British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn’s office interfered in independent party discipline processes aimed at rooting out anti-Semitism, the BBC said on Wednesday, a claim that the Labour Party sharply rejected.
A BBC investigation spoke to former Labour officials who said top party figures, including Corbyn’s communications director Seumas Milne and general secretary Jennie Formby, had minimized complaints of anti-Semitism against party members.
Labour said the accusations were “deliberate and malicious misrepresentations designed to mislead the public”.
Labour has battled accusations of anti-Semitism since 2016 and Corbyn - a veteran campaigner for Palestinian rights - as well as other senior party officials have been criticized for failing to take decisive action to deal with it.
British Jewish groups have accused Labour of becoming institutionally anti-Semitic, and the issue has played a part in Labour’s failure to take electoral advantage of the Conservative government’s turmoil over Brexit.
The BBC quoted an email from Milne telling Labour’s internal complaints team that “something’s going wrong, and we’re muddling up political disputes with racism”.
Labour said this misrepresented Milne’s email, which referred to a dispute between Jewish Labour members with Zionist and anti-Zionist views. A fuller extract of the email read: “If we’re more than very occasionally using disciplinary action against Jewish members for anti-Semitism, something’s going wrong, and we’re muddling up political disputes with racism.”
The BBC investigation also quoted former party members who felt a hostile atmosphere toward Jews within the party in recent years, who were sometimes challenged over Israeli government actions by other party members.
Nine lawmakers quit the party this year, citing the leadership’s handling of anti-Semitism as well as its stance on Brexit as reasons for leaving.
British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said the BBC investigation showed that Corbyn was either “wilfully blind to anti-Semitism or anti-Semitic himself”.
Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, who is frequently critical of Corbyn, said he was “shocked, chilled and appalled” by the allegations in the BBC report.
Labour’s press office said the party was “implacably opposed to anti-Semitism,” and that some of the former officials quoted by the BBC had “personal and political axes to grind” against Corbyn.
Britain’s Conservatives face regular accusations of hostility toward Muslims. On Monday broadcaster Channel 4 published a survey of 892 Conservative Party members by pollsters YouGov which showed that 56% believed Islam was a general threat to Britain’s way of life.