and intelligent woman who has done a huge amount of work around human rights issues throughout her career”, while Mr Corbyn vowed to carry out that inquiry’s recommendations.
He said: "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 environment for members of all our communities."