The Royall Report

First of all, I’d like to recommend this excellent analysis of the Chakrabarti report into antisemitism by Jamie Palmer. Here he briefly contextualised the earlier Royall report, leaked this morning after having initially been suppressed.

The co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club resigned, describing the atmosphere and attitudes there as “anti-Semitic” and “poisonous.” An investigation by Labour’s official student organization into his claims uncovered widespread anti-Semitism, but the report was promptly buried. A further inquiry chaired by Baroness Royall was announced but its full report was also suppressed.

Here are just a few initial thoughts on the Royall report.

Its first sentence offers a telling contrast to Chakrabarti’s more defensive opening move, with its reflexive additional invocation of ‘Islamophobia or other forms of racism’.

The Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism. Further, it is the party that initiated every single United Kingdom race equality law. (Chakrabarti)

I was dismayed and ashamed that the ancient virus of antisemitism had infected our Party and wanted to do whatever I could to ensure that current problems were properly addressed and preventative action was taken to minimize the risk of reoccurrence. (Royall)

Another discrepancy lies in Royall’s insistence that:

There should be no ‘statute of limitation’ on antisemitic behaviour. Any incident of antisemitism, even when not in Party membership, may be considered by Labour’s disciplinary procedures in respect of current members.

Chakrabarti, by contrast, called for a moratorium on the retrospective trawling of members’ social media accounts

(It’s interesting that Royall anticipates Chakrabarti’s report several times, whereas Chakrabarti appears to have paid little heed to her vice chair’s findings.  For more on this issue read Rosa Doherty in the JC.)

On a related note Royall also calls for a more systematic and better resourced vetting of potential candidates for office.

Jamie notes that Chakrabarti refused to engage with the task of defining antisemitism. Royall, by contrast, spends some time on this issue and tackles it robustly.

Oppression of any sort, be it racism, sexism or any other form, is usually believed to be the strong oppressing the weak, the rich oppressing the poor, the owners oppressing the workers, the haves the have-nots.

A pervading discourse now is that Jews are neither weak, nor poor, neither workers, nor have-nots. In short, Jews cannot be victims and cannot be discriminated against.

It might have been useful to spell out the way in which the perception that Jews are not ‘have-nots’ makes the left particularly vulnerable to antisemitism.

She goes on to engage with the complex and much contested issue of anti-zionism’s relationship with antisemitism:

Alongside this sits a view that criticism of the government of Israel is not antisemitic (it is not) and therefore being anti-Zionist cannot be antisemitic. Yes it can and, unfortunately, it is often used deliberately as a tool of antisemitism.

Later she clarifies:

Not all anti-Zionists are anti-Semites and anti-Zionism is not necessarily antisemitic. Once again the context is important in determining the meaning of the words or deeds.

Although she doesn’t see antizionism as equivalent to antisemitism she is very critical of the word ‘Zio’.

It is apparent however, that there are words like “Zio”, and tropes such as ‘blood libel’, which are antisemitic to all observers.

Here is Chakrabarti’s similarly disapproving verdict on the term.

No doubt it began as an abbreviation of “Zionist” (a term I will discuss later). However, I am clear that no one uses this word to describe their own political or cultural identity. It is a term of abuse, pure and simple, and should not in my view have any place in the vocabulary of Labour members, whether online, in conversation or anywhere else.

This seems fair enough, but there are both kinds and degrees of antisemitism and I wouldn’t, pace Royall, class ‘Zio’ with the blood libel myself. It is not, I don’t believe, confined to Klu Klax Klan types (as Alex Chalmers claimed – see below) and is used by antizionists, some Jewish, who would shun blatant blood libellers.

Royall goes on to point out that Jews, in an academic environment, have to deal with hurdles in debate which other such groups don’t face:

Antisemitism manifests itself frequently, and simply, as a failure to allow Jews to engage on a level playing field. No pre-conditions are placed on women debating sexism. It is not a prerequisite that Muslims condemn the atrocities of this or that government before they may enter debate on foreign policy. Many students reported 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…”. This behaviour is also reported within the wider community.

What of the specific allegations against OULC?

I have received around 300 pages of evidence from over 40 members of OULC. I have interviewed eight members of OULC and offered interviews to a number of others which were not taken up. Throughout, I welcomed requests for meetings.

Royall concluded that there was no evidence that the OULC was institutionally antisemitic but organisational weaknesses – such as poor reporting procedures and a lack of continuity in leadership – prevented genuine problems from being dealt with effectively. Here’s a key passage:

It is clear to me from the weight of witnessed allegations received that there have been some incidents of antisemitic behaviour and that it is appropriate for the disciplinary procedures of our Party to be invoked.

However, it is not clear to me to what extent this behaviour constituted intentional or deliberate acts of antisemitism. This is particularly true of historic hearsay evidence.

Whilst I want to see the Party deal with acts of antisemitism, 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.

For those who followed early reports of problems in the OULC this leaves many questions unanswered.  How does Royall’s assertion that disciplinary procedures should be invoked against certain individuals map on to former OULC co-chair Alex Chalmers’ resignation statement? (This is reproduced in full  at the end of Royall’s report.)

Whether it be members of the Executive throwing around the term ‘Zio’ (a term for Jews usually confined to websites run by the Ku Klux Klan) with casual abandon, senior members of the club expressing their ‘solidarity’ with Hamas and explicitly defending their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians, or a former Co-Chair claiming that ‘most accusations of antisemitism are just the Zionists crying wolf’, a large proportion of both OULC and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews.

Are any of these shocking accusations being formally investigated?

One OULC member argued that Hamas was justified in its killing of Jewish civilians and claimed all Jews were legitimate targets. A committee member stated that all Jews should be expected to publicly denounce Zionism and the state of Israel, and that we should not associate with any Jew who fails to do so. It has been alleged that another OULC member organised a group of students to harass a Jewish student and to shout “filthy Zionist” whenever they saw her.

UJS’s brief statement on the Royall report is to the point:

We appreciate the publishing of the report in full and the time and effort that Baroness Royall dedicated to the report, but many Jewish students at Oxford are likely to be disappointed. The report does not reveal much that wasn’t already thought to be the case. This raises questions as to why the report was initially suppressed, and we believe it is vital that there is full transparency as to why this happened.

While the publishing of the report attempts to provide Jewish students with reassurance, it is only with action that they will know that Labour clubs are safe spaces for them once again. Therefore it is important that the individual members of OULC that were reported to Baroness Royall are appropriately disciplined for their actions.

And the Oxford Jewish Society issues a well earned  challenge to Labour:

We are concerned by the Labour Party NEC’s decision to suppress the section of the report where Baroness Royall confirmed that antisemitic incidents had taken place. We are also concerned that it has taken nearly six months, and Baroness Royall’s own decision to publish her report, to get to this point. This raises serious doubts regarding Labour’s sincerity in tackling antisemitism within its ranks.

It is essential that disciplinary proceedings are now conducted with the highest level of transparency.

There seem to have been few significant media reactions to the leaked report so far – however it was good to read a prompt and positive response from Labour Students.

* Here it’s worth acknowledging the satirical use of the term ‘as-a-Jew’ applied to Jewish critics of Israel/antizionists – whether or not you like or use that expression, it is not equivalent to mocking someone invoking their ethnicity as a prelude to expressing a personal experience of racism.