More than 200 current and former staffers in the UK’s Labour Party sent its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a letter on Monday demanding he address head-on the opposition party’s ongoing problem with anti-Semitism or step aside.
Labour has grappled with anti-Semitism in its ranks since the far-left Corbyn was elected party chief, with fresh scrutiny coming after a number of former Labour officials accused him and his allies of interfering in efforts to address the issue, in a BBC program aired last week.
The former party members, four of whom broke non-disclosure agreements to speak with the BBC, also recounted anti-Semitic abuse they were subjected to.
Corbyn and the party have pushed back on the accusations, saying the documentary contained “deliberate and malicious representation” and that the whistleblowers had “personal and political axes to grind.”
In Monday’s letter to Corbyn, the Labour members said the alleged efforts to quash anti-Semitism probes should “be treated with the utmost seriousness” and decried the party’s response to the accusations.
“The party’s response has been to smear Jewish victims, and former staff, accusing them of acting bad faith,” they wrote. “The way the Party has threatened and denigrated these whistleblowers is appalling, hypocritical and a total betrayal of Labour’s core values.”
The letter said the crisis was of Corbyn’s making and that anti-Semitism had become institutionalized in the party and is now “worse than ever.”
“This has all happened on your watch. The crisis has moved beyond a question of rules and disciplinary processes, to a question of a political culture, and crucially, leadership,” it stated.
The signatories called on Corbyn to answer a number of questions to help “remove the stain of anti-Semitism from the Labour Party” and said that if he was unwilling to do so publicly, Labour members would have to reconsider his “fitness” to head the party.
“As its leader, the moral responsibility for Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis ultimately sits with you. Own that responsibility, or give it away to someone who will,” they said.
NEW: Full letter from 200+ present and former Labour staff calls on Jeremy Corbyn to take responsibility for antisemitism in the party, saying “institutionalised antisemitism is worse than ever” and the leadership’s response has been “shameful”. This is in addition to GMB motion. pic.twitter.com/7wzRX9wWg4
— Paul Brand (@PaulBrandITV) July 15, 2019
Additionally, four Labour members in the House of Lords, including its leader in the upper house, Angela Smith, wrote to Corbyn, offering to set up a panel to investigate the allegations in the BBC program and addressed the recent resignation of three peers from the party over anti-Semitism.
“It is deeply saddening, but not surprising, that three of our valued colleagues recently resigned the Labour Lords whip. The scale of abuse that they and others have suffered is heartbreaking,” the Guardian quoted their letter as saying.
The letter also addressed Labour’s response to the documentary and said non-disclosure agreements “should never be used to silence criticism or to avoid embarrassment.” It said anti-Semitism “is a cancer that will continue to grow” in the absence of full transparency.
An unnamed party source denied to the newspaper that it went after the whistleblowers.
“Former staff members made a number of untrue allegations,” the source was quoted as saying. “It is not blowing the whistle to make allegations that are false and politically motivated.”
Accusations of hostility toward Jews have riven Labour since Corbyn, a longtime supporter of the Palestinians, 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.
After the BBC program aired, another former Labour staffer came forward to allege systemic interference in anti-Semitism complaints by senior party member and push back on the claim that anti-Jewish sentiments were limited to isolated cases.
Both Labour and Corbyn have denied accusations of anti-Semitism against them and said they are committed to rooting it out of the party.