Why is UK Labour Party facing anti-Semitism claims?

Ideas of Jewish manipulation of finance and politics driven by leap in membership

Labour has been embroiled in controversy over anti-Semitism for the past three years, with critics claiming that the leadership has been too slow to act on complaints about members' behaviour. The Equality and Human Rights Commission, a statutory body that monitors human rights and the protection of minorities, has launched an investigation into the party.

This is only the second investigation the body has undertaken into a political party – the first was into the British National Party (BNP) – since it was established by a Labour government in 2006. It will investigate whether Labour "has unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish".

Jeremy Corbyn and his allies reject as outrageous allegations that the Labour Party is anti-Semitic, pointing to the party's record in combating racism and prejudice and insisting that the number of members accused of anti-Semitism is a tiny fraction of the total. But the party acknowledges that it has a problem and Momentum, the left-wing group that supports Corbyn's leadership, has launched initiatives to alert members to anti-Semitic tropes.

‘Conspiracy theories’

Momentum's founder, Jon Lansman, who is Jewish, told the BBC earlier this year that the problem is in part a product of the huge increase in membership since Corbyn became leader.


“The party trebled in size. Among those are members attracted towards conspiracy theories,” he said.

“The Tory party is a smaller party and an elderly party and the role of social media in fomenting and spreading some of the poison is therefore more of a problem in the Labour Party.”

The party has not disclosed how many complaints are pending against members but the Sunday Times reported recently that it was more than 800. Some surround the language used to criticise Israel, including assertions that the state of Israel has no right to exist.

Anti-Jewish tropes

But others involve the sharing of images and memes on social media which feature anti-Jewish tropes that long predate Israel’s founding in 1948. They include the characterisation of Jews as parasitic international financiers and conspiracy theories alleging Jewish manipulation of global politics and media.

The focus of most recent criticism of the Labour leadership is on its handling of complaints, and claims that some of those around Corbyn have sought to interfere with the complaints process to protect left-wing allies. The leadership rejects those claims, arguing that new processes are more effective but need time to work their way through the backlog of complaints.