It took nearly a year, but The Sunday Times has at last admitted that it was wrong to characterise me as an anti-Semite and a Holocaust denier in an article last February.
It was the publication that launched a wave of similar stories in the mainstream media – the origin of the claims – and it is the last such publication to publish a correction.
The Mail, the Jewish Chronicle, The Express and The Sun have all admitted inaccuracies in their own versions of the story.
In its current edition (dated Sunday, January 13, 2019), under Corrections & Clarifications, the newspaper published the following [boldings mine]:
“The following correction is published after an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
“In an article (“Labour welcomes back banned activists and Holocaust denier”, News, February 4, 2018) we misinterpreted Mike Sivier as having said he was not pretending the omission of Jews from a list of Holocaust survivors was a big problem, when what he had said was not a big problem was anti-semitism in the Labour Party. What he had said about Jews being omitted from the list was that this may have been “political correctness”.
“We also reported him as having said, in a discussion about a leaflet which described the Holocaust as having thousands not millions of victims and which did not mention Jews at all, that he was not going to comment on whether thousands or millions of Jews had died in the Holocaust as he didn’t know, when in fact what he had said was “I’m not going to comment on ‘thousands’ instead of ‘millions’ because I don’t know.” We are happy to make clear Mr Sivier’s position that what he meant was that he did not know why the leaflet had used those numbers, not that he didn’t know how many Jews had died in the Holocaust..
“These claims formed the basis for the headline’s suggestion that Mr Sivier was a “Holocaust denier” and we are happy to put on record his position that this is not the case.“
For clarity, I think you deserve to see the relevant parts of the IPSO ruling on this case – and I have a few observations of my own about parts of this story as well. Here’s IPSO [again, boldings mine]:
“The complainant had not directly said that he was “’not going to comment’ on whether thousands or millions of Jews died in the Holocaust as ‘I don’t know’”. There was no reference in the discussion surrounding the leaflet to “whether thousands or millions of Jews died in the Holocaust”, because the leaflet had explicitly not referred to Jews among the victims of the Holocaust; the discussion had centred on the reasons for the omission of Jews from the list, which the complainant had said may have been for ‘politically correct’ reasons, but there was no discussion of the number of Jews who had died. The publication was entitled to give its own interpretation of what the complainant had meant by his comments. However, the article did not make clear that it was reporting the publication’s interpretation of the complainant’s comments – they were presented as direct comments in relation to specific claims, when in fact separate comments had been juxtaposed. Because the comment thread was publicly available, this represented a failure to take care… The article gave the impression that the complainant had said something which he had not, on a subject liable to cause widespread offence.
“The complainant had suggested that omitting Jews from a list of Holocaust survivors in a leaflet may have been for “’politically correct’” reasons. However, he had not explicitly stated that he was “‘not pretending it was a big problem’ if Jews were omitted from a list of Holocaust survivors”, as the article said. Claiming that the complainant had said this, when his comments were publicly available, represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article.
“The Committee considered that the question of whether the complainant was a “Holocaust denier” had formed part of his complaint, as set out in his correspondence with the publication prior to contacting IPSO, where he questioned whether he was the “Holocaust denier” the article had referred to… It was clear that this characterisation referred to the complainant: the headline had referred to “banned activists and [a] Holocaust denier” being welcomed back into the Labour Party, and it was clear that the other individuals referred to were members of “’proscribed’” groups. The complainant was the only individual named in reference to any claims around the Holocaust. The publication claimed that this characterisation was not misleading based on the complainant’s expressed views and actions. However, the sole basis provided for this characterisation within the article itself was the complainant’s comments on his website. The Committee found, above, that the publication had failed to take care over the presentation of these comments, creating the misleading impression that the complainant had made statements which he had not. The Committee considered that there was a consequent failure to take care over the basis provided for the claim that the complainant was a “Holocaust denier”… The Committee did not consider that the publication had provided a sufficient basis for asserting that the complainant was a “Holocaust denier”, either in the article, or in the evidence subsequently submitted for the Committee’s consideration… It did not consider that the publication had provided a basis for this characterisation, and… a clarification was required to indicate that the basis provided for the characterisation in the article had been presented in a misleading manner, and to put on record the complainant’s position that he did not deny the Holocaust.”
I should clarify the point I was making when I wrote, “I’m not going to comment on ‘thousands’ instead of ‘millions’ because I don’t know.” I had been asked why the creators of a leaflet discussing the Holocaust had stated that thousands of people had died, rather than millions. My statement was that I didn’t know why those people had done that. How could I? I had nothing to do with it.
My comment about them being “politically correct” when omitting Jews from the list of Holocaust victims was prompted by the fact that the leaflet listed people of other ethnicities that had also been victims of the Nazi Holocaust. There were 17 million victims in total, of which six million were Jewish, according to the most widely-accepted figures (with which I agree). I was speculating – because that’s all I could do, not having had anything to do with the creation of the leaflet – that those who were responsible may have wanted to raise awareness of groups whose persecution at Nazi hands doesn’t get as much attention.
The simple fact was that the commenter to This Site who had challenged me about it had not provided enough information for me to offer a stronger opinion. This is also relevant to another aspect of the original story in The Sunday Times that it did not correct.
Here’s the IPSO ruling again:
“In response to a commenter referring to comments by a Labour politician stating that Tony Blair was “unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers”, the complainant had written “(without further information) concerns that Tony Blair was being ‘unduly influenced’ by ‘a cabal of Jewish advisors’ may have been entirely justified.” The article did not give a misleading impression of the substance of this comment, and the publication was entitled to rely on the words the complainant had used, which it had not presented in a misleading manner.”
It should be clear that I was saying anyone hearing that assertion would be justified in feeling concerned about it, in the absence of further information to confirm or deny it. But my words, quoted accurately by IPSO, were perverted by the newspaper. It stated that I had said it “may be entirely justified” to say that Tony Blair was controlled by a “cabal of Jewish activists”. If I had intended that, I would have said it.
A better explanation for IPSO’s decision on this aspect of the matter is actually elsewhere in its ruling, where it stated, “The publication was entitled to give its own interpretation of what the complainant had meant by his comments.” IPSO reckons the Sunday Times’ interpretation of this point is reasonable; I do not.
This is a huge victory for the fight against false allegations of anti-Semitism.
But that struggle continues. The Sunday Times published its story after a member or officer of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee leaked a confidential report about me to one of the newspaper’s reporters. The paper published what it would have considered to be the strongest evidence against me that had been included in that report – and now it has had to admit that they were false.
But Labour still expelled me from the party, at a hearing before members of its National Constitutional Committee last November. The evidence against me – in total – was that “someone said they were upset” by articles I had written.
And the original allegations had been sent to Labour by an extremist fringe group that masquerades as a charity, called the Campaign Against Antisemitism. It had made its false claims just days before local elections at which I was campaigning to become a county councillor, and I believe the intention was to corruptly influence the result of that election to stop me taking a council seat.
This is what we must resist – false claims against innocent people, made to create political advantage. That is what this is about – not anti-Semitism, but power.
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