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Probe into Oxford U’s Labour club reveals ‘poisonous’ anti-Semitism

Some members dubbed Auschwitz a ‘cash cow,’ mocked Jewish victims of Paris supermarket attack, says Sunday Times

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

File: Britain's Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the annual Labour Party Conference in Brighton, south east England, September 29, 2015.  (AFP/Leon Neal)
File: Britain's Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the annual Labour Party Conference in Brighton, south east England, September 29, 2015. (AFP/Leon Neal)

An inquiry into allegedly “poisonous” anti-Semitic attitudes within Oxford University’s Labour Club has revealed that some members referred to Auschwitz as a “cash cow,” sang about rockets over Tel Aviv, made fun of Jewish mourners and fatalities during TV coverage of funerals for the 2015 Paris supermarket attack victims, and made allowances for anti-Semitic attacks on Paris synagogues the year before.

The allegations emerge from testimony obtained by the Sunday Times in connection with a student probe into claims of anti-Semitism within the university’s Labour society.

That probe followed the resignation mid-February of the club’s non-Jewish co-chairman in protest at the society’s endorsement of Israeli Apartheid Week. In a sharply worded statement, Alex Chalmers claimed that “a large proportion of both OULC and the student Left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews.”

Writing on Facebook, Chalmers accused members of the Labour club’s executive of “throwing around the term ‘Zio’ [a term for Jews usually confined to websites run by the Ku Klux Klan] with casual abandon.” He wrote of “senior members of the club expressing their ‘solidarity’ with Hamas and explicitly defending their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians.” He also quoted an unnamed former co-chairperson of the club as claiming, “Most accusations of anti-Semitism are just the Zionists crying wolf.”

Alex Chalmers was until recently the co-chairman of the Oxford University Labour Club (Facebook)
Alex Chalmers was until recently the co-chairman of the Oxford University Labour Club (Facebook)

The student inquiry’s report was completed 10 days ago and forwarded to the party. It has not been published, nor have any students been disciplined to date, the Jewish Chronicle wrote on Monday.

On Sunday, two former shadow cabinet ministers (senior members of the opposition party who take responsibility for particular portfolios) joined the fray by demanding immediate publication of the students’ inquiry report.

Michael Dugher and Rachel Reeves told the online Jewish News: “In the interests of transparency and to demonstrate beyond all doubt the seriousness with which we take these allegations, the report should be published now.”

According to the Daily Telegraph, the inquiry focused on Max Shanly, 25, a member of Young Labour’s national committee, and James Elliott, 22, who sits on the youth section of the party’s national policy forum.

James Elliott, pictured on Facebook.
James Elliott, pictured on Facebook.

Elliott was youth policy adviser to Jeremy Corbyn during his successful bid for the national Labour Party leadership and reportedly helped to script Corbyn’s youth manifesto.

Both Elliott and Shanly have denied the claims.

Elliott is “proud of his record of fighting anti-Semitism and considers anti-Semitism to be abhorrent and reprehensible” said a lawyer for the two men, quoted by the Daily Mail, while Shanly was “appalled by racism in all its forms and has always sought to challenge racism when he has come across it.”

Max Shanly, pictured on Facebook.
Max Shanly, pictured on Facebook.

After the report was completed, the national Labour Party decided to commission a second report and appointed Janet Royall, its former leader of the House of Lords (the bicameral British Parliament’s upper house), to head the new probe.

The Daily Telegraph reported Sunday that lawmaker Joan Ryan, chair of the parliamentary Labour Friends of Israel, had written to the party’s general secretary to protest the party’s decision to combine the anti-Semitism inquiry with one that involved Elliott in a different sphere of activity.

At the end of February, Elliott narrowly lost his electoral bid to become youth representative on Labour’s national executive committee prompting accusations, published in the Guardian newspaper, that the winner — a student from Liverpool University — encouraged supporters to smear Elliott as an anti-Semite on social media.

“I believe it is highly inappropriate for this inquiry and that into the election of the party’s Youth Rep on the National Executive Committee to be rolled in together. Ideally, two separate inquiries would have been established.”

“Two distinct investigations and two separate reports” were needed to provide “a degree of reassurance that allegations of antisemitism are being treated with the seriousness that they deserve,” Ryan wrote.

Dugher and Reeves echoed Ryan’s sentiments for JewishNews. It “isn’t acceptable for the Party to now wrap serious allegations about anti-Semitism inside Labour Students into a wider inquiry,” they said.

Meanwhile, Jewish former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who studied at Oxford University, postponed a planned talk at the University’s Labour Club because of the “deeply disturbing” reports, the Daily Mail said.

File: Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, center, arrives at Doncaster Racecourse as results come in after voting closes in Britain's general election, in Doncaster, England, Friday May 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
File: Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, center, arrives at Doncaster Racecourse as results come in after voting closes in Britain’s general election, in Doncaster, England, Friday May 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

Shortly after Chalmers resigned, a former Oxford University Labour Club chairman, David Cesar Heymann, wrote on Facebook: “I arrived at OULC in 2013, when there was a welcoming atmosphere, with execs focused on hosting good speakers and campaigning to bring about a Labour government.

“Since 2015, and particularly after the election, there has been a concerted effort from the Oxford hard left to take over the club. Many of these people have little connection to the Labour Party or its values, and have brought with them the worst of Marxist tactics, approaching OULC with a ‘you’re either with us or against us’ attitude.

“The hard left has brought about a culture where vicious personal attacks are routine, and that has included revolting anti-Semitic incidents, such as the ones reported on by Jsoc [Jewish Society]. Looking forward, I hope that decent Labour members will help combat this toxic culture, and restore OULC to being a proud representative of the flagship of the British left in Oxford.”

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