Top UK Jewish groups expressed outrage on Thursday after the BBC program Panorama broadcast a blistering hour-long special on antisemitism in the Labour party.
Since far-left MP Jeremy Corbyn seized control of the party in 2015, Labour has been wracked with antisemitism scandals, several of them touching Corbyn himself. Polls show the overwhelming majority of British Jews consider him personally antisemitic.
The program detailed many of the upheavals that the party has faced, including former London mayor Ken Livingstone’s false claim that Zionists collaborated with Hitler, for which he was only temporarily suspended; activist Jackie Walker’s claim that the Jews controlled the trans-Atlantic slave trade; and a general atmosphere of antisemitic attitudes toward Israel and its Jewish supporters.
In regard to Corbyn himself, the program cited, among other things, his defense of a blatantly antisemitic mural; his invitation to tea of Raed Salah, an antisemitic Israeli-Arab preacher who has engaged in the blood libel; his warm words about the terrorist group Hamas; and his claim that he saw the “hand of Israel” behind a jihadist attack on Egyptian soldiers.
The program also included the testimony of many Labour members, Jewish and non-Jewish, some of them near tears, describing an atmosphere of intense antisemitic racism in the party.
One member said, “I joined the Labour party because of my Jewish values” but had “been the unfortunate victim of a lot of antisemitism within the Labour party, and stuff I never thought I’d receive in 2019, let alone in the party I thought was anti-racism.”
“I wouldn’t say to a friend, ‘Go to a Labour party meeting if you’re Jewish.’ I couldn’t do that to someone I cared about,” she added.
Another member said simply, “It’s been soul-destroying to be a member of the Labour party and Jewish.”
A third said, “The antisemitic abuse I received was what I was subjected to every single day. Telling me Hitler was right. Telling me Hitler did not go far enough. In Labour party meetings, we’ve seen people engage in Holocaust denial, and that’s terrifying for Jewish members.”
“I do not think the Labour party is a safe space for Jewish people anymore,” she asserted.
Panorama also detailed the disputes over the disciplinary process intended to deal with the antisemitism problem. Interviews with members of the Disputes Team showed people frustrated by lack of action, deliberate obfuscation, and often a studied indifference by the leadership toward antisemitic incidents.
In one case, a top Corbyn ally defended a member who posted an image of the “face-hugger” creature from the film Alien attached to the face of the Statue of Liberty. The creature was adorned with a Star of David. The official claimed the image was merely a criticism of Israel.
In another case, Mike Creighton, the director of the Disputes Team, told Corbyn’s top adviser Seamus Milne that, to tackle the problem, Corbyn should “make a significant speech on the issue of the Middle East, particularly saying that Israel had a right to exist.”
“He actually laughed at me,” Creighton said of Milne’s reaction.
After Corbyn ally Jennie Formby became General Secretary of the party, the program detailed, the situation became even worse, and frustration gave way to outright despair. Members of the Disputes Team recounted suffering from depression, nervous breakdowns, and even suicidal thoughts.
In its defense, Labour sent Andrew Gwynne, the shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, to be interviewed.
When asked why Corbyn himself and other top officials had refused to appear on the program, Gwynne replied, “I think it’s important that someone from the Labour Party is here to make it very clear on behalf of the entire shadow cabinet: we will do all we can to make it very clear to anybody who thinks that they can have those abhorrent views in our party and in our family that they are not welcome.”
In an official response sent to the program, Labour stated, “Jeremy Corbyn’s record on opposing antisemitism goes back decades. He has proactively addressed antisemitism within the party in direct communications to the party membership, in articles, speeches, videos, and interviews.”
When one interviewee said that, if he were not leader, Corbyn would likely be expelled from the party for antisemitism, Labour called the claim “offensive nonsense.”
British Jewish groups quickly responded to the program, saying they were appalled by what they had seen.
Fiona Sharpe, spokesman for Labour Against Antisemitism, said in a statement, “Tonight’s hour-long special edition of Panorama asked the question ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic?’ The answer conclusively is yes — from the very top of the organization downwards.”
“This unprecedented exposé of a political party seemingly steeped in institutional racism has uncovered a Labour elite who have, it is alleged, consistently lied to the British Jewish community and to the British electorate,” she continued.
“They have claimed to be in opposition to racism, yet this investigation appears to show them conspiring to engineer the party apparatus to protect racists within the party and attacking those brave enough to call it out,” she said.
“We commend those who found the courage and strength to provide their personal testimonies to the program, along with all the former staffers who have risked so much both personally and professionally to bring the truth to light,” Sharpe added.
“The reputation of the Labour Party has been shredded by a Hard Left establishment that has proven apparently incapable of addressing the endemic racism within,” she asserted. “Their reign must be quickly and efficiently ended.”
“The only question is whether the Labour Party itself has the strength and conviction to deliver the change our country and our democracy requires or be chained forever to a legacy of cowardice and complicity,” the statement concluded.
Gideon Falter, Chief Executive of Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: “Former Labour officials, have been compelled by their conscience to speak out, revealing the scale of the duplicity behind Labour’s failure to address the Party’s antisemitism crisis.”
“Whilst claiming to act against Jew hatred, Jeremy Corbyn’s agents and allies have carefully protected antisemites,” he asserted.
“It was heartbreaking to watch the testimony of honorable lifelong Labour officials contemplating suicide and suffering breakdowns because of the actions of Mr. Corbyn and his team,” he said.
Referring to a complaint brought against Labour by the CAA, Falter said, “This testimony will add significant weight to the statutory investigation that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is undertaking following our referral.”
“The charade of Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-racist activist has been blown apart,” he asserted. “Mr. Corbyn’s support for antisemites and his team’s protection of antisemites demonstrate that Mr. Corbyn himself is an antisemite who is unfit to hold any public office, including that of Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition. For as long as the Labour Party is in Jeremy Corbyn’s grip, it cannot be a force for good.”
Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, also weighed in, saying, “This Panorama investigation gives added weight what we have suspected all along. It suggests that the issue of antisemitism has been treated with disdain by the Labour leader and as a joke by Seumas Milne, and that Jennie Formby and her appointments have repeatedly obstructed justice in disciplinary cases.”
“As anti-Jewish racism remains a poison running through the party, it appears to have been watched over by a leader whose henchmen had not the slightest intention of acting to get rid of the problem so long as they could get rid of the negative headlines,” she added.
“This is a terrible indictment of a party unable and unwilling to confront racism in its own ranks,” she continued. “Rather than attempting to enforce immoral non-disclosure agreements and making pathetic attempts to blame everyone but themselves, the party should be acting to excise this terrible stain.”
Van der Zyl asserted, “It was harrowing to watch on national television Labour staffers saying they were driven to extreme levels of mental anguish.”
“Given tonight’s reports, and the continued observable failings in disciplinary processes, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Jeremy Corbyn, Seumas Milne, and Jennie Formby are personally responsible for having turned a once great, anti-racist party into a cesspit of antisemitism,” she concluded.