Keir Starmer: Labour’s anti-Semitism ‘day of shame’

LONDON — The U.K. Labour Party was “responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination,” an investigation into anti-Semitism in the party by the national human rights watchdog found.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) also said that former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s office was responsible for “political interference” into investigations of anti-Semitism complaints, including one complaint over Corbyn’s own online comments about an anti-Semitic mural, which he made prior to becoming leader.

Corbyn’s successor Keir Starmer called it a “day of shame” for the party, accepted the EHRC report’s findings in full, and pledged to implement its recommendations.

However, he declined to single out Corbyn himself for criticism. Alasdair Henderson, the EHRC board member who led the investigation, told reporters after its publication that “as leader of the party” Corbyn had held “responsibility ultimately” for failings relating to political interference from his office.

The EHRC’s report, published Thursday, concluded that there was “a culture within the party which, at best, did not do enough to prevent anti-Semitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it.”

The investigation was launched in May 2019 following persistent complaints of anti-Semitism within Labour ranks and concerns that the party leadership under Corbyn was not doing enough to tackle the issue. Since it was launched, Corbyn stood down as leader following the party’s December 2019 general election defeat, to be replaced by current leader Keir Starmer. Its publication is seen as a major test of Starmer’s pledge to rebuild trust with the U.K.’s Jewish community.

Corbyn —  who remains a talismanic figure for many on Labour’s left wing — responded to the findings shortly after their publication saying that, while he regretted that it “took longer” to tackle the issue than it should have done, and that “one anti-Semite is one too many,” the “scale of the problem” had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.”

He added that he did not accept all of the report’s findings, but wanted to see the recommendations “swiftly implemented.”

At a press conference, Starmer declined to directly criticize his predecessor, saying the report’s findings showed a “collective failure of leadership.” However, he said that those who claimed accusations of anti-Semitism were “exaggerated or a factional attack” were “part of the problem” and should be “nowhere near the Labour party.”

The EHRC set out a range of recommendations for the party, including an independent complaints process, and gave it until December 10 to draft an action plan.

Starmer said the report’s conclusions were “clear and stark” and had revealed “serious failings in leadership, processes and culture.”

The EHRC’s findings were based on an analysis of a sample of 70 complaint investigation files. The EHRC found 23 instances of inappropriate involvement by the Leader of the Opposition’s Office (LOTO) and others, including instances where leader’s office staff influenced decisions on complaints, especially decisions on suspensions or on whether to investigate a claim. “Some decisions were made because of likely press interest rather than any formal criteria,” the EHRC said.

It cited an example of a complaint in April 2018, “regarding the alleged support of the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn MP, for an anti-Semitic mural … LOTO staff said that the complaint should be dismissed, stating that: ‘The complaint itself seems to fall well below the threshold required for investigation and if so surely the decision to dismiss it can be taken now.’”

“LOTO staff amended and approved the [party’s Governance and Legal Unit] written response to the complainant to include details on Jeremy Corbyn’s actions in relation to the mural,” the report added. “LOTO staff therefore directly interfered in the decision not to investigate in this case.”

The party’s “response to anti-Semitism complaints has been inconsistent and lacking in transparency in its process and decision-making,” the EHRC added. Its findings on harassment related to the actions of two individuals, former London Mayor Ken Livingstone and a local authority Labour councilor.

Caroline Waters, interim chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “The Labour Party made a commitment to zero tolerance for anti-Semitism. Our investigation has highlighted multiple areas where its approach and leadership to tackling anti-Semitism was insufficient. This is inexcusable and appeared to be a result of a lack of willingness to tackle anti-Semitism rather than an inability to do so.”

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