The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission announced Tuesday it had launched a formal investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour party.
The EHRC, the main government anti-racism watchdog, said it would probe whether the main opposition party led by Jeremy Corbyn had discriminated against, harassed or victimized Jews in violation of the UK’s 2006 Equality Act.
The organization will also examine whether the party responded to complaints of unlawful acts in a lawful, efficient and effective manner.
In a statement Tuesday, the commission said it decided to launch the formal inquiry after receiving numerous complaints of anti-Jewish discrimination in the Labour Party. The watchdog said it had been carrying out preliminary investigations into the complaints since March, and had given the party an opportunity to respond.
A formal investigation is rare step by the commission, which last investigated a political party in 2010, when it probed the far-right British National Party’s ban on minorities.
The commission, which was created by a Labour government in 2006, is vested with tough powers designed to force organizations to comply with equality and human rights laws.
It may compel the Labour Party to reveal details of its handling of anti-Semitism in recent years, including internal communications such as text messages and emails.
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 have been recorded within Labour since 2015, when Corbyn was elected to lead the party.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews has accused Corbyn of encouraging anti-Semitic rhetoric and at times engaging in it, though he disputes the claim.
Corbyn has vowed to punish any party member caught making racist statements, yet he has defended a number of members who made vitriolic anti-Semitic remarks, and has expelled hardly any members despite more than 850 formal complaints. Last month he admitted in a secret recording that evidence of racism against Jews in his party may have been “mislaid, ignored or not used.”
An interparliamentary committee of inquiry has previously dismissed as unsatisfactory an internal Labour audit that largely cleared the party of anti-Semitism allegations.
On Tuesday, a Labour spokeswoman told the Guardian the party would cooperate with the investigation even though she said they rejected its premise.
“[The Labour party] is fully committed to the support, defense and celebration of the Jewish community and is implacably opposed to antisemitism in any form,” she said.
She said that Labour was working to beef up its internal rules in its bid to stamp out anti-Semitism.
However, the head of the Campaign Against anti-Semitism, Gideon Falter, told the Guardian the inquiry was necessary because Labour has “repeatedly failed to address its own antisemitism problem.”
Falter, whose CAS group lodged one of the complaints to the EHRC, told the paper that Corbyn’s behavior and handling of the affair made him unfit for office.
“Over the course of his leadership, we have seen enough to convince us that Jeremy Corbyn himself is an anti-Semite and unfit for any public office, and though few have acted, most Labour MPs seem to agree with us,” he said.
Falter said that even after the EHRC approached the Labour leadership about the complaints in March, “they still failed to offer action sufficient to reassure the commission that the anti-Semitic discrimination and victimization would stop.”
Last month, British police arrested three people near London suspected of inciting anti-Semitic hatred in the Labour Party’s ranks. The arrests were rare interventions by law enforcement against suspected propagators of anti-Semitism within the party.
Corbyn himself has drawn criticism for his 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 which is balanced on the back of naked workers.
Earlier this month, Corbyn 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 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.”
JTA contributed to this report.