New leader Starmer: Report marks 'a day of shame' for Labour

UK Labour suspends unrepentant Jeremy Corbyn after damning anti-Semitism report

Watchdog finds party broke equality laws with handling of anti-Semitism; ex-leader retorts that problem of Jew-hatred in his tenure ‘dramatically overstated for political reasons’

UK opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his residence in north London on October 28, 2019. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)
UK opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his residence in north London on October 28, 2019. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

Britain’s main opposition Labour party on Thursday suspended its former leader Jeremy Corbyn following his response to a damning government watchdog report that said the party had broken equality laws in its handling of anti-Semitism complaints.

“In light of his comments made today and his failure to retract them subsequently, the Labour Party has suspended Jeremy Corbyn pending investigation,” the party announced.

Labour’s new leader Sir Keir Starmer said the report, which found Labour under Corbyn engaged in unlawful “harassment and discrimination,” marked a “day of shame” for the party. The party said Corbyn, its leader until April, was being suspended pending further investigation.

Corbyn vowed to “strongly contest” the party’s decision, labelling it a “political” move; for now, he will be compelled to sit as an independent MP in the House of Commons.

In a Facebook post earlier in the day responding to the damning report, Corbyn said he didn’t accept all of its findings and asserted that “the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.”

He added that he regretted that “it took longer to deliver… change than it should.”

My statement following the publication of the EHRC report:“Antisemitism is absolutely abhorrent, wrong and responsible…

Posted by Jeremy Corbyn on Thursday, October 29, 2020

Starmer, in an apparent reference to those comments, said in a speech that anyone in Labour who said the report was “exaggerated or a factional attack” was “part of the problem” and “should be nowhere near the Labour Party.”

The UK government investigation found that equality laws were broken by Labour under Corbyn and the party was “responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination.” It specified two instances, relating to former London mayor Ken Livingstone and a local councillor, in which Labour breached the Equality Act “by committing unlawful harassment” against Jewish people.

The report by the state anti-racism watchdog came at the end of a year-long probe into allegations of anti-Semitism in the party.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigation found there were “serious failings” by the party’s leadership when it came to anti-Semitism, and that Labour had “inadequate processes” for handling complaints.

The EHRC gave the party an unlawful act notice, meaning it has to publish an action plan in response to the report within six weeks.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in Islington, north London, December 16, 2019. (Isabel Infantes/PA via AP)

“The equality body’s analysis points to a culture within the party which, at best, did not do enough to prevent anti-Semitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it,” the EHRC said in a statement. “This is in direct contrast to the comprehensive guidance and training in place to handle sexual harassment complaints that demonstrates the Party’s ability to act decisively when it needs to, indicating that anti-Semitism could have been tackled more effectively.”

The watchdog found the party responsible for unlawful acts in three major areas: political interference in anti-Semitism complaints, failing to provide adequate training to those handling anti-Semitism complaints, and harassment.

There were 23 instances of “inappropriate involvement” by Corbyn’s office and others in the 70 files examined in the report, the EHRC said, with interference happening more frequently in complaints of anti-Semitism than in other discrimination allegations.

The report said those cases were the “tip of the iceberg,” and that there were a further 18 “borderline” cases in which there was not enough evidence to conclude that the party was legally responsible for the conduct of the individual.

The EHRC, the main government anti-racism watchdog, had initially announced a probe into whether the main opposition party led at the time by Corbyn had discriminated against, harassed or victimized Jews in violation of the UK’s 2006 Equality Act.

Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, left, next to Keir Starmer Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union during their election campaign event on Brexit in Harlow, England, November 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Starmer — who replaced Corbyn in a party election in April, after it lost last December’s general elections in a landslide to the incumbent Conservative party under Boris Johnson — has said he would fully cooperate with the EHRC’s report into anti-Semitism in the party.

Starmer, who has vowed to root out anti-Semitism, said the report marked a “day of shame” for the party. He said there would be “no more denials or excuses.”

British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who had discouraged voters from supporting Labour under Corbyn in last year’s elections, said the report marked a “historic nadir for the Labour Party.”

Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said in a statement: “Having presided over the descent of a proudly anti-racist party into a party that broke equalities law in its treatment of Jews, [Corbyn’s] shameless comments today showed that he remains part of the problem.”

Jewish groups have accused Corbyn, a far-left politician, of allowing a massive surge in anti-Semitism within the ranks of the party that was once considered the natural home of British Jewry. Thousands of cases of alleged hate speech against Jews had been recorded within Labour since 2015, when Corbyn was elected to lead the party.

Corbyn had vowed to punish any party member caught making racist statements, yet he defended a number of members who made vitriolic anti-Semitic remarks, and expelled hardly any members despite more than 850 formal complaints.

Corbyn himself drew wide criticism for his own actions. Last year he expressed regret for having defended a 2012 anti-Semitic mural in London’s East End. The mural, named Freedom of Humanity, was painted on a property near Brick Lane by the Los Angeles-based graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman. It depicted a group of men — seemingly caricatures of Jewish bankers and businessmen — counting their money on a Monopoly board balanced on the backs of naked workers.

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)

Last year he was found to have authored a glowing foreword to a book that claims that Jews control global financial systems and describes them as “men of a single and peculiar race.”

In addition, the Hamas terror group has thanked Corbyn for his solidarity in recognizing Palestinian mourning over the 71st anniversary of the formation of the State of Israel.

The former Labour leader has in the past been criticized for calling terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah “friends” when inviting members for a parliamentary meeting in 2009. He later downplayed the comment and said he regretted using the term.

Last year it emerged that in 2014 Corbyn attended a ceremony that honored the terrorists behind the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre. He later said “I was present when [a wreath] was laid, I don’t think I was actually involved in it.”

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