One of the initial incidents in the saga of potential anti-Semitism in the Labour Party was the resignation of Alex Chalmers, a student at Oxford University, as co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) in February, claiming that his colleagues “have some kind of problem with Jews.” Subsequent to that, Baroness Royall, a non-Jewish Labour peeress was appointed to investigate the claims and make appropriate recommendations.
On Tuesday, Baroness Royall presented her report to the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC). However, only part of the report, including the recommendations, was made public. The rest will apparently be released at the same time as the larger investigation into anti-Semitism in the party as a whole, conducted by Shami Chakrabarti, a civil rights campaigner.
Lady Royall said that she did “not believe that there is institutional racism within OULC”, and made a number of recommendations regarding education, reporting and consequences for anti-Semitic comments or behaviour. She was not in favour of life-time bans for anti-Semitism, saying that people can change their opinions and should be allowed another chance, but she also said that there should be no “statute of limitations” on anti-Semitic incidents.
Whilst the more positive aspects of the report made the general headlines, writing in a blog post for the Jewish Labour Movement, Lady Royall said that this “is only part of the story.” She explained that “in the OULC there is a cultural problem which means that Jewish students do not always feel welcome.” She continued by saying that using anti-Semitism as a “factional political tool” is “clearly…inexcusable.”
The Baroness made 11 recommendations for “immediate and sustained action” to the club, and a further seven suggestions which will be fed into the whole party investigation.
The report was greeted with mixed reactions. A Labour Party spokeswoman said, “Baroness Jan Royall presented her report to the NEC today. The NEC agreed and accepted the report. The recommendations have now been published.”
However, Board of Deputies of British Jews President Jonathan Arkush said, “It is clear from this report that Baroness Royall has concluded that there is a problem of anti-Semitism at Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) which must be addressed.
“There would be no need for 11 recommendations for ‘immediate and sustained action’ if Baroness Royall had not concluded that there were serious problems to tackle.
“We were encouraged by some of these recommendations, namely the suggested use of the Macpherson definition and the idea of training for Labour candidates and activists.
“However, in view of the limited nature of what has been released, it is difficult to judge what the report says on important matters, such as where extreme anti-Israel rhetoric, such as calling Jews ‘Zios’ or singing songs like ‘rockets over Tel Aviv’, becomes anti-Semitic. These are material considerations when considering what happened in the case of the Oxford University Labour Club.
“Furthermore, we are disappointed that the full report has not been released, in apparent contradiction to Baroness Royall’s express wishes. We note that the original Labour Students investigation was also not released. There seems to be a culture of suppressing or delaying the release of reports on this crucial issue growing up that is not helpful for progress.”
Jeremy Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement said that he had met with Baroness Royall after the publication of the report and “share[d] her frustration that the full content of the report was suppressed by the NEC.”
John Mann, a Labour MP and outspoken chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism said, “For those who thought there wasn’t an anti-Semitism issue in the Labour Party, this report shows there definitely is.”
Ms. Chakrabarti has promised to fast track the inquiry she is leading in order to complete it by the end of June and also suggested that the Conservative Party conduct a similar enquiry into Islamophobia within their party.