Britain’s opposition Labour Party has opened an inquiry into allegations of anti-Semitism and intimidation at its Oxford University Labour Club, after the club’s co-chairman quit and alleged a history of anti-Jewish attitudes.
Labour’s national students group announced the inquiry, and a Labour spokesman said the party backed it, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.
“Following recent allegations of anti-Semitic behaviour and intimidation at Oxford University Labour Club (OULC), Labour Students have launched an immediate investigation and the Labour party welcomes and supports this action,” the spokesman said. “If complaints are made about any individual member of the Labour party, the party will take robust action to deal with any anti-Semitic behaviour.”
OULC co-chairman Alex Chalmers resigned Monday night in protest over the society’s endorsement of an upcoming Israel Apartheid Week.
In a sharply worded statement, he claimed that “a large proportion of both OULC and the student Left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews.”
In a Facebook post, Chalmers accused members of the Labour club’s executive of “throwing around the term ‘Zio’ [a term for Jews usually confined to websites run by the Ku Klux Klan] with casual abandon.” He wrote of “senior members of the club expressing their ‘solidarity’ with Hamas and explicitly defending their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians.” He also quoted an unnamed former co-chairperson of the club as claiming, “Most accusations of anti-Semitism are just the Zionists crying wolf.”
One Labour member of Parliament, John Mann, said Labour should cut its ties to the club, and urged party leader Jeremy Corbyn to “personally look into” the allegations, The Guardian reported.
It quoted Louise Ellman MP, vice-chairwoman of Labour Friends of Israel, saying: “I am deeply disturbed by the news that Oxford University Labour Club has decided to support Israel Apartheid Week and by the revelations from Alex Chalmers about the troubling tone of the discourse in which this debate appears to have been conducted.”
Israel’s embassy in London also expressed dismay at the allegations: “The embassy of Israel is appalled by reports of anti-Semitism, intimidation of Jewish students, and support for terrorism against Israel at the Oxford Labour Club,” it said. “We would not expect such disgraceful activity from any morally upright person – let alone students at one of the most prestigious universities in the world.”
Britain’s Union of Jewish Students had earlier called on the Labour Party to investigate the issue “urgently” and take “appropriate action.” The organization stressed that Oxford “seems to be an exception to the rule” of otherwise positive relationships between the UJS and student Labour societies.
Speaking to The Times of Israel, Chalmers said that part of the problem on the left was “people who are critical of Israel and express themselves poorly,” leading them to “unwittingly rehash age-old sinister tropes about sinister Jewish control.” In his experience, such people “rarely seem to see it as a problem” when called out.
Chalmers also stressed a problem of “old-fashioned anti-Semites,” on both the political left and right, who “find debates around Israel and Zionism to be a convenient mechanism for expressing their prejudices.”