Labour faces human rights probe over anti-Semitism

Britain’s human rights watchdog has begun proceedings against the Labour party over its alleged failure to stamp out anti-Semitism in its ranks.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission announced on Thursday morning that the country’s main opposition party may have “unlawfully discriminated” against people based on their ethnicity and religious beliefs.

The commission will contact Jeremy Corbyn’s party to set out its concerns and request a response. If that response is found to be unsatisfactory, the commission could launch a formal investigation.

“Having received a number of complaints regarding anti-Semitism in the Labour party, we believe Labour may have unlawfully discriminated against people because of their ethnicity and religious beliefs,” a commission spokesman said. “Our concerns are sufficient for us to consider using our statutory enforcement powers.”

The Labour party will have 14 days to respond to the concerns raised once it receives the commission’s formal letter.

A spokesman rejected any suggestion the party had acted unlawfully and said it would co-operate fully. “Labour is fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and its organisations,” he said.

The commission’s enforcement action can range from a voluntary agreement with the party to a full-blown investigation. The last time the commission took action against a political party was in 2009 when it challenged the British National party over its “whites-only” membership policy.

Mr Corbyn has been dogged by allegations of anti-Semitism by hundreds of Labour members since he won the party leadership in 2015.

The issue came to a head three weeks ago when nine Labour MPs quit the party, citing the leadership’s handling of anti-Semitism as well as its Brexit stance.

They included Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who said she had come to the “sickening conclusion” that the party had become institutionally anti-Semitic. Another MP who left Labour, Joan Ryan, said the party had “become infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism”.

Since then Chris Williamson, an MP who is a close ally of Mr Corbyn, has been suspended for suggesting that the leadership had been “too apologetic” over anti-Semitism and was being wrongly “demonised” as a racist party.

Mr Corbyn, a life-long opponent of the state of Israel, has repeatedly said that he abhors racism in all forms, including anti-Semitism. He is trying to persuade Charles Falconer, a former lord chancellor, to lead a review into the issue.

If a formal investigation is launched, the commission would request interviews with key figures in the party and has the power to demand access to correspondence, emails and other information to determine how Labour dealt with allegations of anti-Semitic discrimination.

The action comes in response to complaints from a number of organisations and individuals, including the Campaign Against Antisemitism.

Gideon Falter, CAA chairman, said: “It is a sad indictment that the once great anti-racist Labour party is now being investigated by the equality and human rights regulator it established just a decade ago.”

Mr Falter said the Jewish community had “gone to every conceivable length” to persuade Mr Corbyn, Labour general secretary Jennie Formby and the party’s ruling National Executive Committee to act, but had been “persistently rebuffed”.

The Jewish Labour Movement submitted a dossier of allegations about Labour anti-Semitism to the commission in November. In a statement on Wednesday evening the JLM said it had not taken that decision lightly.

“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 encumbered by corrupted internal practices,” it said.

“Everything that has happened in the months since our referral supports our view that the Labour party is now institutionally anti-Semitic.”

When the JLM set up an anti-Semitism monitoring centre in October last year to record complaints inside the party it received 600 submissions in one week.


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