When I met Baroness Royall - and we talked antisemitism

November 24, 2016 23:20

Baroness Royall finally released her full report into claims of antisemitism at Oxford University Labour Club yesterday. The report, which was commissioned by Labour , had been suppressed in favour of a wider inquiry chaired by Shami Chakrabarti.

Rebecca Trenner, a New Yorker living in London whose daughter starts at Oxford this autumn, was so concerned about antisemitism at the university that she decided she had to question Baroness Royall in person. Here is her account of her meeting.

My daughter, Mira, will be the third generation in our family to go up to Oxford. Yes, we are schlepping nachas like it’s on sale.

Sadly, no campus is entirely free from antisemitism but in the weeks that followed opening the offer letter in January, our concerns grew. My husband’s Oxford years in the 1980s were full of dreaming spires, sub fusc, “tutes”, bops….and traveling with the Union of Jewish Students on campaigns to fend off the efforts of the hard left to equate Zionism with Racism. Oh, how times haven’t changed.

When the Royall Report was buried with nothing to show but a corpse hand of bland recommendations and exonerations from its NEC tomb and the suspect Chakrabarti Inquiry was announced, I decided that it wasn’t good enough to just post impotent invective on Facebook. This was personal.

So I wrote to Baroness Royall.

I got no reply.

When the Chakrabarti Inquiry turned into a farce far beyond my most cynical imaginings, I wrote again.

This time, I got an answer and an invitation for me and Mira to meet Baroness Royall at the Lords. This meeting took place on July 19th, on the day the Parliamentary Labour Party selected Owen Smith as the challenger to Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership. It was not a slow news day and we were grateful that Baroness Royall took the time to meet us.

It was also the day that the NUS refused Jewish students their choice of representation on its anti-racism committee, and it was the day after Zachary Confino, a student at York University, received compensation for years of racist harassment on campus.

Baroness Royall (or Jan, as she insisted we address her) was warmly welcoming. As we sat on the terrace, she launched into reassurances that Mira would be fine at Oxford and if she had any trouble, she should contact her directly.

Mira made it very clear that she didn’t come for a weak cup of coffee and a pat on the head. My daughter does her homework. She launched into a detailed description of the deficiencies of the Labour National Executive Committee recommendations and the complete inanity of the Chakrabarti inquiry. She spelled out the intolerable position of Jewish students who might wish to engage with left of centre politics with the current Labour Leadership and the NUS under Malia Bouattia.

I questioned Jan about the morality of keeping quiet in the face of such overwhelming evidence of pervasive hate in the party leadership. I cited Jeremy Corbyn’s evasive and disingenuous testimony in front of the Commons Home Affairs Committee inquiry. We both brought the point home that just as Brexit has given licence to racism and xenophobia, the Labour Party under its current management has legitimised antisemitism dressed up as anti-Zionism. Someone needed to speak up and it should be Baroness Royall.

Jan appeared to disagree with none of this.

She told us that her report was written as it was in the vain hope that it would be released by the largely hostile NEC and that she was carved out of the Chakrabarti inquiry entirely.

It seems as if the Labour Party is being run in an amateurish way and has no real rules or processes to deal with the antisemitism crisis. Indeed, expelled activists are being readmitted not because they have been found innocent but because their suspensions were issued in violation of what scant process exists in the rulebooks. Credible physical threats to MPs are a daily occurrence and whatever we are reading in the press about the intimidation from Momentum supporters, she told us that this doesn’t even scratch the surface, which is frightening.

It is against this background that her report was written, buried and now leaked, which really upset her. However, our meeting gave me some reasons for optimism.

Baroness Royall really does understand the viciousness of the antisemitic incidents on campus and how the culture has developed. It’s been given fertile soil to grow in under the hard Left. To uproot this weed, there need to be clear rules to deal with antisemites and that is what she has proposed in much more robust form than Shami Chakrabarti.

A key difference between the reports is that Chakrabarti offers amnesty to antisemites while Royall recommended robust vetting and expulsion if prior bad acts are found. The Royall report is not perfect by any means but it does define the problem of antisemitism and its recent mutation, anti-Zionism.

I think we, the Jewish community, have a committed ally in Baroness Royall. I know that she is not done with this battle.

We all must hold politicians to account. Write to them, tweet them, phone their offices and allow them to put faces and names to issues. I use pure New York snark to get my point across but a heartfelt note would work just as well. Evil flourishes when good people stay silent. I wasn’t willing to do so and now Baroness Royall won’t either.

November 24, 2016 23:20

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