By Jenni Frazer for Times of Israel posted July 21 2016
The author of a controversial report into anti-Semitism within Britain’s opposition Labour Party, human rights lawyer Shami Chakrabarti, has ducked questions about whether she has been offered a seat by the party in the House of Lords. “You can ask me… but I’m going to evade it,” she said in an interview released Wednesday.
In a sometimes uncomfortable discussion with London Jewish YouTube channel J-TV, Chakrabarti, the former director of the British civil rights group Liberty, said she joined the Labour Party within hours of being asked to carry out the probe because she felt the inquiry needed to come from inside Labour rather than outside.
Asked if she wanted to run as a Labour MP in future, she indicated that she did not. Then asked whether she has been offered a place in the House of Lords. Chakrabarti said she was not going to discuss her “future ambitions,” and said that she was going to “evade” the question.
The report was commissioned, she said, “because unfortunately there is some anti-Semitism and other manifestations of racism — and some thoroughly uncomradely behaviour” in the Labour Party.
Chakrabarti was asked by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to carry out the inquiry in late-April, amid an escalating row about anti-Semitism in the party that saw suspensions for a string of Labour members — including former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who said Hitler at one time supported Zionism, and MP Naz Shah, who published anti-Israel and anti-Semitic posts on social media. Submitted late last month, the report concluded that Labour was not overrun by anti-Semitism or other forms of racism, but did acknowledge an “occasionally toxic atmosphere.” The report was heavily criticized this week by British Jewry’s representative body, the Board of Deputies.
When interviewer Alan Mendoza asked her why so many instances of anti-Semitism have surfaced in Labor since Corbyn became its leader, Chakrabarti countered that the phenomenon has been a problem “for at least my whole adult life.”
Many of those displaying these attitudes, particularly on social media, she added, have had a strong streak of misogyny as well.
In the interview, which took place last week, Chakrabarti rejected suggestions that broadening the inquiry to include other forms of racism was in some way a dilution of the essential issue. In fact, she said, the opposite was true.
In a stinging response to the Chakrabarti Report, the Board of Deputies of British Jews said this week that “the report itself fails to explore the history of anti-Semitism, including anti-Zionist anti-Semitism, on the Left. There has too often been an attitude that, ‘We are on the Left, therefore we cannot be racist,’ whereas in fact there is, sadly, a longstanding tradition of anti-Semitism in parts of the left that should be recognized, acknowledged and defeated.”
The Board also expressed concerns about Chakrabarti’s independence, saying, “whether fairly or not, for many, the apparent proximity of Shami Chakrabarti to the leader (Corbyn) and the party brought into question the independence of the inquiry. This should be considered for future reference.”
Chakrabarti told J-TV, however, that she and Corbyn were not friends, and that she had “never broken bread” with “the Leader,” as she referred to Corbyn.
She said she interviewed Corbyn at length about his notorious remarks describing Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” — and his sharing of platforms and support for people who expressed anti-Semitic views. However, her interview with Corbyn is not included in her report. She said that he gave her almost identical answers to those he gave to the House of Commons Select Committee inquiry on anti-Semitism, during which Chakrabarti sat behind Corbyn as he gave evidence and was rebuked by the committee chairman, Labour MP Keith Vaz, for repeatedly passing him notes. (Corbyn told the panel he now regretted calling Hamas and Hezbollah friends.)
Chakrabarti said she did not include Corbyn’s responses to her in the report “because I was staying off individuals.” For the same reason, Chakrabarti said, there has so far been no publication of a report by Baroness Royall into alleged anti-Semitic incidents involving Labour Party activists on campus, because it deals with individuals and names them.
“I don’t doubt that Shami Chakrabarti was asked to undertake this inquiry on account of her genuine commitment to opposing racism. But things quickly went awry,” Mendoza, a historian, charged on Wednesday. “She created a false intellectual construct for the report that prevented the underlying issues from being explored fully, and which offered protection for the past actions of Labour’s current leader,” he told The Times of Israel.
“There is a reason Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has coincided with the need for this inquiry,” he added. “It is shameful it took the Home Affairs Select Committee to draw this out, rather than Labour’s own internal report.
“In light of this,” he added, “I think Ms. Chakrabarti needs to be open and honest about the scale of her own political ambitions, and whether she has been offered elevation to the peerage or not.”
The Board of Deputies has urged that the NEC [Labour’s National Executive Committee] “urgently consider publication of the Royall Report, as soon as possible, and certainly long before the start of the new academic year. This had earlier been promised in conjunction with the release of the Chakrabarti Report.”
Chakrabarti told J-TV that she hoped a “redacted” version of the Royall Report could be published soon. Some names ought to be withheld because disciplinary proceedings against individuals were still in train, she said.
The Board of Deputies, in its critique of Chakrabarti, also said she should release a supplementary report to address some of the gaps in her inquiry.
These include, the Board said, a failure to explore the history of anti-Semitism on the Left. “Support for — or lack of opposition to — terrorism against Jews should have been highlighted as an example of anti-Semitism, as should have examples of where the denial of Israel’s right to exist and boycotts against Israel cross a line.”
The Board complained that the report failed to make clear the difference “between sharing a platform in order to challenge a person’s anti-Semitic views and sharing a platform in solidarity,” and expressed “surprise and disappointment” that a section of the report entitled “Other action to ensure Labour is a welcoming environment for members of all communities” does not mention Jews at all.
“In the context of the hostile environment to which Jewish members of Labour, specifically, have been recently subjected, and which was part of the initial impetus for the Inquiry, this seems a serious omission,” the Board said.
Challenged on some of these omissions on J-TV, Chakrabarti at one point said that such questions should be put to Corbyn.
“I was not judge and jury on any individual,” she said. “I was trying to deal with the Party in the round.”