The British Labour Party has commissioned an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism within it ranks, leader Jeremy Corbyn has confirmed.
The announcement follows a turbulent week in which two prominent members were suspended over anti-Semitic comments, and the party was accused of institutional racism.
Corbyn told TheGuardian that the inquiry will be chaired by Shami Chakrabarti, the former head of the human rights lobby group Liberty. Her deputy chair will be Prof David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism. A separate inquiry into anti-Semitism within the Oxford Union Labour club, led by Lady Royall, will feed into the review.
A report is expected in two months, and is expected to lay out “clear and transparent” rules on how the party should deal with allegations of racism and anti-Semitism, as well as proposing new training guidelines for party members.
I would like to make it very clear that we do not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form within the Labour Partyhttps://t.co/rb7c4Ffg0S
— Jeremy Corbyn MP (@jeremycorbyn) April 28, 2016
“There is no place for anti-Semitism or any form of racism in the Labour party, or anywhere in society, and we will make sure that our party is a welcoming home to members of all communities,” Corbyn said.
Mr Livingstone meanwhile has remained defiant over comments he made on radio on Thursday, in which he asserted that Hitler was “supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews”. He also claimed that anti-Semitism is not “exactly the same” as racism.
I can’t believe I can see Labour Party members arguing on Facebook about when exactly Hitler started hating Jews. This is beyond grotesque.
— Oliver James (@OliverJamesUK) April 29, 2016
The comments led to his suspension from Labour, pending a hearing, but Livingstone has vowed to fight efforts to eject him insisting that “everything [he] said was true”. He told Sky News that he intends to present the panel with a book by the American Marxist-Trotskyist historian Lenni Brenner as evidence to back up his claims.
“I’ll just produce the evidence and I mean it’s hard for somebody to decide to suspend me from the party here when all this was there 30 years ago in the public domain and nobody raised a peep,” he said.
Livingstone has attracted support from some unfortunate corners, including the former British National Party leader Nick Griffin, who tweeted: “Hitler started war wanting to send all Jews to own homeland outside Europe & armed Zionist terrorists to fight Brits in Palestine. #RedKen”
Hitler started war wanting to send all Jews to own homeland outside Europe & armed Zionist terrorists to fight Brits in Palestine. #RedKen
— Nick Griffin (@NickGriffinBU) April 30, 2016
He followed this up with a Tweet claiming “One day the world will know #RedKen was right.”
Livingstone has also been defended by George Galloway, who has twice won Parliamentary seats from Labour by backing Palestine and appealing to the Muslim vote. In an interview with Sky News he claimed that Zionism and Nazism are “two sides of the same coin” and called on Corbyn not to expel Livingstone, insisting that the row was part of an attempted coup on the Labour leadership.
“This is an entirely synthetic crisis,” he said. “Ken Livingstone said absolutely nothing wrong, everything he said was the truth, historic fact, proven.
“There was an agreement between the Nazi filth of Hitler and the Zionist leaders in Germany to send Germany’s Jews to Palestine, because both of them believed that German Jews were not Germans.
“So in that sense, Nazism and Zionism were two sides of the same coin.
“They’re trying to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn, there’s a slow motion coup. The real target is Jeremy Corbyn.
“They will say with all this chaos, we can’t go on like this, we need a new leader.”
In an online poll, 73 percent of Independent readers agreed with Mr Galloway that “anti-Semitic accusations at the Labour Party predominantly an attempt to smear Jeremy Corbyn”
@georgegalloway I knew instinctively that this faux anti semitism row was a coup attempt. So pleased you told the truth on sky news.
— christopher mcglade (@christophermcg8) April 30, 2016
Corbyn himself is said to have been uncomfortable with suspending his “old friend” Livingstone. Anushka Asthana, political editor at The Guardian, who was with Mr Corbyn on Thursday as the row erupted, told the BBC “It was obviously quite a difficult thing for him to do… he is an old friend of Ken Livingstone”
“[Labour] had to set up this inquiry because of all the questions, but there is a reluctance, I think, among the inner circle to accept that all of this is around anti-Semitism. But they have to shut this down. There is fury throughout the party.”
That refusal to accept that anti-Semitism lies at the core of modern Labour has led some commentators to accuse the party of institutional racism.
In a comprehensive article on Labour’s slide towards embracing anti-Semitism, journalist Charles Moore pointed out that Corbyn himself was unwilling to share a platform with the Prime Minister David Cameron on the EU Referendum question, on which they both take the same position, yet has been more than willing over the years to make common cause with Hamas and Hezbollah, calling them “friends”.
“If Labour’s problem was individual, oddball anti-Semites, they could simply be removed. If it is about an ideology so wide and deep that its adherents don’t even realise what they are supporting, then you really have got trouble.
“If perfectly pleasant people like Mr Corbyn, with no personal malice, nevertheless make common cause with such extremism, then you have got, to use a concept beloved of the Left, institutional racism.
Brilliant cartoon by Morten Morland on the Livingstone ‘Hitler is a Zionist’ storm pic.twitter.com/tsp2npHkax
— Political Cartoon (@Cartoon4sale) April 30, 2016
Jonathan Sacerdoti, from the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, welcomed Mr Corbyn’s inquiry but says the party is still reacting too slowly to charges of anti-Semitism within its ranks.
“We’ve seen more and more of these stories coming out about people in the Labour party, and it can’t be denied that the modern left has within it a strain that does seem to have anti-Semitic views,” he said.
“That’s a problem the Labour Party has been very slow to acknowledge and very slow to deal with.”
Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: “I also want Jeremy Corbyn finally to say that his own meetings with anti-Semites in the past, before he became leader, were inappropriate.”