Inquiry into OULC did find incidents of anti-Semitic behaviour

An inquiry led by Labour Peer Baroness Royall into alleged anti-Semitism at Oxford’s Labour Club concluded that although there was “no evidence that the Club is itself institutionally anti-Semitic”, incidents of “anti-Semitism” did occur and reflected a “cultural problem”. The report asserts that the frequency and severity of the incidents necessitate disciplinary procedures.

The full report, containing details of the alleged incidents, was released yesterday by The Jewish Chronicle following its partial publication in May. The decision to withhold parts of the report at that time, publishing only its recommendations, was met with criticism from members of the Labour Party including Baroness Royall herself, as was the perceived failure by party mouthpieces to represent the full character of the report – the Baroness complained that while the conclusion that there is no institutional anti-Semitism in the OULC is “true… it is only part of the story”.

The 300-page report, compiled from evidence taken from more than 40 OULC members, reflects this: although it was concluded that anti-Semitism at OULC was not “institutional”, numerous worrying incidents were noted. These included frequent use of the offensive term “Zio”, expressions of “solidarity” with Hamas by senior members of the club, and remarks citing Israel’s 2014 incursion into Gaza perceived to excuse the rise in attacks on synagogues and Jewish schools. Baroness Royall stated that “there appears to be a cultural problem in which behaviour and language that would once have been intolerable is now tolerated. Some Jewish members do not feel comfortable attending the meetings, let alone participating.”

The report also claimed that fears of anti-Semitism during Israel Apartheid Week were derided by one OULC member

Rather than concluding that these incidents constituted institutional anti-Semitism, Royall blamed the “lack… of an effective complaints or disciplinary procedure” and “rapid change in leadership”, which meant that “unacceptable behaviour” was allowed to go “unchallenged by either the victim or by those in authority”. Evidence in the report claimed that Jewish students who expressed discomfort with perceived anti-Semitism were met with sarcasm or disdain:  the report states that “should a Jewish student preface a remark ‘as a Jew…’, they are likely to face ridicule and behaviour that would not be acceptable for someone saying ‘as a woman…’ or ‘as an Afro-Caribbean…’”. The report also claimed that fears of anti-Semitism during Israel Apartheid Week were derided by one OULC member, who compared it to straight people feeling uncomfortable in a gay club.

The report stopped short of recommending a lifetime ban for party members found to have expressed anti-Semitic views or committed anti-Semitic acts. Instead, the Baroness advised remedial training for such members: “Whilst I want to see the part deal with acts of anti-Semitism, I see no value in pursuing disciplinary cases against students who may be better advised as to their conduct and who would benefit from training on these issues”.

Following the full publication of the report, the Union of Jewish Students and the Oxford Jewish Society released statements thanking Baroness Royall for her work and welcoming the confirmation that anti-Semitic incidents did take place, but expressing “concern that they haven’t been appropriately addressed as part of the Labour Party’s disciplinary procedures”. The UJS also expressed questions “as to why the report was initially suppressed” when “the report does not reveal much that wasn’t already thought to be the case”.

Allegations of anti-Semitism at OULC came to the fore in February, when its Co-Chair, Alex Chalmers, resigned, claiming many of its members had “some kind of problem with Jews”. Baroness Royall was subsequently asked to conduct an inquiry, which comes alongside the broader investigation into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party by prominent barrister Shami Chakrabarti.

The full report can be read here.