‘Is Labour anti-Semitic’? Documentary should have been renamed: ‘Is Panorama prejudiced’?

I’m guessing I watched Panorama: Is Labour anti-Semitic at a different angle from most people, especially those in the media.

While they were probably looking for evidence to hang Labour for failing to bring anti-Semites to account, I watched it for evidence that staff at the party’s Governance and Legal section had failed to identify false accusations.

As a result, I have sent correspondence to Labour general secretary Jennie Formby, requesting answers to hard questions about the way that organisation was run under Sam Matthews, and by some of the other now-former employees who spoke out on the TV documentary.

Long-term readers will know that I was falsely accused of anti-Semitism, based on doctored quotations from This Site. It is clear from even the slightest comparison of the claims with the genuine articles that my accusers in the fake charity the Campaign Against Antisemitism were acting in bad faith, but Mr Matthews (it’s his name on the letters) took them seriously.

It seems he took them so seriously that he passed details of them to the press at every opportunity – so I found out that my party membership had been suspended from a Western Mail reporter who had received the information before I saw it.

And now I have questions over who was responsible for the leak to The Sunday Times that saw me falsely labelled a Holocaust denier. That newspaper had to apologise 11 months after publishing the fake story.

So I also have questions about the allegations from these people that Labour – as a party – is anti-Semitic. It seems to me that they had an agenda and the Panorama documentary was intended to help push it.

I certainly never witnessed any anti-Semitism at Brecon and Radnorshire Constituency Labour Party while I was able to attend its meetings, and none of the members who later told me they were Jews (why would it come up in the normal run of proceedings?) ever suggested there was either, so I was surprised to see Jewish members arguing that unnamed people had inflicted it on them, as part of the documentary.

That doesn’t make them wrong or their information false. But it does conflict with my experience.

I was disappointed but not surprised to see Panorama repeat the false claims about Ken Livingstone from 2016. After being confronted with an image suggesting that Israel should be transplanted lock, stock and barrel into the USA (which itself was a response to a suggestion that the Israeli government should deport all Palestinians to Jordan, Syria, Egypt or any other Muslim/Arab country that would have them) he had simply pointed out that the German Zionists’ Federation entered into an agreement with Hitler’s Nazi government in the 1930s, in order to have German Jews transported to what was then British Mandate Palestine.

This was bizarrely perverted into an on-air claim that Mr Livingstone “has a history of false claims that Jews were in cahoots with Nazis in establishing Israel”. The information he quoted was correct. Reporter John Ware’s claim that this is a “gross misinterpretation of history” is not true.

So the testimony from Kat Buckingham is interesting. It seems clear to me that she had either swallowed the line that his claims were false without investigating it, or she was following an agenda of her own in ignoring the facts and treating him as guilty, no matter what the evidence was. This is a pattern that we have seen again and again in the years since.

Next to be interviewed was Mr Matthews, who claimed the party’s National Constitutional Committee, when it judged Mr Livingstone’s case in 2017 and gave him a two-year suspension, had said, “We acknowledge that what you said is anti-Semitic; we just don’t care.” This is a distortion of the facts.

Much of the discussion during that hearing had centred on the meaning of particular words, such as John Mann’s false claim that Mr Livingstone had said Hitler was a Zionist. The NCC had to concede that Mr Livingstone did not say that.

The issue was whether Mr Livingstone had been right to defend Naz Shah, who had been previously accused of anti-Semitism – and admitted that she had published some tweets with anti-Jewish intent. As she had done this, it would have been difficult to acquit Mr Livingstone for defending her. But his claim relating to the image of Israel transplanted to the USA was accurate.

And nobody mentions the other image, of a black man’s police mug shot with the words, “Everything Hitler did in Germany was legal” superimposed over it. That’s because – after (for example) Vanessa Feltz made a huge show of indignation over it when she interviewed Mr Livingstone on the radio, everybody discovered shortly afterwards that the man in the mug shot was Martin Luther King – probably the greatest campaigner against racism of the 20th century – and the words were pointing out that actions can be legal yet still be wrong.

So we can see a particular bias on the part of the people employed by Labour to investigate these allegations.

Labour sent Andrew Gwynne to be interviewed – and I had heard part of it in a preview on Radio 4’s PM programme, in which he had defended the expulsion of 15 party members (including me) as “15 fewer racists… 15 fewer people with obnoxious views”. I take extreme objection to being described in this way and I question whether Mr Gwynne has actually read any of the details of the cases he was discussing.

What about Marc Wadsworth, the – black – anti-racism campaigner who did so much to gain justice for the family of Stephen Lawrence but was accused of anti-Semitism because he criticised Ruth Smeeth over her over-familiarity with a reporter from a right-wing newspaper? Was he a racist?

The documentary states that, before Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader in 2015, complaints about anti-Semitism were rare. This is not entirely accurate. When Ed Miliband – himself of Jewish heritage – announced that Labour would recognise Palestine as a state in its own right, complaints spiked. It seems this was a political response by supporters of the Israeli government.

The incident set a precedent, and it would have been logical to expect more such complaints when Mr Corbyn – a known campaigner against racism of all kinds and a supporter of Palestinian rights – became leader. It would have been reasonable to suspect a spike in such complaints to have been politically-motivated, to have investigated not just the allegations but their origin, and to have come to a conclusion based on all the facts available, but I see no evidence of that in the Panorama programme.

It is true that party membership more than doubled (almost tripled?) after Mr Corbyn became leader, and we may safely assume that most of those people joined because they had similar views to those expressed by Mr Corbyn – advocates for peace, anti-racist, socialist.

Given that he has expressed pro-Palestinian views and has called for peace in the Middle East, it is also reasonable to question whether the party was also infiltrated at this time by entryists with an agenda to cause trouble for him, with accusations of anti-Semitism as the obvious method.

And of course there is no doubt that some new members genuinely expressed anti-Semitic views. But there is no reason to expect them to represent ALL supporters of Mr Corbyn. Former Israeli embassy representative Shai Masot tried to conspire with UK political figures to undermine the government, but nobody suggested this meant ALL Jews are conspiring to undermine the world’s democracies.

The suggestion that the arrival of the new members “allowed breathing space for anti-Semitism to arise” is unsupported by evidence – especially if you look at the high-profile people who were accused: Ken Livingstone had been a member for decades. So had Marc Wadsworth. Jackie Walker was a long-term party members. I had been a member since 2010 (my constituency had been habitually either Conservative or Liberal Democrat since 1979 but with the arrival of the Coalition government I had seen an opportunity for Labour to break through – and the party did succeed in doing this to some extent).

So when Sam Matthews said there had been “the creation of a culture within the Labour Party that makes anti-Semites feel that it is their political home”, I think he was talking through his hat.

Next: A quote from someone saying many people on the left define it as anti-racist and the right as racist, so in their minds they can’t be racist because they’re left-wing. It’s suggesting that these people are deluding themselves. But statistical evidence shows that this is indeed true. Racism among left-wingers is low in comparison to that among those on the right. In Labour, it is known to have occurred in around 0.05 per cent of the membership – that’s less than one per cent of the national average.

The voice-over claims that part of being anti-racist is considered to be unconditional support for the Palestinian cause. This, again, is unsupported by evidence. It is acknowledged that both Israelis and Palestinians have done appalling things to each other. But that doesn’t mean that Palestinians as a nation deserve the persecution heaped on them by the Israeli government. Consider Northern Ireland. Both sides in ‘The Troubles’ caused a huge amount of death, pain and misery, but that did not mean it had to continue indefinitely. Everybody involved eventually negotiated what has been a lasting peace – one that earned Jeremy Corbyn the Gandhi Foundation award for his contribution to it.

There’s an attempt to conflate Israel with Judaism: “They talk about Israel… but underneath, it’s the same [anti-Semitic] ideas.” On the screen, while this was being said, was a poster of a demon wrapped in the flag of Israel, holding a gun in one hand and a set of scales in the other, in which the head of a Palestinian man on one side was shown to be lighter than money on the other. Presumably we are supposed to see this as a representation of the anti-Semitic trope that Jews are obsessed with cash. But the side of the scales containing the money is also wrapped in a US flag; the poster is trying to say that Israeli persecution of Palestinians is funded by the United States. Some would call that a legitimate claim – albeit presented in an inflammatory way.

Next here’s Professor Alan Johnson with some credible information: “If you say Israel is an inherently racist endeavour, that should be abolished, that’s something different [to merely pointing out that the settlements on Palestinian land are wrong, for example].” True. But it is also perfectly reasonable to say that the current Israeli government is indeed racist and must be reformed or democratically removed – there would be nothing anti-Semitic in that.

This leads on to the assertion that Mr Corbyn has shared platforms with Palestinian groups like Hamas, who want Israel dismantled by force. Well, the IRA wanted to bring Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland by force, didn’t it? And what happened there? It seems the film-maker is running a double-standard.

And I have a question about the Corbyn quote that is run here. He is seen stating: “The idea that an organisation that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people…” and then there is a clear cut before his next words. He then continues: “… should be labelled as a terrorist organisation by the British government is really a big, big historical mistake.” Looking at the content of that quote, we don’t even know that he was talking about Hamas at the time!

To be continued…

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8 thoughts on “‘Is Labour anti-Semitic’? Documentary should have been renamed: ‘Is Panorama prejudiced’?

  1. trev

    I didn’t bother to watch Panorama as I suspected it would be biased. The BBC is an Establishment mouthpiece and they are so terrified of a Corbyn government that they will resort to allsorts of dirty tricks and smear campaigns. I agree Ken Livingstone is innocent.

  2. Amir Jamal

    The Panorama programme did not raise a single substantive case of genuine antisemitism – did it? What is a Semite? That’s a thought! Some Arabs and Muslims are Semites! What exactly is Antisemitic? What on earth have Labour people done that is genuinely Antisemitic? Chomsky has got it right. I was a BBC producer and for a while I worked in the same office as the producer of the programme. I will be sharing some of my experiences working there and would welcome The Writer Mr Sivier to contact me if he wishes. Antisemitism is a vile thing but weaponising it as a false trope to undermine a potential progressive Labour govt is appalling and disrespectful to those it claims to defend.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I really am getting tired of explaining to people that ant-Semitism does not relate to all Semitic peoples. The word was coined by someone who was himself an anti-Semite and referred only to Jews. Be sure not to make that mistake again!

      Other than that, maybe I will contact you. I know some people who want to put together a documentary of their own and it might be better for you to talk with them.

      1. Amir Jamal

        Hello Mike

        Thank you for your response and keep up your invaluable work. I admire both your values and your sheer diligence. Of course I understand how the term anti-Semitic came about but nevertheless I think that the term is flawed and I am thinking for myself in a slightly didactic way. It has become a media cliche and I just want to unpick it a bit.

        By all means put me in touch with any filmmakers. I spent two decades at the BBC, and worked on multi award winning documentaries. I am currently working on a project with a Nobel laureate showing how Britain was duped into “austerity” by the Eton boys. I studied public finance to post grad level and did very well at it. It will be very interesting if I manage to pull it off.

        Kind regards

        Amir Jamal

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        I have passed on your details. Your current project seems extremely interesting.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Yes, in this case – for deliberately presenting a message full of falsehoods.

  3. MrJeff3

    Corbyns got them very very worried any dirty trick will be used against him and those that support him untill these little Tories are shown the door more crap to come

Comments are closed.