UK Labour lawmakers lash leaders on anti-Semitism figures
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MP Hodge: 'I don't believe the data. Trust has broken down'

UK Labour lawmakers lash leaders on anti-Semitism figures

7 MPs tell Corbyn report saying hundreds of anti-Semitism complaints led to several dozen members’ suspension is ‘incomplete,’ fear Labour is ‘institutionally antisemitic’

Illustrative: People hold up placards and Union flags as they gather for a demonstration organized by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism outside the head office of the British opposition Labour Party in central London on April 8, 2018. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)
Illustrative: People hold up placards and Union flags as they gather for a demonstration organized by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism outside the head office of the British opposition Labour Party in central London on April 8, 2018. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)

Seven British Labour MPs sent an angry letter Monday to party leader Jeremy Corbyn over what they described as a lackluster response from the party’s leadership to lawmakers’ calls for transparency over its handling of anti-Semitism complaints.

Last week, Labour lawmakers unanimously passed a motion demanding that party leaders provide detailed data in writing by February 11 on the handling of complaints about anti-Semitism, with some MPs accusing top officials in the party of covering up the figures.

The internal party motion passed at Labour’s weekly parliamentary meeting in the lower house, escalating internal rifts over the issue. The motion called “on the party leadership to adequately tackle cases of anti-Semitism, as a failure to do so seriously risks anti-Semitism in the party appearing normalized and the party seeming to be institutionally anti-Semitic.”

MPs also demanded that party officials such as General Secretary Jennie Formby or leader Jeremy Corbyn attend the meeting to answer questions about the data.

Jennie Formby at the 2016 Labour Party conference. (Wikimedia commons/Rwendland)

But the seven MPs said in their letter late Monday that no one came to speak to them at Monday’s Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. An email containing just nine months’ worth of information was sent to lawmakers by Formby 90 minutes before the meeting, they said.

“The failure to respect the request for this simple information does nothing to dispel the accusation that Labour is an institutionally antisemitic organisation,” the seven MPs charged.

Some lawmakers also flatly rejected the figures, saying they don’t believe them.

In her email, Formby offered details on the extent of anti-Semitism complaints between April 2018 and January 2019, saying 673 complaints were received by party institutions about Labour members. (An additional 433 complaints were revealed to be against individuals who were not actually members of the party.)

Of these, 211 were deemed sufficiently serious to warrant an investigation, leading to 96 Labour party members being immediately suspended.

In another 44 cases, members left the party voluntarily once challenged with evidence of anti-Semitism.

Another 12 were expelled from the party by the National Constitutional Committee, the only body with the authority to do so.

Luciana Berger, a British Jewish MP who is a leader of the Jewish Labour Movement. (YouTube screenshot)

Several hundred others were either given one-off written warnings or their cases were dropped over lack of evidence.

In all, just over 300 individuals were investigated or suspended for anti-Semitic actions in the nine months covered by the figures.

Formby appeared to explain her initial hesitation to publicize the figures by saying in the letter that they could be “misinterpreted or misused for other purposes by the party’s political rivals.” She added, however, that the party leadership now understood the “importance of rebuilding trust with Jewish communities.”

The Guardian daily cited a Labour spokesperson as saying the figures show the phenomenon was not widespread, but affirming that the party was “committed” to combating it.

“These figures relate to about 0.1% of our membership, but one antisemite in our party is one too many. We are committed to tackling antisemitism and rooting it out of our party once and for all,” the spokesperson said.

Jeremy Corbyn addresses the crowd in Trafalgar Square in London, England, July 13, 2018. (Niklas Hallen/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

Formby also took pains to identify with the lawmakers’ concerns, saying she disagreed with pro-Corbyn critics of the MPs who claimed their concerns over anti-Semitism were an attempt to “smear” the far-left leader.

“I totally reject the suggestion that the existence of antisemitism in our party is a smear,” she wrote. “I have seen hard evidence of it and that is why I have been so determined to do whatever is possible to eliminate it from the party. It is also the reason why I made it a priority to implement robust procedures to deal with it whenever it is identified.”

She added: “Whilst I cannot guarantee to totally eradicate it, as we have new members joining every day, I can guarantee that we now have robust procedures to deal with it whenever it is identified.”

But Formby’s letter was a far cry from what many MPs were expecting, according to a letter to Corbyn signed by seven prominent lawmakers on Monday, including Louise Ellman, Margaret Hodge, Luciana Berger, John Mann, Catherine McKinnell, Ruth Smeeth and Wes Streeting.

Calling Formby’s figures “incomplete,” they asked Corbyn to respond within 48 hours to eight questions.

Margaret Hodge speaks during the Jewish Labour Movement Conference in London, September 2, 2018. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images/via JTA)

The first: “The data given represents only nine months’ worth of information – not the total number of cases of antisemitism which have been responded to by the Party.”

Question 2 asked about the legal expenses incurred in the party’s efforts to respond to the complaints. Questions 3-5 asked about when and how promised anti-Semitism training would be implemented.

Question 6 and 7 asked whether the party was setting a “maximum timescale” for responding to anti-Semitism complaints, and how it was “engaging with the targets of antisemitic abuse.” Question 8 focused on the persistent harassment of MPs critical of Corbyn, asking what “process the Labour Party is implementing in terms of its duty of care to its elected representatives,” according to a copy of the letter published by the Jewish Chronicle.

At Monday’s meeting of lawmakers, several MPs, including Berger, Ellman and Mann, related details about anti-Semitic abuse they have endured from party members.

Sky News, meanwhile, quoted two lawmakers, Hodge and Streeting, openly rejecting the figures presented by Formby as incomplete.

“It’s very depressing. I don’t believe the data. I don’t think the data is complete. Trust has broken down,” Hodge said after the meeting, according to Sky.

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, outside the British Houses of Parliament in central London, on March 26, 2018. (AFP Photo/Tolga Akmen)

Streeting, meanwhile, insisted the numbers don’t “pass the smell test.”

One frustrated MP told the Guardian on Monday that “the bigger issue in all this is a lack of solidarity for Jewish MPs and an expectation of needing to prove everything with the party, rather than support for victims of racism.”

The row in the British Labour party comes amid rising levels of reported anti-Semitic incidents in Britain and a spike in Jewish concern over anti-Semitism throughout Europe.

Last week, British Jewry’s watchdog and security group, the Community Security Trust (CST), reported that 2018 had seen the third consecutive record high for reported anti-Semitic incidents in the UK. At 1,652 incidents nationwide, it was 16 percent higher than the previous year and the highest number since CST began keeping track in 1984.

Meanwhile, an EU report published in December found some 90% of Jews across Europe felt that anti-Semitism had increased where they live.

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