In a damning intervention into the anti-Semitism storm engulfing Labour, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission said the party may have illegally discriminated against people because of their “ethnicity and religious beliefs”.
It gave Labour 14 days to respond to a hefty dossier of shocking allegations of anti-Semitism.
The preliminary inquiry was ordered after the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism submitted complaints and the Jewish Labour Movement handed over 1000 pages of testimony from hundreds of Jewish members of the Labour Party.
“Having received a number of complaints regarding antisemitism in the Labour Party, we believe Labour may have unlawfully discriminated against people because of their ethnicity and religious beliefs,” said an EHRC spokeswoman.
“Our concerns are sufficient for us to consider using our statutory enforcement powers. As set out in our enforcement policy, we are now engaging with the Labour Party to give them an opportunity to respond.”
The JLM said it had been forced to act due to the failure of Labour to tackle anti-Semitism.
“After years of anti-Jewish racism experienced by our members, and a long pattern of denial, obfuscation and inaction by those with the power and ability to do something about it, we felt there was little choice but to secure a fully independent inquiry, not corrupted by internal practices,” said a spokesman.
“Everything that has happened in the months since our referral supports our view that the Labour Party is now institutionally anti-Semitic.”
If the probe moves into a full-blown statutory investigation, it is set to be the EHRC’s biggest inquiry since the 2016 investigation into victimisation in the Met Police.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “We completely reject any suggestion the party has acted unlawfully and will be cooperating fully with the EHRC.
“Labour is fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and its organisations.”
“Antisemitism complaints received since April 2018 relate to about 0.1% of our membership, but one antisemite in our party is one too many. We are determined to tackle antisemitism and root it out of our Party.”
The CAA case outlines complaints they made to the party about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s alleged defence of the anti-Semitic East London mural in 2012, his hosting of a Holocaust Memorial Day event in 2010 where a speaker compared Israel to Nazism and an interview he did with the banned Iranian Press TV channel. They allege none of these complaints were investigated by the party.
Labour has been dogged by allegations of anti-Semitic behaviour by members and a slow response by the leadership in tackling it for several years.
However the crisis deepened when Jewish MP Luciana Berger quit the party to join The Independent Group of MPs last month saying she was “ashamed” to stay within the party because of its handling of anti-Jewish incidents and the hate directed at her personally from members. Deputy leader Tom Watson said she had been bullied out of the party by racist thugs.
MP Chris Williamson was also suspended from the party on February 27 after he was recorded saying the party had been “too apologetic” over anti-Semitism.
It has been alleged this week that there has been political interference in the party’s disciplinary process into members accused of anti-Semitism by Mr Corbyn’s aides.
Emails have shown disciplinary staff asked for the advice of Mr Corbyn’s advisers on how to deal with cases of anti-Semitics behaviour, and in some cases it was recommended that sanctions be lowered from suspension.
Jennie Formby, who was appointed as General Secretary of the party last year, immediately ended the practice of compliance team asking the leader’s office for advice, according to Labour.
A Labour spokesperson has said: “Any suggestion that staff in the Leaders’ Office overturned recommendations on individual cases is categorically untrue.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan “welcomed” the announcement from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
He said on LBC that Labour had been “too slow” and “too lax” in responding to the complaints about anti-Semitism.
“Anti-semitism is a form of racism. The impression we as a party have given is that there is a hierarchy when it comes to racism and skin colour is more important than being Jewish,” he added.
Last night JLM members voted overwhelmingly to continue its 100-year-old affiliation with the party at a crisis meeting called over whether to secede.
A final decision will be taken at the society’s AGM in early April, with members warning they are ready to walk away from the party if it does not tackle the issue.
JLM’s vice chair Mike Katz told the Evening Standard after last night’s meeting of up to 300 members at the Western Marble Arch Synagogue: “The room was at the end of its tether. People want to stay but with the absolute purpose of fighting and making it clear this has to be the last chance saloon – the Labour party is in the last chance saloon.”
Several high-profile MPs expressed anger at the party’s failure to process hundreds of outstanding allegations of anti-Semitism by Labour members.
Barking MP Dame Margaret Hodge, 74, said: “The meeting was emotional, highly-charged, but very determined.
“I’d like to see a stop to the political interference in the [disciplinary process]. I would like to see Jeremy Corbyn’s inner circle taken out of the frame and not being allowed to play a role. Then we would like to see zero-tolerance against anti-Semitism.”