The road to Jeremy Corbyn’s political downfall began at Oxford University Labour Club in February 2016. A rogue inquiry by a Labour staffer with close ties to the Israeli embassy included fabricated allegations of anti-Semitism. It destroyed the lives of several pro-Corbyn students sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. It also triggered Labour’s “anti-Semitism crisis” in earnest. The manufactured crisis continues today, even with Corbyn now marginalized.
By Asa Winstanley
Published on Electronic Intifada, Aug 24, 2020
A rogue inquiry by a Labour staffer with close ties to the Israeli embassy included fabricated allegations of anti-Semitism.
It destroyed the lives of several pro-Corbyn students sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
It also triggered Labour’s “anti-Semitism crisis” in earnest. The manufactured crisis continues today, even with Corbyn now marginalized.
After an internal Labour disciplinary investigation, some of the accused were cleared of anti-Semitism the following year.
But by that time the damage had been done.
After a four-year investigation, The Electronic Intifada has obtained the full Rubin report, which has never been published.
Michael Rubin, who wrote it, was chair of the right-wing group Labour Students. But the “inquiry” was his own initiative and had not been mandated by either Labour’s leader or its ruling National Executive Committee.
Masot was caught in undercover footage recruiting to the Israeli front group.
After years working for them, Rubin was promoted in July this year to director of Labour Friends of Israel.
The Electronic Intifada has protected some names in the report so as not to further Rubin’s disinformation campaign. You can read redacted extracts below.
The document shows how vague or fabricated allegations of anti-Semitism against left-wing supporters of Corbyn were laundered into serious accusations.
It states that Rubin reported to Labour staff six Oxford University Labour Club students he claimed were guilty of “repeated and potentially criminal anti-Semitism over a sustained period of time.”
But the document fails to support this allegation.
Rubin’s “evidence” is at best tenuous. But it also includes outright falsehoods.
One former student attacked in the report, who asked not to be named, told The Electronic intifada that the document had misattributed an anti-Semitic quote to them.
According to the student, someone had falsely inserted the word “Jewish” into a statement the student had made about the influence of the wealthy over elections.
“As I recall, what I actually said was that there is ‘influence wielded over elections by high net-worth individuals.’ I would never blame this on Jewish people,” the former student said.
“The sections of the report on me are false. Labour Students never even contacted me to get my side of the story.”
In other examples, one of the six allegedly “rolled [their] eyes” when a Jewish student spoke. On another occasion, the same accused individual supposedly “jeered” when the name of a former Israeli prime minister was mentioned.
One anonymous Jewish student alleged only that they were sent “a message that was aggressive and delegitimized the feeling I had.”
But astonishingly, Rubin concluded that all four of these allegations constituted “sufficient evidence” of anti-Semitism to report to Labour’s disciplinary staff.
The document also inadvertently proves that Rubin’s “witnesses” were often only relating hearsay and gossip.
One anonymous student said they “heard from other students” that one of the accused “engaged in songs which glorify rocket attacks against Tel Aviv” but admitted that they hadn’t actually seen this.
No one seems to be able to explain what this song supposedly was, how its lyrics went, or to have heard it sung.
Rarely in the Rubin report are there any specific or dated incidents, or any direct claim to have actually witnessed anti-Semitism.
Yet in such cases, Rubin often still claimed there was “sufficient evidence” to report individuals for disciplinary action.
The full document also suggests Rubin covered up allegations of racism by right-wingers in the Labour club – even alleged anti-Semitism.
It records several such allegations against right-wingers, but they were either ignored or marked “not sufficient evidence.”
One anonymous student quoted in the document states that during the club’s debate over Israeli Apartheid Week, a Palestinian student was “shouted down by the chair of the meeting, Alex Chalmers, called a terrorist sympathizer and subject to particularly aggressive questioning and speeches,” especially by David Klemperer, another right-winger.
A Jewish campaigner for Palestinian rights reported being on the receiving end of hostility from Chalmers: “Alex wanted to make me feel I was a traitor” and “a self-hating Jew,” the individual said.
Chalmers’ main right-wing accomplice, former club co-chair Klemperer, was accused of anti-Semitism too.
According to an anonymous student quoted in the report, Klemperer allegedly said: “You’re exactly the sort who should’ve died in the Holocaust.”
Rubin recommended no disciplinary action against either of the two, claiming there was “not sufficient evidence.”
Chalmers did not reply to a request for comment. Klemperer set both of his Twitter accounts to private soon after The Electronic Intifada emailed him a request for comment, but did not otherwise respond.
The lie that got around the world
Chalmers’ false allegations of anti-Semitism against the Oxford University Labour Club made international headlines after his resignation as co-chair on the night of the vote for Palestinian rights on 15 February 2016.
The Israeli embassy accused Oxford students of “disgraceful activity.”
Former Labour leader Ed Miliband canceled a speaking event there and the government’s minister for universities Jo Johnson demanded Oxford investigate Chalmers’ allegations – despite how blatantly false they appeared even at the time.
Elliott was also standing for election to a seat on Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee.
Rubin’s “inquiry” was wrapped up in about a week. Details from the report were then almost immediately leaked to the right-wing press – days before the NEC election.
“Mental health destroyed entirely”
In 2018, on his podcast All the Best, Shanly opened up about the effects of what he called a smear campaign against the pair.
He revealed he had been suffering from serious depression for the previous two years, from “February 2016 when all the [Oxford University Labour Club] stuff kicked off.”
“I had my mental health destroyed entirely,” he said.
Shanly explained that in the years he was under investigation, the Labour Party refused to hear his side of the story – even Janet Royall when she did her investigation into Oxford. He said that Labour Students also never bothered to speak to him.
“The allegations that were made against me were all false,” he said. “There was no evidence. It was all ‘I heard of.’ It all comes down to Michael Rubin’s report.”
“The reason I ended up getting so depressed is that no one wants to employ someone” at the heart of an internationally reported, alleged anti-Semitism scandal, he said.
That same year, Shanly was hospitalized after a severe mental health crisis.
“I knew Shai… we did a couple of things together”
Michael Rubin and Labour Friends of Israel did not reply to requests for comment for this article.
In 2016, The Electronic Intifada asked Rubin in person if he regretted his part in the smear campaign against left-wing students at Oxford.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, before rushing away.
But he has admitted to conducting the investigation, in undercover footage released in 2017. The document itself confirms this in its metadata.
Rubin had been close with Israeli embassy agent Shai Masot even before he started working for Labour Friends of Israel in May 2016.
In the undercover footage Rubin admitted: “I knew Shai in my role at Labour Students, we did a couple of things together.” You can watch him make this admission in the video above.
The footage was filmed by Al Jazeera for its investigative series The Lobby.
Masot was expelled from the UK after it hit headlines in January 2017.
The footage shows Rubin admitting to an undercover reporter that Labour Friends of Israel was essentially a front for the Israelis, but that “publicly we just try to keep the LFI as a separate identity to the embassy.”
It also revealed that the embassy finances Labour Friends of Israel’s activities.
Rubin discussed launching a youth wing with events funded by the Israelis: “the Israeli embassy are able to get a bit of money.”
Masot apparently told Rubin he would “help fund a couple of events.”
“I don’t think money should be a problem,” Rubin told Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter, who had been posing as a pro-Israel Labour activist.
After Al Jazeera’s film was broadcast, Boris Johnson – then foreign minister – said in Parliament that Masot’s “cover” had been “well and truly blown.”
Posing as a “senior political officer” at the London embassy, Masot was according to all indications an agent for Israel’s secretive Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which is staffed by former officers from Israel’s spy agencies.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist with The Electronic Intifada.