A BBC report that outlined systemic antisemitism within the left-wing UK Labour Party has been greeted with dismay by party members and local Jewish leaders alike.
Labour has insisted the claims made in Wednesday’s Panorama were inaccurate and the party is free of any and all allegations Jewish members are discriminated against and complaints are hushed up or ignored.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the “serious charges” were being “hotly contested”, and the process of dealing with complaints in the party had been “improved dramatically” but deputy leader Tom Watson countered, saying there was a “permissive culture” of antisemitism in Labour.
“I am shocked, chilled and appalled by what I’ve just seen on ‘Panorama’,” he tweeted after the show aired.
I am shocked, chilled and appalled by what I’ve just seen on Panorama. Hearing the testimony of party members and former staff was harrowing. They are not “disaffected”, they have been incredibly brave. Very serious questions now have to be answered.
— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) July 10, 2019
“There’s almost a permissive culture that people can use anti-Jewish, racist language both in our meetings and to each other on social media and we’ve failed to address that properly,” Watson later told BBC radio.
BBC Panorama spoke to former party officials, who alleged they had to deal with a huge increase in antisemitism complaints since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader in 2015.
Eight former officials, including the main opposition’s former general secretary Iain McNicol, broke non-disclosure agreements to allege members of Mr Corbyn’s inner circle had interfered with investigations into antisemitism in the party.
They claimed to the BBC that:
- The leader’s office was “angry and obstructive” when it came to the issue
- Officials brought in by the party’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, “overruled” some of their disciplinary decisions and “downgraded” punishments to a “slap on the wrist”
- Seumas Milne, one of Mr Corbyn’s closest aides, laughed when advised by a long-serving party official about what Mr Corbyn should do to tackle antisemitism in the party
- On one occasion, Mr Corbyn’s office ordered batches of antisemitism complaints to be brought to his Commons office for processing by his aides
Labour has rejected claims of interference and described the program as “seriously inaccurate” and “politically one-sided.”
UK Chief Rabbi Mirvis tweeted a statement after Panorama aired, saying it “must be a watershed moment in this agonising saga.”
The Chief Rabbi reacts to the revelations in this evening’s #Panorama: “This is no longer a question of the leadership’s inability to deal with the scourge of Antisemitism, but of its direct complicity in it.” pic.twitter.com/lEInytC6YG
— Chief Rabbi Mirvis (@chiefrabbi) July 10, 2019
He added: “This is no longer a question of the leadership’s inability to deal with the scourge of antisemitism, but of its direct complicity in it.
“The cloud of hatred and acrimony that this creates must be lifted from our politics and from our society.
“Quite simply, we cannot go on like this.”