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Leading Jewish figures slam Labour's 'historic shame' over antisemitism

In a letter to the party, they say antisemitism has been 'protracted, sanctioned and propagated' by the Labour leadership

    Sir Simon Schama was one of the signatories to the letter
    Sir Simon Schama was one of the signatories to the letter (Photo: Getty Images)

    A group of prominent Jewish writers and public figures have written to Labour to express their “bewilderment and disgust” with the party’s handling of the antisemitism crisis.

    Sir Simon Schama, Howard Jacobson, Tracy Ann Oberman, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Rabbi Julia Neuberger and Neil Blair all put their names to the letter, which argues that antisemitism has been “protracted, sanctioned and propagated by the leadership faction”.

    It goes on to say that the pending investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) shames Labour in a similar way to the British National Party (BNP), which was investigated in 2010.

    It reads: “The very fact that Labour is, like the BNP before it, being statutorily investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for racism is not a matter of housekeeping but a taint of international, historic shame.

    “It is clear this is not just about Jeremy Corbyn, but the pernicious world view of a faction that has – temporarily we hope – taken control of Labour.

    “Trust between Corbyn’s Labour and most Jews in Britain appears to be fractured beyond repair.”

    The letter, seen by the Observerand the Sunday Times, called on the party to establish an independent complaints body to investigate antisemitism – which it terms a “pool of poison in the party’s soul”.

    Coming in the wake of the BBC Panorama exposé on the party’s failure to tackle antisemitism, the letter condemned Labour’s response to the whistleblowers’ allegations.

    It said: “Damage limitation should not be the first priority for Labour. The Labour leadership remains determined to go on piously protesting its innocence, rejecting the message and blaming the messenger.

    “Whistleblowers would be heroes to any other Labour Party; to this Labour Party they are traitors. Regrettable double standards are therefore operating, where Labour is keen to support whistleblowers elsewhere but not in its own house.”

    Labour has denied that high-ranking party members interfered in the complaints system, as the programme claimed, insisting it is taking decisive action against antisemitism.

    The party added that since Jennie Formby became general secretary, the rate at which antisemitism cases have been dealt with has increased more than four-fold.

    A Labour spokesman said: “As we said when Panorama aired on Wednesday, the Labour Party will fully investigate any complaints concerning the antisemitic incidents reported by party members in interviews in the programme.

    “Labour stands in solidarity with Jewish people and is fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and its organisations.

    “We will build on the improvements to our procedures made under Jennie Formby, and continue to act against this repugnant form of racism.”

    Labour has also demanded that the BBC remove the Panorama documentary, which aired on Wednesday, from its iPlayer service.

    Labour said on Sunday that the programme, which it described as “heavily slanted and inaccurate”, should be “removed from BBC iPlayer until basic facts are corrected, full and unedited quotes are used and an apology is issued”.

    The BBC has defended the programme and its reporter, John Ware.

    Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, called on Labour to end the “soap opera” over antisemitism, suggesting it should not be “going for” the whistleblowers.

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