Rift opens in UK Labour over whistle-blowers ahead of anti-Semitism exposé

Party said to threaten to sue ex-members who spoke to BBC in upcoming investigation; Corbyn’s deputy says ‘silencing staff members’ is ‘as futile as it is stupid’

UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his house in north London, on June 12, 2019. (Isabel Infantes/AFP)
UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his house in north London, on June 12, 2019. (Isabel Infantes/AFP)

The British Labour Party came under fresh attack Sunday after it was revealed that it had cracked down on whistle-blowers by threatening to sue ex-staffers who spoke to the BBC for an exposé on anti-Semitism within its ranks.

According to the Sunday Times, at least six former Labour officials agreed to speak to the public broadcaster and provide new details on anti-Jewish sentiment within the party and its handling of the widespread allegations against it and leader Jeremy Corbyn. The ex-employees did so despite having signed non-disclosure agreements with the party.

Lawyers representing Labour have now sent some of the former staffers letters threatening to sue them and accusing them of “wantonly disregarding their obligations by selectively leaking information to the media,” the report said.

BBC TV’s Panorama investigation is set to air on Wednesday and is expected to be critical of Labour and feature further evidence that Corbyn advisers intervened in disciplinary procedures to protect members accused of anti-Semitism. The exposé will also feature interviews with “key insiders,” according to a preview.

Labour reportedly received some details of the show’s content when BBC contacted the party to get its reaction to the Panorama program, titled “Is Labour Antisemitic?”

In a letter sent by the Carter Ruck law firm, which is representing the party, to Sam Matthews, Labour’s former head of disputes, it said some information presented in the documentary apparently could “only have come from you,” according to the Sunday Times.

Many in Britain, including current and former Labour politicians, have criticized the party for using NDAs to silence its employees, despite repeatedly calling in the past for protecting whistle-blowers in other contexts, such as the Wikileaks saga.

Corbyn’s deputy leader Tom Watson tweeted Sunday that “using expensive media lawyers in attempt to silence staff members is as futile as it is stupid. It’s not the Labour way and I deplore it.”

“Labour opposes NDAs yet seems to impose them,” tweeted Labour MP Wes Streeting.

“I’m protected by Parliamentary privilege. I’ll whistle-blow in House of Commons for anyone who needs me to do so. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. No more excuses or hiding places,” he said, adding that Corbyn should “promise the same.”

Jewish Labour Movement chief Mike Katz told UK media: “Given Labour has called for scrapping of NDAs & greater legal protection for whistle-blowers, it’s both hypocritical and just plain wrong of it to set expensive lawyers on former staff who are acting in the public interest to shine a light on institutional anti-Jewish racism.”

MP Luciana Berger speaks during a press conference in London on February 18, 2019, where she and colleagues announced their resignation from the Labour Party, and the formation of a new independent group of MPs. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP)

“Every day I think that UK Labour can’t possibly sink to a deeper low. And yet they manage it,” said former Labour MP Luciana Berger, who quit the party over the anti-Semitism scandal.

“This from a party whose leadership have vociferously supported whistle-blowers and championed whistle-blowing policies. They just don’t want it to apply to themselves,” she wrote on Twitter.

Labour MP and Corbyn loyalist John McDonnell argued on BBC that the party was merely trying to protect confidential information and that it was different from cases of organizations trying to silence whistle-blowers exposing racism or wrongdoing.

A Labour source was quoted by the Sunday Times as lambasting the BBC: “With a possible general election around the corner, this smacks of bias and interference in the political process by the BBC and a clear breach of their own editorial guidelines.”

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)

A party spokesperson told British media: “It appears these disaffected former officials include those who have always opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, worked to actively undermine it, and have both personal and political axes to grind. This throws into doubt their credibility as sources.”

BBC responded Sunday that the party was “criticizing a program they have not seen,” adding that it was confident it adhered to its guidelines.

Labour has been split apart by claims that the party has become hostile to Jews under Corbyn, a harsh Israel critic and longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause.

Since his election in 2015 to head Labour, Corbyn has fought allegations that his critical attitude toward Israel and alleged tolerance of anti-Semitism have injected Jew-hatred into the heart of the party.

In 2009, Corbyn called Hamas and Hezbollah his friends and said that Hamas is working to achieve peace and justice. In 2013, he defended an anti-Semitic mural. In 2014, he laid flowers on the graves of Palestinian terrorists who murdered Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972. The following year he said British “Zionists” don’t understand British irony.

In February, nine lawmakers quit the party, criticizing the leadership’s handling of anti-Semitism.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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