When the so-called Independent Press Standards Organisation screws up, it screws up royally.

Readers of Vox Political will be aware that I have lodged complaints against publications that are regulated by IPSO over two matters, both related to allegations of anti-Semitism against me.

The first is the libellous characterisation of me as a Holocaust denier (among other things) by The Sunday Times and other publications, on or shortly after February 4. That matter has been the subject of a lengthy negotiation that is still continuing.

The second involved The Spectator, as described in this article. There’s no need to click the link because I go into the matter in exhausting detail – for which I apologise in advance – below.

I got in touch with IPSO at the end of April, after approaching The Spectator and receiving no reply other than a standard, impersonal, “Thank you for your email, we read them all”.

Here’s what I had to say about the offending article:

‘It states: “Mike Sivier, author of the far-left Vox Political blog, has claimed there is a ‘conspiracy’ between Jews and those who defend them in the UK, saying: ‘We are being told that agents of a foreign country have infiltrated our institutions’. He was due to stand as a Labour candidate in council elections in 2017 but was suspended before the ballot took place.” This is not true.

The offending words in the Spectator article.

‘The link on the word “saying” takes you – not to any Vox Political article such as this one (on which the allegations were originally based), but to the false and malicious Campaign Against Antisemitism smear piece that I debunked immediately after it came out, almost a year ago.

‘Let’s take the claims line by line.

“Mike Sivier, author of the far-left Vox Political blog, has claimed there is a ‘conspiracy’ between Jews and those who defend them in the UK.”

‘Take a look at my article and you’ll see that I was commenting on former Israeli embassy official Shai Masot’s attempt to conspire with members of UK political parties to achieve the wishes of the Israeli government. The example used in the Al-Jazeera documentary The Lobby was a plan to remove Alan Duncan, who has pro-Palestinian views, from his position as a Foreign Office minister. At one point in the documentary, Mr Masot even referred to what he was trying to do as a “conspiracy, yes?”

‘I make no mention of a “‘conspiracy’ between Jews and those who defend them in the UK” because it was a conspiracy by a member of the Israeli government. Israel and Jews are not the same thing.

‘In the documentary, Mr Masot mentions connections with other UK organisations including Labour Friends of Israel and its counterpart in the Conservative Party, and this led me to ask further – justified – questions about the role of such organisations in promoting the agenda of a foreign government.

“Saying: ‘We are being told that agents of a foreign country have infiltrated our institutions’.”

‘“We are being told” means I wasn’t asserting it – I was merely reporting what had been said elsewhere. “Agents of a foreign country” cannot be taken to refer to Jews as a racial or ethnic group. And the infiltration of “our institutions” was demonstrated in the documentary.

“He was due to stand as a Labour candidate in council elections in 2017 but was suspended before the ballot took place.”

‘The article fails to mention that I still stood as a candidate, and people still voted for me. Was it the author’s intention for readers to believe heroic whistle blowers forced Labour to stop me from standing at all? That would be a lie, but I see no attempt to clarify that this is not what happened. It also fails to mention the fact that my membership was suspended because the Campaign Against Antisemitism (or one of its readers), having failed to win support against me from Welsh Labour, sent a copy of its lying article to Labour headquarters in London, where an officer triggered my suspension in a knee-jerk reaction, having failed to check if there was even a prima facie case to answer.’

[The question of authorial intention is interesting as IPSO seems to have double-standards about it. The intention of the author of the Spectator piece seems above criticism, while my own intentions are considered to be dubious. No reason is given for either assumption.]

‘The CAA article was, it seems, written with the express intention of corruptly influencing the council election I was contesting, in flagrant breach of the Representation of the People Act, 1983.

‘All of the above information has been in the public domain for more than a year, and ‘Steerpike’ [the author of the Spectator piece. I understand this is in fact Paul Staines of the far-right Guido Fawkes blog] had plenty of opportunity to check it with me, as I can always be contacted via my website.

‘As the article is defamatory, The Spectator is guilty of libelling me.’

On May 18, nearly a month after I submitted my complaint, I received the following from an IPSO representative who shall remain nameless to save them embarrassment:

‘When IPSO receives a complaint, the Executive staff review it first to decide whether the complaint falls within our remit, and whether it raises a possible breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice. We have read your complaint carefully, and have decided that it does not raise a possible breach of the Editors’ Code.

‘You said the article breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) because it said you had claimed there was “a ‘conspiracy’ between Jews and those who defend them in the UK”.

‘Your blog post stated as follows:

‘It’s like a game of aggressive-Zionist join-the-dots now; Shai Masot leads to Labour Friends of Israel, and from there on to the Jewish Labour Movement and who knows where.

‘This Writer has to wonder whether this conspiracy – and it is a conspiracy, have no doubt about that – would have been rumbled if, for example, people like myself hadn’t objected to the claims of anti-Semitism when they were levelled at Naz Shah, Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn last summer”.

‘It went on to state that:

‘And now we have the Al-Jazeera investigation …that revealed Shai Masot and his little network of … I think they’re being called “infiltrators”. It is time to root out every last one of these operators”

‘It then described a number of figures that needed to be “pulled in and checked out”, before concluding:

‘The issues here are serious. We are being told that agents of a foreign country have infiltrated our institutions and undermined our foreign policy with false accusations against our politicians and political figures.

‘As the extract below shows, the trail leads back at least as far as Mark Regev – and he is Israel’s ambassador to the UK.

‘At the very least, this is a major diplomatic incident.

‘We noted your position that the words “we are being told”, made clear that you were not asserting the claims of a conspiracy as fact. However, you did earlier in the blog refer to the existence of a conspiracy, and later referred to it as a “major diplomatic incident”. In these circumstances, considered it was not misleading for the Spectator to refer to you as having claimed that there was a conspiracy, as a matter of fact. In addition, the magazine quoted directly from your blog post, making clear the precise basis on which it was claiming that you had said there was a conspiracy between Jews and those that defend them in the UK. For these reasons, we considered that the article was not a misleading summary of your blog post. This aspect of the complaint did not raise a possible breach of Clause 1.

‘You also said the article was inaccurate because it failed to mention that you stood as an election candidate, and that people still voted for you. The article did not claim you had not stood in the election; it simply reported that you had been suspended from the Labour Party before the ballot. The article was not inaccurate in the manner alleged, and this aspect of your complaint did not raise a possible breach of Clause 1.’

Hogwash!

I responded (almost) immediately, pointing out the holes in IPSO’s argument, which were many. Read for yourself:

‘Thank you for your email of May 18, notifying me of the IPSO Executive’s decision on my complaint – a decision which proceeds from several false assumptions and is therefore unacceptable.

‘You begin by trying to assert that my article did indeed claim there was a conspiracy “between Jews and those who defend them in the UK”. That is not what my article states. At no point in the text do I say there is any conspiracy between Jews and anyone else. I point out the attempted conspiracy between former Israeli embassy staffer Shai Masot and people in influential positions, but it would be wrong for either The Spectator or IPSO to assume that this implied a conspiracy involving “Jews”, or “the Jews”, corresponding with the anti-Semitic trope about an international Jewish conspiracy, to which both your organisation and The Spectator are trying to link me. In fact, it suggests anti-Semitism on your part, and that of The Spectator, rather than on mine. Mr Masot was acting as a representative of the Israeli government, not as a representative of “Jews” or “the Jews” and my article referred to him in that sense.
‘In his conversations, revealed to the public in the documentary “The Lobby”, Mr Masot alleged that he had allies in organisations including Labour Friends of Israel and others. It is not anti-Semitic for me to question how far his influence spread or to ask how many people were involved – nor is it anti-Semitic for me to question the behaviour of the people named in my article. Criticism of – and questioning of – the behaviour of a foreign government is entirely acceptable and it has never been suggested that Israel should not be examined in this manner – at least, not by any reputable source.
[And, if you read my original article, you will see that I wrote: “Some of them might have nothing to do with it – perhaps all of them. But that has yet to be demonstrated.” So it cannot be claimed – on any level – that I was alleging any conspiracy between those people and Mr Masot, and certainly not between them and “Jews” or “The Jews”.]
‘You falsely claim my position as being that the words “we are being told” “made clear that you were not asserting the claims of a conspiracy as fact”. That is not what my complaint states. It states that I was not saying the claim that “agents of a foreign country have infiltrated our institutions” was a fact. Note again: “agents of a foreign country” – not “Jews”, or “the Jews”. I was saying that questions should be asked, to establish whether the statement was true or not.
‘You seem to be falsely claiming that I was trying to say my article does not state that there was a conspiracy. Of course it does, because there was. It was a conspiracy between a representative of the Israeli government and people in positions of influence here in the UK. He admitted it himself, on-camera, as I pointed out in my complaint. And I was right to call it a “major diplomatic incident” – it was a national news story of considerable prominence at the time and it resulted in Mr Masot being recalled to Israel and an apology from the Israeli ambassador.
‘I do not understand why you tried to establish that I had said there was a conspiracy when I made it perfectly clear that this was the fact of the matter. My complaint was not about that. It was about The Spectator claiming that I had written about a Jewish conspiracy – which would be an anti-Semitic trope – when I was writing about a conspiracy involving a representative of the state of Israel.
‘In the context of its initial assertion – that I had alleged a conspiracy between Jews and those who defend them in the UK – it does not matter that the magazine quoted one line from my article accurately. You should be pointing out to The Spectator that the line it quoted does not support its assertion. “We are being told that agents of a foreign country have infiltrated our institutions” is not an allegation about Jews at all. If that is the basis for the magazine’s claim, then IPSO must uphold my complaint.
‘Regarding my claim that the article is inaccurate because it said I was due to stand as a Labour candidate in the 2017 local government elections but was suspended before the ballot took place, when in fact I still stood as a candidate and people still voted for me – you are trying to suggest that the omission did not affect the way a reasonable person would read that story and this is simply untrue. A reasonable person would note the word “but” in The Spectator‘s story and assume that I had been taken off the ballot altogether. It is inaccurate by omission – and deliberately so, in my opinion. The intention was to give a false impression.
‘You do not address points I raised in my complaint – I believe, because they would have defeated the arguments you raise in defence of The Spectator.
‘Your efforts to say that I was complaining about the use of the word “conspiracy” are entirely undermined by my statement, “I was commenting on former Israeli embassy official Shai Masot’s attempt to conspire with members of UK political parties to achieve the wishes of the Israeli government” and “at one point in the documentary, Mr Masot even referred to what he was trying to do as a “conspiracy, yes?””
‘Your efforts to claim that The Spectator was accurate in saying I had claimed “there is a ‘conspiracy’ between Jews and those who defend them in the UK” are similarly undermined by my words, “I make no mention of a “‘conspiracy’ between Jews and those who defend them in the UK” because it was a conspiracy by a member of the Israeli government. Israel and Jews are not the same thing.”
‘”Israel and Jews are not the same thing”. This is a fact that both IPSO and The Spectator need to take to heart.
‘I wrote: “In the documentary, Mr Masot mentions connections with other UK organisations including Labour Friends of Israel and its counterpart in the Conservative Party, and this led me to ask further – justified – questions about the role of such organisations in promoting the agenda of a foreign government.” You do not acknowledge the fact that I was asking questions about those organisations, after a conspiracy involving a person who had claimed close connections with them had been exposed. Instead, you seem to be claiming that I was saying they were involved in the conspiracy that had been exposed, when I wasn’t. You must justify that claim.

‘In the light of this catalogue of errors, I must indeed ask that your Executive’s decision to reject my complaint be reviewed by IPSO’s Complaints Committee. In fact, I demand it.’

On Friday (June 8) I finally received a reply. One would have expected a well-considered reply that tackled all the issues I had raised. Instead – well, see for yourself:

‘The Committee agreed the following decision:

You said that the article was inaccurate, as your blog did not state that there was a conspiracy between Jewish people and members of UK political parties, but a representative of the Israeli government. You said that the article had conflated an Israeli conspiracy with a Jewish conspiracy, and that this was inaccurate.

‘However, your blog stated that “Shai Masot leads to Labour Friends of Israel, and from there on to the Jewish Labour Movement and who knows where,” going on to state, “I was warned off, you know. Good friends told me to be very careful of what I was saying, because the people I was accusing are “very dangerous indeed.”

‘Where your blog specifically referenced Jewish groups in relation to the “conspiracy” you believed there to be in UK politics, the publication was entitled to characterise this as a conspiracy “between Jews and those who defend them in the UK.” There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

‘For these reasons, and the reasons already provided by IPSO’s Executive, the Committee decided that your complaint did not raise a possible breach of the Code. As such, it declined to re-open your complaint.’

More hogwash!

I have responded as follows:

‘Forgive me for asking, but have any of your complaints committee actually read my article or that in The Spectator from which my complaint arises?
‘The Spectator‘s claim was that I had “claimed there is a ‘conspiracy’ between Jews and those who defend them in the UK”. Go back to my original article – my article, mark you, not the smear piece by the Campaign Against Antisemitism to which The Spectator links – and you’ll see that the magazine is trying to claim that I was referring to an “international Jewish conspiracy” (alleging that I was employing an anti-Semitic stereotype) when in fact I was referring very specifically to an individual employee of the Israeli government – who was, as I have pointed out repeatedly, trying to conspire against the UK government. That is indeed an Israeli conspiracy, and not a Jewish conspiracy.
‘Mr Masot himself claimed connections with certain other organisations, and I was entirely within my rights to question whether he really did have such connections.
‘As for the Jewish Labour Movement and other organisations and individuals I mention in my article, they cannot be equated with the “Jews” to which The Spectator referred; the magazine clearly meant the Israeli government as embodied in its employee Shai Masot. These organisations and individuals must therefore be ranked among “those who defend them in the UK”. I hope you have realised that those I mention in this category include people who are not Jewish – both separately from and within some of the organisations. Note also that there is currently a very strong debate over the loyalties of the Jewish Labour Movement; many Jews within the Labour Party have made it abundantly clear that they do not consider the JLM to be representative of the interests of their ethnic group as a whole but to be supportive of the Israeli government and the aggressive Zionism it supports. As such, again, whether the JLM actually represents Jews – “defends them in the UK” is a matter for debate. And, again, I am within my rights to question whether these organisations and individuals had any relationship with Mr Masot. That is not saying they were conspiring; it is saying we need to ascertain whether a relationship exists and, if so, what it is.
‘I am correct, therefore, in saying that The Spectator was not entitled to characterise the matter under discussion as a conspiracy “between Jews and those who defend them in the UK” and your Complaints Committee is mistaken in saying that it was. There was indeed a breach of Clause 1. The members of your Complaints Committee seem to have difficulty discerning between where I discuss the real conspiracy that is a matter of public record and where I question the relationship between the principle conspirator, organisations he mentions, and whether others are involved.
‘And again, I must point out that your Complaints Committee has failed to address other points I made, in my complaint and in my referral of that complaint to the Complaints Committee.
‘This is poor decision-making and the shabbiest possible treatment of a genuine complaint about libel by a magazine. How dare IPSO treat me in this way?
‘Your organisation owes me an apology. Perhaps you should turn my complaint over to someone else – perhaps somebody who is able to act on it in a reasonable and impartial way?
‘Once again, I must demand reconsideration. This behaviour by your organisation is utterly unacceptable.’
I do not expect a sensible response.
And that’s a shame, because I understand The Spectator will be entitled to publish IPSO’s findings – ridiculous though they are.

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