Last year, two members of the Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) were accused of anti-Semitism. The vice-chair of the OULC, Alex Chalmers, resigned very publicly, claiming that the organization had “a problem with Jews”. Reports surfaced of members using the term “Zio” to refer to Jewish members and other seemingly anti-Semitic behaviors.
Following these claims, an internal inquiry into the matter was conducted by Baroness Royall, a Labour peer. She interviewed eight group members and received some 300 pages of evidence from over 40 OULC members. Her conclusion was that it was “clear…from the weight of witnessed allegations…that there have been some incidents of anti-Semitic behavior and that it is appropriate for the disciplinary procedures of our Party to be invoked.”
Baroness Royall’s report was originally suppressed by the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), despite the Party at the time promising to take “robust action” against anyone found to be engaged in anti-Semitic behavior. In the end, the Baroness published the report herself.
Now it appears that Labour Party staff recommended that the two people specifically named in the report should be warned about their behavior. However, it is understood that the party’s disputes committee, which is a sub-committee of the NEC, has overturned almost all the recommendations made by the party’s headquarters on a range of disciplinary matters.
This news has been greeted with anger by the Jewish community. Board of Deputies Vice President Marie van der Zyl criticized the decision. She said, “In her original report…Baroness Royall said that there had been ‘some incidents of anti-Semitic behaviour’. Now, 11 months later, the Labour Party has dropped the investigation. This inability or unwillingness to confront what is a serious problem is damning for the party and will concern Jewish students on campus who feel their own party offers them no protection against abuse.”
Jeremy Newmark, national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said, “The decision rides roughshod over concerns and experiences of our student members. They have confronted the impact of anti-Semitism at OULC first hand. They do not feel comfortable attending meetings of their own Labour club. This has been looked at by three inquiries and one investigation. They have not heard from the party for nearly a year – even to inform them of this decision. It is many months since Chakrabarti recommended an overhaul of the complaints and investigations process, but seemingly nothing has changed.
“JLM is working with Labour Students and UJS to deliver training and education to prevent future incidents. However, this problem can not be fixed without the backing of a disciplinary process that is fit for purpose. This decision shows just how far we still have to go.”
The Union of Jewish Students described the NEC decision as “nothing short of disgraceful.”
A spokeswoman for UJS said, “The party had an opportunity to put its values into practice, to demonstrate how seriously they take the issue of anti-Semitism and to show that Labour clubs are welcome spaces for Jewish students, but they have failed miserably.
“They have let Jewish students down and in doing so, they have created an atmosphere in which anti-Semitism may thrive without fear of being challenged.”