British Jewry’s representative body has castigated the decision by UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to recommend a peerage for the author of a controversial party report into anti-Semitism, calling it “beyond disappointing,” and warning it raises questions about the impartiality of the investigation.
Human rights lawyer Shami Chakrabarti was tasked by Corbyn to carry out the inquiry in late April, amid an escalating row about anti-Semitism in Labour that saw suspensions for a string of party members. Submitted in June and heavily criticized by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the report concluded that Labour was not overrun by anti-Semitism or other forms of racism, but did acknowledge an “occasionally toxic atmosphere.”
“It is beyond disappointing that Shami Chakrabarti has been offered, and accepted, a peerage from Labour following her so-called ‘independent’ inquiry,” the Guardian on Friday quoted Board of Deputies vice president Marie van der Zyl as saying.
“The report, which was weak in several areas, now seems to have been rewarded with an honor. This ‘whitewash for peerages’ is a scandal that surely raises serious questions about the integrity of Ms. Chakrabarti, her inquiry and the Labour leadership.”
The peerage for Chakrabarti was the sole honor from the Labour Party among the dozens requested by former British prime minister David Cameron. The so-called “resignation honors,” bestowed by the monarch but chosen by the government, are an established way for departing leaders to reward loyal lieutenants.
The deputy leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, also slammed Corbyn’s push for Chakrabarti to receive a place in the House of Lords. Watson said Friday he was not consulted about the honor, nor did he know about it in advance. He called it a “mistake.”
“The timing is not great for the Labour Party,” Watson told BBC radio. “I wasn’t aware, I wasn’t consulted whether Shami was going in. I didn’t know that we’d provided citations for this particular round, and I do think it’s a mistake.”
The Zionist Federation of Great Britain said Friday that the peerage would only serve to worsen ties between Labour and the British Jewish community.
“Shami Chakrabarti’s report on Antisemitism within the Labour party was noted for its length but sadly not for its depth,” Federation chairman Paul Charney said in a statement sent to the media. “There was no serious discussion of how ‘Anti-Zionism’ is now the focal point for contemporary anti-Jewish prejudice, no dissection of how the thinking of the hard left on these issues now most closely resembles that of the far right,” he said.
“The news that Chakrabarti has accepted a peerage seems to put all of these failings in context. We must now accept that the primary aim of the report was to rid Labour of the allegations of anti-Semitism, but not the anti-Semitism itself. We hoped that this inquiry would provide a chance to rebuild the relationship between the party and our community. Instead, it has somehow made things even worse.”
Chakrabarti herself ducked questions in an interview released last month about whether she had been offered a seat by Labour in the House of Lords. “You can ask me… but I’m going to evade it,” she said.
In a sometimes uncomfortable discussion with London Jewish YouTube channel J-TV, Chakrabarti, the former director of the British civil rights group Liberty, said she joined Labour within hours of being asked to carry out the probe because she felt the inquiry needed to come from inside the party rather than outside.
Asked if she wanted to run as a Labour MP in future, she indicated that she did not. Then asked whether she has been offered a place in the House of Lords, Chakrabarti said she was not going to discuss her “future ambitions,” and said that she was going to “evade” the question.
Chakrabarti said the report was commissioned “because unfortunately there is some anti-Semitism and other manifestations of racism — and some thoroughly uncomradely behavior” in the Labour Party.
In its stinging response to the Chakrabarti report, the Board of Deputies said it “fails to explore the history of anti-Semitism, including anti-Zionist anti-Semitism, on the Left. There has too often been an attitude that, ‘We are on the Left, therefore we cannot be racist,’ whereas in fact there is, sadly, a longstanding tradition of anti-Semitism in parts of the Left that should be recognized, acknowledged and defeated.”
The Board also expressed concerns about Chakrabarti’s independence, saying, “whether fairly or not, for many, the apparent proximity of Shami Chakrabarti to the leader [Corbyn] and the party brought into question the independence of the inquiry. This should be considered for future reference.”
Chakrabarti told her J-TV interviewer, historian Dr. Alan Mendoza, that she and Corbyn are not friends, and that she has “never broken bread” with “the Leader,” as she referred to Corbyn.
“I don’t doubt that Shami Chakrabarti was asked to undertake this inquiry on account of her genuine commitment to opposing racism. But things quickly went awry,” Mendoza told The Times of Israel in July. “She created a false intellectual construct for the report that prevented the underlying issues from being explored fully, and which offered protection for the past actions of Labour’s current leader.”
“There is a reason Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has coincided with the need for this inquiry,” he added. “It is shameful it took the Home Affairs Select Committee to draw this out, rather than Labour’s own internal report.
“In light of this,” he added, “I think Ms. Chakrabarti needs to be open and honest about the scale of her own political ambitions, and whether she has been offered elevation to the peerage or not.”
Jenni Frazer and AP contributed to this report