Corbyn admits evidence of anti-Semitism in UK Labour may have been ‘ignored’

In recording, leader expresses doubts over handling of cases of Jew hatred; Labour spokesman: This shows desire to rebuild trust; staffer said fired for leaking lack of punishments

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at the Newport Centre, in Newport, South Wales, during a campaign rally for prospective parliamentary candidate Ruth Jones who is standing in the Newport West by-election, March 30, 2019. (Ben Birchall/PA via AP)
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at the Newport Centre, in Newport, South Wales, during a campaign rally for prospective parliamentary candidate Ruth Jones who is standing in the Newport West by-election, March 30, 2019. (Ben Birchall/PA via AP)

The leader of British Labour, Jeremy Corbyn, has admitted that evidence of anti-Semitism in his party may have been “mislaid, ignored or not used,” a leaked recording has revealed. Last week it was reported that the office of Corbyn, who has himself faced accusations of anti-Semitism, has intervened in at least 101 complaints of Jew hatred within the party.

According to The Sunday Times, Corbyn made the comments during a February meeting with lawmaker Dame Margaret Hodge, a Jewish MP who has faced anti-Semitic attacks and who called Corbyn an “anti-Semite and a racist” last year, which led her to face disciplinary action, later dropped.

In the recording, Corbyn can be heard outlining his reasons for recruiting Lord Falconer to review the process for complaints of anti-Semitism. (That planned probe is now on hold due to a possible upcoming investigation by the UK’s Equality and Human Right’s Commission.)

“The point of him [Falconer] is that he will look at the speed of dealing with cases, the administration of them and the collation of the evidence before it is put before appropriate panels and things,” Corbyn is heard saying. “Because I was concerned that evidence was either being mislaid, ignored or not used and that there had to be some better system.”

Margaret Hodge speaks during the Jewish Labour Movement Conference in London, September 2, 2018. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images/via JTA)

According to the newspaper, the comments mark the first time Corbyn has expressed any doubt over his party’s ability to deal with anti-Semitism, a year after Jennie Formby, a Corbyn ally and the party’s secretary general, was appointed to oversee the system dealing with complaints of anti-Semitism.

A Labour spokesperson told the newspaper that the recording “shows Jeremy Corbyn’s desire to make procedures as robust and efficient as possible and to rebuild trust with the Jewish community.”

Last Sunday it was reported Labour under Corbyn has been defending members who made vitriolic anti-Semitic remarks and has barely expelled any members despite more than 850 formal complaints. Just hours after the report was released, the British Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) passed a no-confidence motion in Corbyn.

The Sunday Times last week said it had obtained a hard drive containing a confidential database and leaked emails and documents showing that the party — long embroiled in a public scandal over its apparent failure to uproot anti-Jewish bigotry in its ranks — has been dragging its feet in responding to complaints.

Lord Falconer sits on the Woolsack for the last time in the House of Lords in London, July 4 2006 (AP Photo /John Stillwell, PA)

In its latest report, the Times said Labour secretly suspended a junior staff member suspected of the leak. According to the newspaper, this means there are now no permanent staff members dealing with allegations of racism or misogyny within the party.

Corbyn’s office has intervened in at least 101 complaints, last Sunday’s report said, despite his having earlier assured Hodge that his team would “never” get involved in them.

In all, of 863 complaints made by March 8, 2019, 454 remain unresolved, including 249 in which the party hasn’t initiated an investigation.

Of the cases in which a decision was reached, 191 members faced no further action, 145 received a formal warning — which the Sunday Times called “a slap on the wrist” — and just 29 were expelled. Others left of their own accord.

The report detailed specific cases without naming the offenders. In one case, a trade union official in Manchester was allowed back into the party despite having shared material blaming “Jewish Israelis” for the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

Last month, the report said, Thomas Gardiner — an ally of Corbyn who heads Labour’s governance and legal unit — blocked efforts to expedite proceedings against a party member who lashed out at Hodge and Ruth Smeeth as “a couple of shit-stirring c** buckets bought and paid for by Israel” and “cretinous pieces of shit” who needed to “fuck off back under their stones.”

Members who made comments such as “Heil Hitler,” “Fuck the Jews” and “Jews are the problem” have not been expelled despite complaints filed against them a year ago, the report said.

Jewish Labour Party MP Ruth Smeeth (screen capture: YouTube)

A councilor in Lancashire was readmitted despite having ranted about “Jewish media” and “Rothchilds,” after explaining she had uttered the terms “as a blanket term of description without any racist connotations.”

In another case, a lawmaker was let off with a warning after saying the Board of Deputies of British Jews umbrella group were “c****” and that the comment was “not anti-Semitic, it’s anti-c***. See Israel.”

A Labour official ruled that a council candidate met the threshold for suspension after accusing Jewish lawmakers of being “Zionist infiltrators,” but then decided that the accused would face no suspension and no action because he “is a candidate.”

In a response to the report, Hodge said that “the scale of the abuse, the depth of the hatred and the total lack of action by the Labour Party is astonishing. Jeremy gave me assurances that he does not intervene in complaints. This investigation proves that either he is lying to me or his office are lying to him.”

Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, left, talks with deputy leader Tom Watson, during the start of the party’s annual conference in Liverpool, England, September 23, 2018. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

“This makes for deeply shocking and depressing reading,” commented Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson. “Labour members and the Jewish community will not understand how, many years on from the first concerns about anti-Semitism being raised, we have not got to grips with it.”

But Labour insisted that the figures featured in the report were “not accurate.”

“Lines have been selectively leaked from emails to misrepresent their overall contents,” the party said. “Former staffers asked the Leader’s Office for their help with clearing the backlog of cases. This lasted for a few weeks while there was no general secretary, and was ended by Jennie Formby [now in that role].

“The Labour Party takes complaints of anti-Semitism extremely seriously and we are committed to rooting it out. All complaints are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures. We can’t comment on individual cases,” it said.

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Alleged hate speech against Jews has been recorded within Labour since 2015, when Corbyn, a far-left politician, was elected to lead the party. The Board of Deputies of British Jews has accused Corbyn of encouraging anti-Semitic rhetoric and at times engaging in it, though he disputes the claim.

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone has recently called allegations of anti-Semitism in Labour “lies and smears” to bring down Corbyn and claimed that it is “not anti-Semitic to hate the Jews of Israel.”

On Saturday, a group calling themselves “Labour Against the Witchhunt” announced that Livingstone was the honorary president and sponsor of the group.

In March, British police arrested three people near London suspected of inciting anti-Semitic hatred in the Labour Party’s ranks. The arrests were rare interventions by law enforcement against suspected propagators of anti-Semitism within the party.

Last year, Corbyn expressed regret for defending a 2012 anti-Semitic mural in London’s East End.

The mural, named Freedom of Humanity, was painted on a property near Brick Lane by the Los Angeles-based graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman. It depicted a group of men – seemingly caricatures of Jewish bankers and businessmen – counting their money on a Monopoly board which is balanced on the back of naked workers.

In response, British Jews took part in an unprecedented demonstration in Parliament Square against the anti-Semitism crisis engulfing Labour, chanting that “enough is enough.”

Following growing public scrutiny of the problem, Labour is facing the prospect of an official inquiry by the United Kingdom’s Equality and Human Right’s Commission, the main government anti-racism watchdog.

Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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