(LONDON) — Officials in Britain’s opposition Labour Party failed to stamp out anti-Semitism and committed “unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination,” the U.K. equalities watchdog said Thursday in a scathing report. Labour’s leader said the findings were “a day of shame” for the party.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission found “significant failings” and a “lack of leadership” in how the left-of-center party handled allegations of anti-Semitism among its members.
Labour leader Keir Starmer promised “a culture change in the Labour Party,” saying there would be “no more denials or excuses.”
“It is a day of shame for the Labour Party,” Starmer said. “We have failed Jewish people, our members, our supporters and the British public.”
His predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, who led the party when the acts described in the report occurred, accused opponents of exaggerating the problem for “political reasons.”
The party responded by suspending Corbyn, who has represented Labour in Parliament since 1983.
Labour has been grappling with allegations that anti-Semitism was allowed to fester under the 2015-2019 leadership of Corbyn, a long-time supporter of Palestinians and a critic of Israel.
In a 130-page report, the commission said in two cases party officers committed “unlawful harassment” against Jewish people and their allies. It said there were many more accounts of harassment by ordinary party members, but that Labour could not be held legally accountable for them since the perpetrators did not hold any official roles.
The equality commission also said there was “evidence of political interference in the handling of anti-Semitism complaints” by the party leader’s office, and that the interference was unlawful.
“Some complaints were unjustifiably not investigated at all,” the report said.
It said there was “a culture within the party which, at best, did not do enough to prevent anti-Semitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it.”
The commission does not have the power to bring criminal charges, but made recommendations for change, which the party is legally bound to act on.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, said the report marked a “historic nadir for the Labour Party.”
Corbyn stepped down as party leader in December after Labour had its worst general election showing since 1935. The party governed Britain for 13 years from 1997 but has been out of office since 2010.
Starmer, elected leader in April, has vowed to stamp out prejudice and restore relations between the party and the Jewish community. He is also trying to steer the Social Democratic party back toward the political center fter the divisive tenure of Corbyn, a staunch socialist. Corbyn has strong grassroots support but led Labour to two successive election defeats.
Corbyn said he regretted that Thursday’s report “took longer to deliver … change than it should.” But he added that “the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party.”
After the comments, Labour said it was suspending Corbyn pending an investigation.
“If after all the pain, all the grief, and all the evidence in this report, there are still those who think there’s no problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, that it’s all exaggerated, or a factional attack, then, frankly, you are part of the problem, too,” Starmer said. “And you should be nowhere near the Labour Party, either.”