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Accused: Labour’s Lisa Forbes has been attacked by people who claim to represent British Jews, but are really speaking out only for themselves.

I would say the witch-hunt over alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party had reached peak hysteria, but that may be a forlorn hope, judging by the fanaticism we have seen so far.

Current victim of accusations is Lisa Forbes, Labour’s new MP for Peterborough. She was accused, just days before the by-election there was held last week, when a man called Iggy Ostanin, who claims to be a “freelance investigative journalist”, published these allegations about her:

She “liked a post saying Theresa May has a “Zionist Slave Masters agenda”. She also commented on a post claiming ISIS was created “by the CIA and Mosad [sic], Forbes wrote “I have enjoyed reading this thread so much”.” Not much of a case, is it?

In fairness, I would say it was foolish of Ms Forbes to attach her name to any posts ambiguously. Where a meaning could be attached that would harm her reputation or integrity, she needed to ensure her own meaning was clear. But many of us don’t realise that our contributions to the social media will be examined so closely by people with an intent to harm – I didn’t, when the witch-hunters went after me! We learn from experience.

I often press the “like” button on social media posts I don’t like at all – because I want to come back to them, take a hard look at what they’re saying and whether it is supportable. As people say on Twitter, “Likes do not necessarily mean endorsement”. I can’t say for sure that this was what Ms Forbes was doing but, responding to accusations, she said she was supporting the image of schoolchildren praying in solidarity with the victims of the Christchurch attacks in New Zealand, rather than to the comments attached to it.

And the claim about a “Zionist slave masters’ agenda” is not anti-Semitic in any case. Zionism is not Judaism. There are plenty of Christian Zionists, for example.

The post claiming ISIS was created by the CIA and Mossad? It was attacking the Conservative government of David Cameron; the claims mentioned by Mr Ostanin were sideswipes. And Ms Forbes didn’t say she believed those claims. She said she had enjoyed reading the thread. She went on to make a general point about the division promoted by David Cameron: “So much that trys [sic] to divide us, but there is far much more that unites us all.”

Again – and of course – Mossad is not Judaism, nor is the CIA.

We should be questioning the attitudes of the people who leapt to accuse Ms Forbes: Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, and David Delew, chief executive of the Community Security Trust. All are self-appointed representatives of British Judaism; they haven’t been elected by the wider population of British Jews and the views they express belong to nobody but themselves.

Their statement about Ms Forbes did not address Mr Ostanin’s allegations in any but the broadest of terms – perhaps because they could see that this is extremely weak ground.

Mr Ostanin claims to be the recipient of two awards for investigative journalism. While it is true that he was among more than 20 people who won the Tom Renner Award in 2015 (for an ongoing project that won the same award in other years, when he was not named), I cannot find any reference to him winning the Hanns Joachim Friedrichs Award unless it was as a member of the Bellingcat team (as with the Renner Award).

Pinned to the top of his Twitter feed is a post about Richard Burgon, part of a campaign he launched to suggest that the shadow cabinet member was an anti-Semite because he said “Zionism is the enemy of peace”. Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, of course.

It seems Mr Ostanin is less concerned with facts than he is with following an agenda. As a journalist, I find that offensive.

Ms Forbes has also been attacked for signing a letter, alongside other Labour MPs, opposing moves for the party to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, including all its examples:

If you read the full text of the letter, rather than the highlighted parts in isolation, you will see that “Hughster” here has been disingenuous at the very least. The evidence provided in the letter supports its assertion that Israel – as it is currently governed – is not democratic and does support racism against Palestinians. Support for the “right of return” is not anti-Semitic. Neither is support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. And the letter does not say Jewish self-determination in the form of a “Jewish homeland” should be denied; it says Palestinian self-determination should not be denied by the Israeli government removing those people from their homeland.

Doesn’t that put a different complexion on this matter?

It is a matter of shame for the so-called Jewish Labour Movement (many members aren’t Jewish, many aren’t members of the Labour Party, and many are neither) that it released a statement that Ms Forbes “endorsed racist material” using this letter as a source.

It will be a matter of shame for the Labour Party if it takes seriously any complaints about Ms Forbes, based on such flimsy evidence.

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.


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