Decision by university’s Labour society to support Israeli Apartheid Week prompts MPs to call for party to sever ties with club

Read the original article from the Guardian here.

Labour opens inquiry into antisemitism allegations at Oxford student club, by Mark Tran for the Guardian, 17 February 2016

The Labour party’s national student organisation has launched an inquiry into allegations of antisemitic behaviour and intimidation at Oxford University Labour Club. Ed Miliband, the former Labour leader, who was due to address the club’ s annual John Smith memorial dinner in a few weeks’ time, said he was “deeply disturbed” by the reports and was postponing his appearance until an investigation had been carried out.

A co-chairman of the club, Alex Chalmers, resigned earlier this week, claiming a large proportion of members “have some kind of problem with Jews”. He alleged that some members had expressed support for the Islamist group Hamas.

A decision by the club to support Israeli Apartheid Week, which seeks to highlight Israel’s “ongoing settler-colonial project and apartheid policies over the Palestinian people”, has angered some Labour MPs, who have called for the party to dissociate itself from OULC.

It’s time we acknowledged that Oxford’s student left is institutionally antisemitic

In explaining his decision to resign, Chalmers wrote on Facebook: “A large proportion of both OULC and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews. The decision of the club to endorse a movement with a history of targeting and harassing Jewish students and inviting antisemitic speakers to campuses, despite the concerns of Jewish students, illustrates how uneven and insincere much of the active membership is when it comes to liberation.”

The Oxford University Jewish Society (JSoc) said it was “high time” that the issue of antisemitism within the student left was confronted: “When antisemitism intersects with Palestinian solidarity politics, it is not the job of Jewish students to be quiet, but the job of Palestinian solidarity activists to rid their movement of anti-Jewish prejudice.”

A Labour party spokeswoman said the party supported an inquiry announced by Labour Students, the national students’ group affiliated to the party. “Following recent allegations of antisemitic behaviour and intimidation at Oxford University Labour Club, Labour Students have launched an immediate investigation and the Labour party welcomes and supports this action. If complaints are made about any individual member of the Labour party, the party will take robust action to deal with any antisemitic behaviour.”

John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire, has called for the party to sever ties with the club. He said: “I have written to the Labour party asking for an investigation as a matter of urgency. It is hugely embarrassing for the Labour party. This is something Jeremy Corbyn should personally look into.”

Louise Ellman, vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel, said: “I am deeply disturbed by the news that Oxford University Labour Club has decided to support Israeli Apartheid Week and by the revelations from Alex Chalmers about the troubling tone of the discourse in which this debate appears to have been conducted.” She said comparisons between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa were “a grotesque smear and the Labour party should dissociate itself from them”.

The OULC executive committee said it was launching an investigation and encouraged members to come forward with information. “We are horrified at and condemn antisemitic behaviour in all its forms,” it said. “The comments detailed in JSoc’s statement indicate a shocking pattern of hateful and racist behaviour by some club members, and it’s of the highest priority that this be dealt with swiftly and lastingly.”

More than 30 former and current chairs and executive members of OULC and others have signed a letter condemning the club’s decision to endorse Israeli Apartheid Week. The signatories, who include Alexander Charles Carlile and Ruth Deech, say Israeli Apartheid Week promotes a “one-sided narrative, seeking to dismantle the only majority-Jewish member-state of the United Nations”.

The letter goes on: “We are troubled by OULC’s decision and feel compelled to speak out. In a climate of rising antisemitism, we have a duty to oppose initiatives that foster an intolerant political culture which intimidates Jewish students.”

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