Labour faces long-running row over anti-Semitism allegations

Senior Labour official Pete Willsman’s suspension is the latest twist in a long-running row about allegations of anti-Semitism within the party.

– What is the extent of the problem?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has acknowledged that anti-Semitism occurred in “pockets” within the party and wider movement.

A report into the issue by Baroness Chakrabarti in 2016 found that “the Labour Party is not overrun by anti-Semitism”, but it was condemned as a “whitewash” by critics.

Brexit
Baroness Chakrabarti carried out an investigation (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

The pro-Corbyn Momentum group said the problem is “more widespread in the Labour Party than many of us had understood even a few months ago”.

In a comment piece in the Guardian last year, Mr Corbyn accepted there is a “real problem that Labour is working to overcome” and said the party had a responsibility to “root out anti-Semitism”.

– Has the problem got worse under Mr Corbyn’s leadership?

The Labour leader, like many on the left of the party, has a long history of supporting the Palestinian cause and criticising the government of Israel for human rights abuses.

But some of those who share Mr Corbyn’s political sympathies have crossed the line from attacking the Israeli government to smears aimed at Jews – including Holocaust denial.

Last year the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Jewish Leadership Council used an open letter to claim that Mr Corbyn is “repeatedly found alongside people with blatantly anti-Semitic views, but claims never to hear or read them” and “rightly or wrongly, those who push this offensive material regard Jeremy Corbyn as their figurehead”. 

Mr Corbyn was also condemned by former chief rabbi Lord Sacks for comments he made criticising British Zionists for not understanding “English irony”, although an ally said the Labour leader’s words had been misinterpreted.

– Has anyone quit due to the issue?

Veteran Labour MP Frank Field resigned the party whip while Jewish MP Luciana Berger quit the party to join Change UK earlier this year. Both cited handling of anti-Semitism allegations as reasons for doing so.

Frank Field resigns Labour whip
Former Labour whip Frank Field quit the party over the claims (Yui Mok/PA)

Actor Tony Robinson, a former member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee and best known as Baldrick in hit comedy Blackadder, said concerns over the party’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations were one of the reasons he left the organisation in May.

– Are there are any ongoing investigations into anti-Semitism in the party?

Earlier this week the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launched a formal investigation into whether the party “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish”.

The human rights watchdog said it had contacted Labour after receiving a “number of complaints” about allegations of anti-Semitism within the party, and had “carefully considered” their response before opening the probe.

Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson said he had “privately and publicly” warned the party it faced a “vortex of shame” if it failed to deal with anti-Semitism.

– What has the party said about Mr Willsman’s alleged comments?

Labour suspended Mr Willsman after a tape emerged of him saying anti-Semitism has been “whipped up” by the Israeli embassy working within the party.

A party spokeswoman said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints of anti-Semitism extremely seriously and we are committed to challenging and campaigning against it in all its forms.

“All complaints about anti-Semitism are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

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