Prominent UK Jewish groups praised the Equality and Human Rights Commission on Thursday for its decision to open an investigation into antisemitism in the Labour party.
Since far-left MP Jeremy Corbyn, long noted for his fervent opposition to Israel, became Labour leader in 2015, the party has been beset with antisemitism scandals, several of them touching Corbyn himself. Polls have shown the overwhelming majority of British Jews consider him an antisemite, and Jewish groups have long complained that the Labour leadership has failed to address the issue.
The Commission opened preliminary investigative proceedings against Labor after a formal complaint from the Campaign Against Antisemitism. The Commission will first address the Labour party’s leadership on the issue of antisemitism and investigate specific incidents and cases. It will then decide whether to launch a statutory investigation, which would give it legal powers to compel Labour to be transparent on the issue, including handing over emails and other forms of private inter-party communications. Finally, if it chooses, the Commission can force Labour to undertake specific actions to deal with the problem.
“We believe Labour may have unlawfully discriminated against people because of their ethnicity and religious beliefs,” said a spokesperson for the Commission. “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.”
Gideon Falter, chairman of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, praised the Commission’s decision, saying, “The Labour Party has repeatedly failed to address its own antisemitism problem, resulting in MPs and members abandoning the Party. 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.”
Saying that the Jewish community had done everything possible to persuade the Labour leadership to deal with the matter, Falter added, “We had no option but to seek an external, impartial investigation, and that is why we asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate illegal antisemitic discrimination and victimisation in the institutionally racist Labour Party.”
“We commend the Commission for acting on our referral and we have full confidence in the Commission to investigate thoroughly and deliver justice,” he said.
The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl, also weighed in on the news, saying, “This proposed independent investigation confirms what the Jewish community has known for a long time: that the Labour leadership has a problem with anti-Jewish racism which it is unable or unwilling to solve. We welcome this development and hope it will now focus minds on the extent and depth of antisemitism infecting the Labour movement.”
The Jewish Labour Movement, which has sought to fight antisemitism from within the party and filed its own complaint with the Commission, said, “We did not take 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.”
“This evening Jewish Labour members made clear that we will not unconditionally stand by whilst we are treated with such intolerance and contempt,” the group added.