Crif - We have learned with relief that Jeremy Corbyn had been suspended from the Labour party after a human rights watchdog found it had broken equality law in its handling of antisemitism. Could you explain who is the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), and their role in the suspension of Corbyn?
The Board of Deputies of British Jews - The Equality and Human Rights Commission was created to promote and enforce equality and non-discrimination laws in Britain. Although it is a public body, it is independent from the Government.
The EHRC has a number of powers available to it, but the main one of interest here is that it has the power to carry out investigations when it has the suspicion of unlawful discrimination taking place. However, there is a high burden of proof needed for the EHRC to undertake such an investigation.
In 2018, after a number of years during which they attempted to engage with the Labour’s leadership under Jeremy Corbyn but were rebuffed, the Jewish Labour Movement decided to refer the Labour Party to the EHRC. They were not the only group to do so; the Campaign Against Antisemitism also made a submission to the EHRC. In 2019 the EHRC decided that information it had received met its threshold for launching an investigation.
The results of that investigation were published yesterday and were damning – the EHRC found Labour responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination and found that Jeremy Corbyn’s office had “politically interfered” in antisemitism complaints. They made a series of recommendations – which have the force of law – which Labour is now required to take.
The EHRC did not make any call for Jeremy Corbyn to be expelled from the Party – such a call would be something beyond their jurisdiction. It was Jeremy Corbyn’s own actions that doomed him. According to Keir Starmer, the current leader of the Labour Party, he had informed Jeremy Corbyn of the response he was going to make to the EHRC report – in which he made it clear that Labour accepted the report in its entirety. In his speech yesterday, Mr Starmer also made it clear that anyone within Labour who denied the report or aspects of it had no place in the Party.
Despite apparently knowing that Keir Starmer was going to say this, Mr Corbyn released a statement, in which he admitted there was some antisemitism in Labour but claimed that the amount of antisemitism had been blown out of proportion by the media and his political adversaries. He apparently refused to back down from this statement when asked by the Labour Party. At that point, the General Secretary of the Labour Party (rather than Keir Starmer) reportedly took the decision to suspend Mr Corbyn from the Party.
Did the Board of Deputies have some say in the enquiry or in the decision?
The Board of Deputies is an apolitical body; we did not make a submission to the enquiry, although we certainly were in favour of those who did so. The Board is mentioned six times in the report itself – usually in connection to actions we had taken or statements we had made in response to Labour antisemitism.
None of the groups who submitted evidence to the EHRC had any say in the report’s decision and no-one was aware of what the report would say until its publication. Often in other circumstances UK media organisations might be given a document “under embargo”, meaning that they can see the document beforehand but can only publicly report on it after a specific time. In this circumstance, however, no-one – not even the media – knew what the report would say, in order to prevent any information leaks.
I am sure all Jews in England are relieved. What does this say about the British political system? And what are the consequences for the future?
There is a great deal of relief within the Jewish community here – a real sense that, after half a decade, justice has finally been done. There is the hope that the relationship between the Labour Party and the Jewish community can be rebuilt – even those who do not support Labour will admit that it is important that the Jewish community has a good relationship with both of the main two parties in the UK. But the last five years have been a brutal wake-up call for many British Jews – the fact that so many people, especially in a Party that supposedly prided itself on being anti-racist, could either promote antisemitism or deny that there was a problem with it, means that many people do not feel quite as secure here as they did before. This is extremely unlikely to lead to large numbers of Jews leaving the country – the end result, after all, was a positive one. But that feeling is there – that a lot of non-Jews were willing to stand aside and let Jews be targeted without speaking up against it.
Two more questions less related to the internal political life of Great Britain:
Do you have the feeling that the Abraham peace accord will have an influence on the future relations between Great Britain and Israel?
I think for many British Jews the peace accords have seemed surreal – suddenly, after so many years, the policy of several Arab nations towards Israel has seemingly changed overnight. I am not sure, however, whether this will have any influence on the future relationship between Britain and Israel. Britain sees itself as a friend of Israel – occasionally a critical friend, but still a friend – and we have every expectation that this will continue to be the case.
How do you live through the pandemic?
The British Jewish community has lost 534 people to Coronavirus so far – that is, given the size of our community, one in every six hundred, more than double the fatality rate of the general population. There could be many reasons for this, including the fact that the British Jewish community is largely based around metropolitan centres, where the rate of Covid-19 is higher, as well as the fact that our community has a slightly higher percentage of elderly people, who are more at risk. Of course, we mourn every death, Jewish and non-Jewish, from Covid-19.
In Britain, as in France I am sure, the Jewish community does whatever we can to ensure that those are most isolated are not neglected due to this pandemic. There are strict rules here as to how many people can attend Synagogue, for example – and large gatherings are strictly banned. Please G-d, an effective vaccine will soon be developed and things can return to the way they were.