UK Labour faces long-running row over anti-Semitism allegations

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The condemnation of UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis is the latest twist in a long-running row about allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.

– What is the extent of the problem?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has acknowledged that anti-Semitism occurred in “pockets” within the party and wider movement.

A report into the issue by Baroness Chakrabarti in 2016 found that “the Labour Party is not overrun by anti-Semitism”, but it was condemned as a “whitewash” by critics.

Baroness Chakrabarti

The pro-Corbyn Momentum group said the problem is “more widespread in the Labour Party than many of us had understood even a few months ago”.

In a comment piece in the Guardian last year, Mr Corbyn accepted there is a “real problem that Labour is working to overcome” and said the party had a responsibility to “root out anti-Semitism”.

– What did Chief Rabbi Mirvis say?

In a comment piece for The Times on November 26 2019, Mr Mirvis said the Labour leadership’s handling of anti-Semitism was “incompatible” with British values.

He warned  “the soul of our nation is at stake” if Labour wins the General Election.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

He added that Mr Corbyn’s supporters have “hounded parliamentarians, members and even staff out of the party for challenging anti-Jewish racism”.

– Has the problem got worse under Mr Corbyn’s leadership?

The Labour leader, like many on the left of the party, has a long history of supporting the Palestinian cause and criticising the government of Israel for human rights abuses.

But some of those who share Mr Corbyn’s political sympathies have crossed the line from attacking the Israeli government to smears aimed at Jews – including Holocaust denial.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (centre) speaks with guests during a Holocaust Memorial Day service

Last year the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Jewish Leadership Council used an open letter to claim that Mr Corbyn is “repeatedly found alongside people with blatantly anti-Semitic views, but claims never to hear or read them” and “rightly or wrongly, those who push this offensive material regard Jeremy Corbyn as their figurehead”.

Mr Corbyn was also condemned by former chief rabbi Lord Sacks for comments he made criticising British Zionists for not understanding “English irony”, although an ally said the Labour leader’s words had been misinterpreted.

– Has anyone quit due to the issue?

Veteran Labour MP Frank Field resigned the party whip while Jewish MP Luciana Berger quit the party to join Change UK and is now a Liberal Democrat candidate for Finchley and Golders Green, a constituency with a strong Jewish tradition.

Both cited handling of anti-Semitism allegations as reasons for doing so.

Actor Tony Robinson, a former member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee and best known as Baldrick in hit comedy Blackadder, said concerns over the party’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations were one of the reasons he left the organisation in May.

Former Labour MP John Mann, who had fiercely criticised the party’s handling of the matter, is now the Government’s anti-Semitism adviser.

Former MP Chris Williamson was removed as a Labour candidate after suggesting the party had been too apologetic in its handling of the problem.

– Are there are any ongoing investigations into anti-Semitism in the party?

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launched a formal investigation into whether the party “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish”.

The human rights watchdog said it had contacted Labour after receiving a “number of complaints” about allegations of anti-Semitism within the party, and had “carefully considered” their response before opening the probe.

Tom Watson

Outgoing deputy Labour leader Tom Watson said he had “privately and publicly” warned the party it faced a “vortex of shame” if it failed to deal with anti-Semitism.

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