The BBC’s hopelessly-biased Panorama documentary that posed the question in its title, Is Labour Antisemitic and tried to answer with an loud “yes” in every minute of its hour-long duration is so riddled with falsehoods and questionable material that I got less than a quarter of the way through it before calling a break in yesterday’s article on the subject.
And there’s more. Much more.
We pick up the story with another personal statement from “Rachel”, talking about Jewish friends feeling they’re being held to account for Israeli atrocities (her words) and feeling unwelcome in the Labour Party as a result. That is not my experience. Mine is of Jewish Labour members speaking out against the Israeli government, and calling for an end to those atrocities. The only reason I can imagine that people would take issue with fellow party members – of any ethnicity at all – is if they were trying to defend the actions of the Israeli government in committing such atrocities – and, in that circumstance, they probably should not be members of the Labour Party at all. I heard no evidence of that in this testimony – but then there was also no information that could be used to confirm or deny any of Rachel’s claims.
“Complaints about anti-Semitism began to surface. Corbyn loyalists dismissed them as smears, a plot to undermine the party’s new left-wing leadership,” stated John Ware’s voice-over. Kat Buckingham then appeared, to claim that the problem was real, huge, and not constructed by “embittered old Blairites”. But it didn’t have to be. The Blairites only leapt onto the bandwagon after the allegations started to be made by organisations like the Campaign Against Antisemitism. The false claims started as a way of undermining Mr Corbyn’s support for Palestine, and that was a political project by supporters of the current Israeli government.
“We have standards,” she said. “We have clear rules that we had to try to uphold.” But it seems those rules have been broken with alarming regularity. Allegations have been made that Sam Matthews was leaking like a sieve – possibly throughout his period in charge of Governance and Legal. Is that upholding Labour’s clear rules?
“Lifelong Marxists were now joining the party, clashing with the traditional centre-left of Brown and Blair, now fading into history.” This was a false claim. Brown and Blair were right-wingers who dragged Labour into right-wing authoritarianism in the 1990s. There was nothing traditional about them as Labour members. The Marxists of whom Mr Ware spoke – if they really were Marxists – were closer to traditional Labour values.
Ms Buckingham reappeared to claim the environment was like a civil war and her role was to try to bring civility back into the proceedings. As a Labour member at the time, I would dispute that. It seemed to me that the disputes team was dedicated to upholding complaints against rank-and-file members – especially those accused of anti-Semitism – while complaints against high-profile personalities like MPs and/or NEC members who condemned the accused without evidence were dismissed out-of-hand. This does not appear to be explored by the documentary.
And it wasn’t a “war between members and new members” as she falsely claimed. I was not a new member, and I have already stated that others who were falsely accused were long-standing party members too. It seems more accurate to describe the situation as an attempt to sweep people who supported Labour’s historical values out of the party.
I actually think it was appropriate to put Jeremy Corbyn’s words, often paraphrased as “kinder, gentler politics”, into the programme at this point. They certainly seemed to act like a red rag to the bulls of the anti-Corbyn campaign, who seem to have done everything they could to stir up the exact opposite. That is not Mr Corbyn’s fault and it would be wrong to doubt his sincerity. We need to look around for people who were acting in bad faith. With this programme, it seems we do not have to look far.
Next up to give testimony was Alex Richardson: “It’s been a really nasty experience as a Jew in the Labour Party,” he said, going on to discuss “an individual” who he said claimed ISIS had been created by Israel. “I’d really like Jeremy Corbyn to show leadership on this issue.
The trouble with this is that Mr Richardson is (or was) a member of the Jewish Labour Movement executive – an organisation within Labour that opposes Mr Corbyn at every opportunity – who was exposed in Al Jazeera’s 2017 documentary The Lobby, in which he not only fabricated a claim of anti-Semitism against another party member, but was also present when Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) chair Joan Ryan MP was offered £1 million by Israeli embassy conspirator Shai Masot to recruit Labour MPs to the side of the Israeli government.
Complaints about anti-Semitism were growing, we were told, so Mr Corbyn’s political advisor Seumas Milne sought help from disputes team director Mike Creighton on how to deal with it. He said top-level cases needed to be handled much more quickly, and Mr Corbyn should make a “significant” speech on the Middle East, “particularly saying that Israel had a right to exist” – something which Mr Corbyn has never denied. Indeed, he supports a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine question. Mr Creighton went on to say that Mr Milne laughed at the suggestions, and that he believed the advisor had actually been asking how the party should deal with the bad publicity it was getting.
A Labour Party response, flashed up on the screen, stated that the allegation was false and malicious, that the party disputes this conversation ever took place, and went on to state – as I have already indicated – that Mr Corbyn has repeatedly expressed his support for Israel’s right to exist and for a two-state solution.
Now the focus moved on to the investigation into Liverpool Riverside’s constituency Labour Party. After the influx of new party members, we were told, there were moves to remove Jewish MP Louise Ellman, who has held the seat for 22 years.
Ben Westerman – then the only Jewish member of the disputes team – was sent to investigate, we’re told. He referred to “uncomradely behaviour” – not just anti-Semitism but bullying and harassment. He said he thought the situation was intolerable and could be stopped.
“Westerman discovered that the word ‘Zionism’ had been weaponised into a term of abuse,” Mr Ware’s voice-over claims, and we’re treated to unattributed examples of such abuse. Apparently, attacks on Zionism are offensive to Jews because it is the movement by which they were able to establish “Israel as a secure Jewish homeland after centuries of persecution”. This may be true – although there have been implications that anti-Semites supported Zionism as a way of removing Jewish people from their own countries. And it also fails to account for the way Zionism has been used to justify the persecution of Palestinian people and the encroachment into their land by Israel over a period of decades.
Another commentator, Dave Rich, cropped up to claim that the words “Zionism” and “Judaism” have been swapped by left-wing anti-Semites and may now be considered interchangeable. This is highly problematic as it threatens to stifle genuine criticism of atrocities (Rachel’s word) carried out in the name of Zionism beneath an accusation that anyone uttering such criticism is an anti-Semite.
Ms Ellman told us that while she would come to meetings wanting to discuss domestic issues that are at the heart of Labour’s policy platform (like the NHS), she would be confronted about the Middle East, matters would become unpleasant and people would leave those meetings in tears.
She did not mention the fact that she has been a chair of the Jewish Labour Movement and vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel, and has been an active spokeswoman in Parliament on issues relating to the Middle East. It seems to This Writer that questions about her opinions on this subject may well be justified in such a situation. As for the manner in which those discussions take place… We have no empirical evidence, just the statements of contributors to this documentary – and these have been demonstrably lacking in balance.
Mr Westerman then related an account of an interview with a constituent that ended with that person asking where he was from: “Are you from Israel?” He said he assumed that this person was implying that he was “in cahoots” with the Israeli government. Maybe Mr Westerman wasn’t – we aren’t told – but he does call opposition to Israel “an obsession that just spills over all the time into anti-Semitism.”
And this very programme had already featured testimony from at least two people who are known to have been “in cahoots” with that government so one could argue that it was a reasonable question to ask – and a reasonable position to take.
And if Mr Westerman’s report didn’t result in any punishments being handed out to alleged anti-Semites in the constituency, then how serious were the comments he mentioned, really? Or will this fact be used as evidence that Labour is lenient on anti-Semites?
There was more testimony, from an unnamed man. Who is he? He referred, again, to other party members calling him “a dirty Zionist”. Again, This Writer never saw any such behaviour at Labour meetings.
Now the focus shifted to the arrival of Martha Robinson as disputes team administrator in early 2018. She said the idea that Jeremy Corbyn was going to change politics had “worn off a bit”.
“As had some of the sheen from Mr Corbyn’s reputation as a lifelong anti-racist campaigner,” voice-overed Mr Ware, going on paradoxically to refer to the mural about rich bankers by the artist Mear One that Mr Corbyn had defended, six years before.
A smirking Ms Robinson returned to say that, if Mr Corbyn is a lifelong anti-racist, he should be able to distinguish anti-Semitic tropes when he sees them – referring to the depiction of these bankers as Jewish because they all have big noses, and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that may then be assumed to have informed the creation of the mural – that the Jews control the world’s money.
The voice-over goes on to say Mr Corbyn apologised for his support of the mural in 2018, saying he hadn’t noticed any anti-Semitism because he had not looked closely enough. It turned out at the time that he had thought this was a free speech issue, not one about anti-Semitism. And isn’t it interesting that somebody had gone to the trouble of finding a six-year-old Facebook comment and resurrecting it, just at that particular moment?
Another testimony: Hurtful comments, friends reduced to tears, anti-Semitic comments in party meetings and concerns that nobody will speak out about it; a belief that the leadership don’t want to engage.
Next we came to the meat, so this seems an appropriate point at which to write:
To be continued…
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