|Date||Inquiry, 29 April 2016;|
Report, 30 June 2016
|Theme||Racism in the Labour Party|
|Cause||Suspension of Labour Party members amid allegations of antisemitism|
|Organised by||Labour Party|
|Outcome||Publication of Chakrabarti Report|
The Chakrabarti Inquiry was a 2016 investigation into allegations of antisemitism and other forms of racism in the United Kingdom's Labour Party. Chaired by barrister Shami Chakrabarti, the inquiry was launched following comments made by two high-profile Labour figures, Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone that were deemed to have been antisemitic in nature; Shah, a Member of Parliament and Livingstone, the former Mayor of London were subsequently suspended from the party pending an investigation. The inquiry presented its findings on 30 June 2016, stating that although antisemitism and other types of racism were not endemic within Labour, there was an "occasionally toxic atmosphere".
The inquiry was established by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on 29 April 2016, following the suspension of Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, and Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, after media reports about comments both had made concerning Jews and the state of Israel. In April 2016, reports had emerged that Shah had posted comments on Twitter during 2014 suggesting that Israel should be relocated to the United States, after which Livingstone sought to defend the comments during a radio interview, claiming in the process that Adolf Hitler was a supporter of Zionism. Both were subsequently suspended from the party pending an investigation into their conduct.
Announcing the inquiry, Corbyn told The Guardian newspaper that he was determined to expunge racism from the party: "Labour is an anti-racist party to its core and has a long and proud history of standing against racism, including antisemitism." He appointed Shami Chakrabarti, the former head of the advocacy group Liberty to chair the investigation. The inquiry's remit would be to recommend how Labour could best tackle instances of racism, including cases of antisemitism and Islamophobia, with Chakrabarti speaking to various groups affected by such issues, such as the Jewish community. She would then report back to party officials within two months, and set out guidelines on acceptable behaviour and language.
The controversy occurred at a critical time for Labour, as the party prepared to contest the May 2016 local elections, and amid mounting concerns from some Labour figures about Corbyn's leadership.
Findings and recommendations
The inquiry's findings were published at a Labour Party event on 30 June. Chakrabarti's report makes twenty recommendations on tackling instances of racism, including the following:
- Abusive references to any particular person or group based on actual or perceived physical characteristics and racial or religious tropes and stereotypes, should have no place in Labour Party discourse. These epithets includes terms such as "Zio" and "Paki."
- Labour members should resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine in particular.
- There should be procedural rule changes to improve the party's disciplinary process and the adoption and publication of a complaints procedure.
- The appointment of a general counsel to the Labour Party to give advice on issues including disciplinary matters and to take responsibility for instructing external lawyers.
- The party should increase the ethnic diversity of its staff.
- The report rejects the idea of a lifetime membership ban from the party for anyone deemed to have used racist language, and suggests a moratorium on retrospective comments.
The report concludes that the party "is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or other forms of racism," but has suffered from an "occasionally toxic atmosphere" and "too much clear evidence [of] ignorant attitudes".
Responding to the report, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis urged a "full and unhesitating implementation of [its] findings". Writing for The Guardian the academic Keith Kahn-Harris suggested Chakrabarti had "delivered a report that, while not the last word on the subject, does at least deserve to be discussed seriously and calmly". Professor David Feldman, the director of the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism stated "This is an important document at a time, when more than ever, we need to stand firm against all forms of racism and intolerance. The report marks a positive step towards ensuring that the Labour Party is a welcoming place for all minority groups. It recommends steps to ensure that members act in a spirit of tolerance and respect, while maintaining principles of free speech and open debate. The recommendations are constructive and provide a sound basis on which the Party can move forward."
Marc Wadsworth comments
Speaking at the launch of the inquiry findings, Corbyn said that he would put his weight behind an "immediate implementation" of the report's recommendations. However, the report's launch was quickly overshadowed when Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, who is Jewish, was accused by audience member Marc Wadsworth, an activist from the pro-Corbyn Momentum Black ConneXions, of working "hand-in-hand" with the Daily Telegraph (whose reporter, Kate McCann was present at the time), and with right-wing media in general.
Smeeth criticised Corbyn for not speaking out in her defence following the allegations levelled against her by Wadsworth: "It is beyond belief that someone could come to the launch of a report on antisemitism in the Labour Party and espouse such vile conspiracy theories about Jewish people, which were ironically highlighted as such in Ms Chakrabarti's report, while the leader of my own party stood by and did absolutely nothing...a Labour Party under his stewardship cannot be a safe space for British Jews." Smeeth also said that she had written to the General Secretary of the Labour Party and chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party to make a formal complaint about the incident. Chakrabarti subsequently said that she had admonished Wadsworth for his remarks, an action with which she said Corbyn had "concurred"; she also apologised to Smeeth. Wadsworth said he was unaware that Smeeth is Jewish.
Corbyn also faced criticism when he was accused of comparing Israel's actions to those of ISIS. He made his comments as he was discussing the report's contents, telling activists that "our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those various self-styled Islamic states or organisations." Mirvis described the remarks as "offensive", and said that "rather than rebuilding trust among the Jewish community, are likely to cause even greater concern". A spokesman for Corbyn sought later to clarify the remarks, saying that Corbyn "was explicitly stating that people should not be held responsible for the actions of states or organisations around the world on the basis of religion or ethnicity." Chakrabarti also defended Corbyn, telling LBC radio that she had read Corbyn's speech just before the event: "I read the leader’s speech five minutes before we went into the main room...I listened very carefully to what he said. He reflected my report...His point was: when you have Jewish neighbours or friends, or Muslim neighbours or friends and something bad happens in the world, don’t ask them to be the first to explain or defend or condemn."
Peerage for Chakrabarti
Jeremy Corbyn announced Chakrabarti as the only Labour appointment to the House of Lords in July 2016, which some Labour MPs said undermined the credibility of the antisemitism inquiry she led. The Community Security Trust, which monitors antisemitism in Britain, said the move was "a shameless kick in the teeth for all who put hope in her now wholly compromised inquiry into Labour antisemitism". Marie van der Zyl, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, called it a "whitewash for peerages scandal." When asked about the appointment, a spokesman for Corbyn said that Chakrabarti was "an ideal appointment to the Lords".
Select Committee on antisemitism
A cross-party Select Committee on antisemitism in the UK called on Corbyn, Chakrabati and Livingstone, amongst others to give evidence in a separate, wider investigation of anti-semitism. The Select Committee's report described the Chakrabati Inquiry as "compromised" and criticised the Labour party's handling of anti-Semitism, concluding "the failure of the Labour Party consistently to deal with antisemitic incidents in recent years risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally anti-Semitic".
The Committee said that Chakrabati had been "insufficiently open" in her answers to them over when she was offered her peerage, criticised the party's handling of the report and earlier allegations and complaints and suggested that Corbyn lacked understanding of "the distinct nature of post-second-world-war antisemitism"
Corbyn said that the criticism of Chakrabati's independence was unfair, saying he had appointed her after the completion of the report based on her legal and campaigning experience and accused the Select Committee of "political framing" and undue emphasis on the Labour party.
The Committee concluded that "...there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party."
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I saw the Telegraph handed a copy of a press release to Ruth Smeeth MP, you can see who is working hand-in-hand
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