When did accusations of antisemitism in Labour start and how have they escalated?
Two major public furores about antisemitism occurred in 2016, with Labour MP Naz Shah apologising for an antisemitic Facebook post, and former London mayor Ken Livingstone making remarks about “the Israel lobby” and Hitler supporting Zionism in broadcast interviews that eventually led to him quitting the party after a lengthy disciplinary process. A report that year by Shami Chakrabarti exonerated the party of widespread antisemitism but reported an ‘occasionally toxic atmosphere’.
Matters escalated in 2018 when it became evident that the party was receiving more and more complaints, to the extent that there was a backlog of disciplinary cases. Jeremy Corbyn apologised that April for hurt caused to the Jewish community by problems in the process and pointed to only 0.1% of members being under investigation for alleged antisemitic comments.
But the party was also mired in a row about whether to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which it ended up ultimately approving. Then accusations of political interference in the complaints process by aides close to Corbyn began to emerge earlier this year, which the party strongly denies.
What allegations were made in the BBC Panorama documentary?
In a July 2019 programme, eight whistleblowers spoke to a BBC Panorama documentary, with some saying they felt there was political meddling from Corbyn’s office in the process for handling antisemitism complaints. Seumas Milne, one of Corbyn’s closest aides, told officials the party was ‘muddling up political disputes with racism’ and must review processes. Jennie Formby, the general secretary, was accused of attempting to interfere in who sat on a panel examining the case of Jackie Walker, a high-profile activist who was eventually expelled from the party.
Labour strongly denied the allegations of political interference, and came out on the offensive, accusing the BBC of bias and calling for the documentary to be pulled. A Labour spokesman said the party had fully answered “a number of questions” put to it by the programme, and had also sent 50 pages of documents in response. The complaints to the BBC had been made “at various levels, including the director general”.
Has Corbyn himself been criticised over antisemitism?
Yes, particularly his record when he was a backbencher. For example, Corbyn has said he regrets calling members of Hamas and Hezbollah “friends” at a meeting in parliament in 2009. He accepted he had made a mistake by supporting a graffiti artist after his work, featuring several known antisemitic tropes, was removed from a wall in east London after complaints. The UK’s three most prominent Jewish newspapers published a joint editorial saying a government led by Corbyn would pose an existential threat to Jewish life in the UK.
How has Labour dealt with candidates accused of antisemitism?
Labour insists the a figure of 130 outstanding cases of antisemitism is inaccurate, and says it is “taking robust action”, including quick suspensions, a process for rapid expulsions and an education programme. However, it has not yet provided its own up-to-date figure.
Some prospective candidates have been accused of antisemitism during the campaign. Gideon Bull stepped down in Clacton after denying he used the term “Shylock” in front of a Jewish councillor, while Kate Ramsden, who had been standing for Gordon, in Aberdeenshire, withdrew after it emerged she was being re-interviewed by Labour over posts comparing Israel to “an abused child who becomes an abusive adult”. However, other candidates criticised for antisemitism have remained in place, including Apsana Begum, who shared a post referring to “Zionist masters”. She later distanced herself from the post saying she did not share those views.