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Exclusive: Unions were behind Oxford antisemitism probe cover-up

A JC investigation has uncovered new information on how Labour’s NEC ignored a recommendation by its Compliance Unit over repeated antisemitic acts.

    CBPYYW All Souls College seen from above. Oxford, UK
    CBPYYW All Souls College seen from above. Oxford, UK

    Three members of the Unite union with close links to Len McCluskey and Jeremy Corbyn “ran rings around the room” at a Labour National Executive Committee hearing into claims of antisemitism and bullying at Oxford University’s Labour Club.

    A JC investigation has uncovered new information on how Labour’s powerful NEC disputes committee came to ignore a recommendation by Labour’s Compliance Unit to issue formal warnings to two students who were accused of engaging in repeated antisemitic acts.

    The decision, taken in January, led Baroness Royall, the Labour peer who initially investigated claims of antisemitism at Oxford, to conclude it risked “confirming a widely held view that we don’t take antisemitism seriously”.

    Internal documents sent to all 35 members of Labour’s NEC confirm the investigation into one male student, who had close links to both the Labour leader and Mr McCluskey, the Unite general secretary, involved “serious complaints” over “alleged antisemitic incidents linked to OULC”.

    The Compliance Unit memo adds that the individual, who is a leading member of hard-left Momentum group, accepted “the language used in some of his online content which had caused offence to party members meant that his ‘meaning was not clear’ and confirmed he would ‘not phrase them that way again’.”

    But after a review of all the evidence the memo concluded there was “no case to answer on the counts of antisemitism” but that the student, who now holds a senior role at the National Union of Students, “should receive a warning reminding him of the standards expected of Labour Party members and the importance of due care when discussing sensitive issues”.

    A second student, who also holds a senior position in Momentum, was the subject of two charges following complaints about his conduct at OULC.

    In the memo, Labour’s NEC were told that on the first count the individual was alleged to have taken part in “abuse and bullying online and in person”.

    On a second count he was accused of “instances of antisemitism towards other members”.

    Again, Labour’s Compliance Unit confirmed there was “no case to answer on the counts of antisemitism” but concluded he should “receive a warning over his conduct to other members based on his contrition in relation to unreasonable comments”.

    On January 17, Labour’s disputes committee gathered at the party’s HQ in central London to decide, among other matters, whether to implement the recommendations from the Compliance Unit.

    The JC has learned that around 20 people turned up for the meeting — including three Unite reps, Jennie Formby, Jim Kennedy and Martin Mayer, as well as NEC chair Ann Black, Unison rep Keith Birch and Young Labour’s Jasmin Beckett.

    Others in attendance included GMB union rep Cath Speight and Unison president Wendy Nichols.

    A source who was present at the NEC meeting said there was clear evidence of co-ordination among the three left-wing Unite members to over-rule the Compliance Unit’s recommendations.

    “The three Unite reps ran rings around the rest of the room,” confirmed the source. “They had co-ordinated their response very well.

    “At one stage Jim Kennedy suggested ‘these two gentlemen have been through enough’. Martin Mayer actually went so far as to say ‘these two need an apology, not a warning’.

    “It was as though they were offering personal character references for the two individuals accused.

    “At one point, it was suggested that ‘these two boys, they’ve been dragged through the press, and are now worried about their job prospects’. It was quite shocking to be honest — it just sounded like excuses.”

    According to a further source, Unite’s pre-planned intervention caused much confusion in the room.

    “Only Keith Birch went really strong on it, speaking in favour of issuing warnings against the two individuals. “Afterwards, he was quite upset about the way it had gone. There was a vote, but it was a weird situation, where people didn’t really know what they were voting for.

    “Unite had done a good job, they had confused the issue so much there was no real clarity on what was being voted on. In the end, after Ann Black laid out a few options, there was a lot of talking. It was very problematic.”

    Ms Formby and Mr Mayer have been vocal critics of Israel in the past. Ms Formby was behind the attempt to cut Labour’s links with security giant G4S — and left Labour NEC members in shock when she complained that Baroness Royall was not the right person to investigate claims of antisemitism at OULC because she had previously visited Israel.

    Martin Mayer also provoked fury after he sent an email claiming the “Israel lobby” had manufactured the antisemitism crisis.

    In it he complained that “Labour’s Blairite right wing have used the smear of antisemitism to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership”.

    The decision not to issue warnings to the two individuals, which was revealed first by the JC, provoked a furious response from Jewish organisations, with the Union of Jewish Students branded the decision “disgraceful”.

    Baroness Royall arrives at Downing Street in London, for a Cabinet meeting.
    Baroness Royall arrives at Downing Street in London, for a Cabinet meeting.

    The JC has also seen a copy of the initial Labour Students report into claims of antisemitism at OULC.

    Labour Students launched its investigation in February 2016 following the resignation of the club’s co-chair Alex Chalmers in protest at what he described as “intolerant tendencies” towards Jewish members.

    After conducting oral interviews with 17 OULC and JSoc members, Labour Students identified six individuals who they accused of “numerous examples of serious, repeated and potentially criminal antisemitism over a sustained period of time”.

    The evidence against the six was passed to Labour’s Compliance Unit for investigation. The two individuals cleared of all charges by the NEC have repeatedly denied the allegations, including claims they sang about rockets over Tel Aviv. But in one admission, one of the two accused OULC members admits to using the word “Zio” to refer to Jewish students.

    In his admission he says: “I had presumed the word ‘Zio’ was a contraction of the word ‘Zionist’ and had simply used it as such. I apologise unreservedly for this — when I was informed of history and usage amongst far-right and racist groups, I desisted from using it immediately.”

    The other student accused of antisemitism is shown to have tweeted support for a “purge” of pro-Israel Jewish members seen of a Facebook group.

    In further evidence against the same individual, an article he wrote for the Oxford Student was produced in which he wrote: “Antisemitism is a tired old accusation from Zionists, retreating behind mendacious slurs when losing the arguments.”

    A Unite spokesman said: “This matter was decided upon overwhelmingly by Labour’s NEC. Any further questions are a matter for the Labour Party.”

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