A top UK Labour official alleged to have interfered in probes of anti-Semitism within the party lashed out at Labour’s deputy leader for asking her to provide him with the party’s response to a government anti-racism monitor investigating the opposition party.
Allies of UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Friday rallied to the defense of top Labour officials alleged to have interfered in probes of anti-Semitism within the party.
In a BBC program aired Wednesday, eight former Labour officials accused Corbyn and his closest aides of seeking to defend party members accused of anti-Semitism. Among those accused of interfering in the internal party investigations were Labour Communications Director Seumas Milne and General Secretary Jennie Formby.
Labour has been dismissive of the allegations, denying it is anti-Semitic and claiming the former staffers had an axe to grind.
Following the program, deputy Labour leader Tom Watson asked Formby to make available to him materials the party has shared with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the British government’s watchdog on racism that is investigating Corbyn for his handling of hate speech and hate crimes within the party.
Watson, who has been vocal in condemning anti-Semitism in Labour, also said the party had “smeared” the former officials who appeared in the BBC program, according to The Guardian.
Formby hit back at Watson, saying in a letter she was “very disappointed” by his response and accusing him of abusing his “considerable platform.”
“Traducing my reputation and publicly attacking me when you know I am undergoing chemotherapy and am unable to respond in the media, is another example of the inappropriate way in which you choose to discuss the issue,” she said.
Formby defended the party’s efforts to address the problem and accused Watson of being “complicit in creating a perception” that anti-Semitism is more prevalent in Labour than British society at large.
“This is deeply irresponsible for the deputy leader of a party which seeks to be in Government, and risks exacerbating the fear that Jewish communities will feel,” she said.
She also said the BBC program was the first she heard of the “distress suffered by some of our former staff members,” while denying she was withholding from him Labour’s response to the EHRC and that she deleted emails relating to anti-Semitism in the party.
Meanwhile the Guardian reported that the EHRC was seeking to hear from up to 100 Labour officials in its investigation of the party, including staffers, members of the national executive committee and the figures who spoke to the BBC.
It has reportedly warned those it has contacted that withholding information from the committee could constitute a criminal offense.
Formby’s complaints against Watson were echoed by a number of top Labour members allied with Corbyn, who rallied to her defense.
“I just don’t understand why the deputy leader of the Labour Party uses the media to demand information from Labour’s General Secretary @JennieGenSec, which has already been offered to him,” Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell wrote on Twitter.
“It goes beyond my understanding that he does so when he knows she’s undergoing chemotherapy,” he added.
Claudia Webbe, a member of Labour’s governing body, said Watson’s response was not befitting of a deputy party leader and said he should consider his position.
@tom_watson your engaged in public attacks on the Labour Party’s General Secretary @JennieGenSec despite your clear knowledge she is receiving chemotherapy treatment for cancer. This is not behaviour befitting of the Office of Deputy Leader. You should consider your position?
— Claudia Webbe (@ClaudiaWebbe) July 11, 2019
Accusations of hostility toward Jews have riven Labour since the far-left Corbyn, a longtime Palestinian supporter, became party leader in 2015.
Corbyn’s opponents say criticism of Israel by some Labour members — especially those who joined after Corbyn took the helm — has strayed over the line into anti-Semitism and claim the party has not taken the issue seriously.
The party condemned the BBC documentary, broadcast Wednesday night, saying it contained “deliberate and malicious representations.” It alleged the former staffers who took part had “personal and political axes to grind.”
But many Labour lawmakers expressed dismay at the allegations.
Watson said anti-Semitism was “a sickness in our party” that had to be dealt with.
Watson told the BBC there was a feeling “that 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.”
The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), the party’s Jewish affiliate, told Sky News on Thursday that 30 current and former staff members, as well as party officers, have reported to the group about their encounters with anti-Semitism, even though the Labour Party is “very keen on silencing those who wish to come forward.”
JLM, Sky reported, is gathering testimony to submit to the EHRC.
AP contributed to this report.