A Labour member’s claim that “the Jewish community plans to attack our party” was not deemed to amount to antisemitism by party officials, it has emerged.
Sky News has obtained a recording of the comments made by Sir Duncan Michael, which prompted audible shock during a meeting held by the Wimbledon Constituency Labour Party last August.
Sir Duncan, who was knighted for services to engineering in 2001, intervened during a debate on the definition of antisemitism put forward by the International Holocaust Memorial Association.
He suggested the controversy over antisemitism had been contrived, saying it was a “storm that started straight after we elected Jeremy” and was being “directed at him” by a “very undemocratic elite from within our party” because Mr Corbyn was “kindly to Palestine and others”.
“Attacking Corbyn failed,” he said. “He passed three democratic tests and so the Jewish community plans to attack our party”.
The comment prompted groans and protests in the meeting room, with the chair interjecting: “I just want to clarify: we are not here to blame the Jewish people for anything.”
Sir Duncan then attempted to claim he had not used the word “plans” and was not blaming “the Jewish people”, but this prompted more argument, with others present heard saying “you just said it”.
He then continued to make his case, saying: “If you can’t take what I’m saying you shouldn’t be here…I’m sorry if the truth hurts.”
The comments were then addressed by one of the speakers in the debate, Glyn Secker.
Mr Secker is a representative of the pro-Corbyn group, Jewish Voice for Labour, who himself was temporarily subject to “administrative suspension” from the party last year related to membership of a Facebook group in which alleged antisemitic material had been posted.
He said: “I thought you were careless. You were wrong to talk about the Jews doing this, because actually there are a large number of us in the Jewish community who are not doing that, who are not attacking Corbyn, but are very much behind Corbyn.
“You were inaccurate in that, and my response actually would be that I don’t believe you’re antisemtic, I believe you are ill-informed and I would want to have a discussion with you to put you right.”
In response, Sir Duncan said “you won’t put me right”, prompting Mr Secker to say: “If you are insistent that all Jews in the country are responsible for attacking Jeremy Corbyn, then I would say yes, you are antisemitic.”
A number of those present submitted formal complaints to the party following the meeting, but in October Labour’s London regional office dismissed the case.
It said: “Regarding comments made at a meeting of Wimbledon CLP… after taking this case through our antisemitism process, the Labour party does not believe this is an incident of antisemitism and will not be taken further.”
Speaking to Sky News, Mike Katz, vice chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said that response was unacceptable.
“Talking about an ‘undemocratic elite’, talking about the Jews acting as a whole community to attack the Labour Party, that really plays into some of the oldest antisemitic tropes – about Jews being conspiratorial, about acting in secrecy as some sort of cult to try and influence politics,” he said.
“It’s really worrying that people in the Labour Party compliance, when they see these remarks which people at the meeting itself very clearly understood to be antisemitic, don’t say that these are antisemitic – they don’t uphold the complaints.
“It’s really worrying and it makes Jewish members, and I think it should make all members, concerned that is the way our compliance and complaints system works at the moment.”
Earlier this week, after a request from Labour MPs, the party’s general secretary Jennie Formby set out details of how antisemitism claims had been handled since last April.
The figures showed that the 673 complaints related to party members had resulted in 146 people receiving a “reminder of conduct”, 96 being suspended, and 12 being expelled.
But the information also showed there were 220 cases for which there was not deemed to be enough evidence for an investigation to proceed.
Dame Margaret Hodge, one of the Labour MPs who have been vocal in their criticisms of the party’s efforts to tackle antisemitism, said she would be pressing for further action to be taken on this and other cases.
She told Sky News: “We will be pursuing the party on a whole range of individual cases, and this will be one of them.
“What is interesting is that when an individual case is raised with the Labour Party they seem to miraculously change their mind in the face of a public comment on the case, so that suggests to me they are trying to evade their real responsibility of bearing down in a tough and timely way on instances of racism as they relate to antisemitism within the Labour Party.”
But, when asked whether she would consider leaving the party over the antisemitism issue, Dame Margaret said she had no intention of quitting.
“I intend to stick in there and fight for the soul and values that brought me into the Labour Party 50 years ago, and those were values about fighting racism – I myself am an immigrant,” she said.
“They are about promoting equality and they are about being an international, tolerant open party that does not in any way condone, or allow, racism in its ranks.”
Labour said they would not comment on individual cases, but in a statement a spokesman said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints of antisemitism extremely seriously and we are committed to challenging and campaigning against it in all its forms.
“All complaints about antisemitism are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”
However, a Labour source has suggested Sir Duncan Michael is still under investigation, and that the email sent to complainants in October from the London Regional Office telling them no further action was being taken may have been sent in error.
Sky News attempted to reach Sir Duncan for comment, but did not receive a response