Q&A: Labour and its long-running problem with antisemitism

When did accusations of antisemitism in Labour start and how have they escalated?

There were originally two major public furores about antisemitism in 2016, with Labour MP Naz Shah apologising for an antisemitic Facebook post, and former London mayor Ken Livingstone making remarks about “the Israel lobby” and Hitler supporting Zionism in broadcast interviews that eventually led to him quitting the party after a lengthy disciplinary process. A report that year by Shami Chakrabarti exonerated the party of widespread antisemitism but reported an “occasionally toxic atmosphere”.

However, matters escalated in 2018 when it became evident that the party was receiving more and more complaints, to the extent that there was a backlog of disciplinary cases. Jeremy Corbyn apologised that April for hurt caused to the Jewish community by problems in the process and pointed to only 0.1% of members being under investigation for alleged antisemitic comments.

But the party was also mired in a row about whether to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which it ended up ultimately approving. Then accusations of political interference in the complaints process by aides close to Corbyn began to emerge earlier this year, which the party strongly denies.

When did the complaints about antisemitism turn into a full-blown crisis?

The resignations of some MPs and peers over antisemitism – including Jewish MP Luciana Berger – disappointed and alarmed many of their Labour colleagues earlier this year. And Chris Williamson, a Labour MP and ally of Corbyn, caused an outcry among many Labour members for saying in February that the party had been “too apologetic” about antisemitism complaints. However, many of his supporters in the party backed a campaign saying he had been vilified and badly treated. Then came the announcement that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission was placing the party under formal investigation over whether it had unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish.

What new allegations are now being made?

Eight whistleblowers have spoken out in a BBC Panorama documentary, with some saying they felt there was political meddling from Corbyn’s office in the process for handling antisemitism complaints. Seumas Milne, one of Corbyn’s closest aides, told officials the party was “muddling up political disputes with racism” and must review processes. Jennie Formby, the general secretary, is accused of attempting to interfere in who sat on a panel examining the case of Jackie Walker, a high-profile activist who was eventually expelled from the party.

What is Labour’s response to the BBC’s Panorama?

Labour strongly denies the allegations of political interference and has come out on the offensive, accusing the BBC of bias and calling for the documentary to be pulled.

A Labour spokesman said the party had fully answered “a number of questions” put to it by the programme, and had also sent 50 pages of documents in response. The complaints to the BBC had been made “at various levels, including the director general”.

He said: “From what we’ve seen of the questions and the nature of the investigation the Panorama team had already come to a conclusion about where its investigation was going before it looked at the evidence in full.”

The spokesman complained there had been “nothing remotely comparable” in terms of investigations into Islamophobia in the Conservatives, despite what he said was much stronger evidence.


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