Panorama’s great Labour stitch-up part two: The bias continues

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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10 thoughts on “Panorama’s great Labour stitch-up part two: The bias continues

  1. Mark C

    I got this response to my complaint of offence and bias;

    To allow us to reply promptly to your concerns, and to ensure we use our licence fee resources as efficiently as possible, we’re sending this response to everyone. We’re sorry that for this reason we can’t reply personally to you on each point which has been made.

    The BBC stands by its journalism and we completely reject any accusations of bias or dishonesty.

    Panorama, broadcast 10 July, explored a topic of undoubted public interest, broadcasting powerful and disturbing testimonies from party members who’d suffered anti-Semitic abuse. We also heard from former Labour officials, some of whom defied non-disclosure agreements to speak out about their experiences inside the Party and its anti-Semitism crisis. This shows the serious questions facing the party and its leadership on this issue.

    The programme adhered to the BBC’s editorial guidelines, including a full right of reply for the Labour Party.

    John Ware is a highly experienced and respected investigative journalist, whose track record includes critically-acclaimed and award-winning reports.

    We reject any claims Panorama took any of the evidence out of context.

    The significance of the email from Seumas Milne is that it showed one of the most powerful figures in the Labour Party expressing concern about the handling of anti-Semitism complaints and suggesting the wider process should be reviewed. This goes contrary to the Labour Party’s claims that this process was independent of the Leader’s Office. The impact of this email on those dealing with the complaints process was made clear in the eyewitness testimony shown in the programme.

    As is the nature of such investigations, the BBC has relied on a significant body of evidence, some of which could not be included in the broadcast programme for reasons of source protection and space.

    Thanks again for getting in touch.

  2. Carol Fraser

    Frankly I’m sick of this. I put it to you that the leadership is to blame here. Its handling of this problem is the same as the handling of Brexit. Corbyn is hopeless. Get a strong leader and get decisive

    1. Zippi

      Ask yourself this: why is it even a thing? Anti-Semitism isn’t racism, for a start yet people are calling it so. Racist incidents outnumber those of so-called anti-Semitism by factors of ten yet where is the coverage of those instances? People are murdered, on the streets, because of their “race.” Where is the media outcry? Anti-Semitism is bad, make no mistake but let’s have some perspective.

  3. Yvonne lunde-andreassen

    can’t change the world in 5 munutes….especially when focusing on distractions

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      It certainly seems clear Mr Westerman was lying. Here‘s Johnny Beggs on Facebook:

      Former Labour Party investigator caught lying in BBC Panorama interview.

      Last night’s Panorama ‘investigation’ was a hotch-potch of lies and unattributed quotes, all overlain with sinister B-movie music. It was clearly an attempt to stitch up Jeremy Corbyn.

      We listened here in Liverpool very carefully. Our Riverside constituency was put in special measures in 2016, and investigated by an antisemitism ‘expert’, Ben Westerman.

      Mr Westerman featured on the programme, and claimed that he had been asked during one of the six interviews he conducted here if he came from Israel. He implied that this was antisemitic.

      Mr Westerman is not telling the truth.

      No-one knew Mr Westerman was Jewish, and no-one asked him about coming from Israel. He is attempting to use his Jewishness to smear another (Jewish!) Party member.

      It is a provable lie because all the interviews were recorded by us.

      The transcript of the conversation with an elderly Jewish comrade, who was acting as the interviewee’s silent friend, goes like this. The initials R signifies the interviewee’s Silent Friend, present at the interview.

      Ben W: (To R) Ok. Do you want to…?
      R: No, I’m just curious cos I haven’t been in the Labour Party for very long and I certainly haven’t been to anything like this informal interview before, erm, so I’m just curious, just, like what branch are you in?
      Ben W: I don’t think that’s relevant.
      R: Oh, ok.
      Ben W: I hope that’s ok -, I’m sorry I just don’t think, I don’t think where I’m from is at all relevant to the investigation… [NOTE He hasn’t been asked ‘where he’s from’, he’d been asked what branch he is in – Johnny Beggs]
      R: Yeah, I just, I just misunderstood, I thought the investigation bit about me not being a silent witness was…
      Ben W: No, no it is, you’re more than welcome to ask questions, but I reserve the right to not answer them and I feel that’s a, that’s a question about my personal situation which I don’t think is relevant to the situation in Riverside.
      R: Oh. No, it might not be. Just but, it might be interesting.
      Ben W: I’m, I’m not prepared to discuss my, my address, basically. [NOTE: He had not been asked for his address! – Johnny Beggs]
      R: Mmm. [EXTRACT ENDS]

      After a few more brief sentences from the interviewee (also Jewish) the exchange ended. Nothing was said after the interview, as was claimed by Mr Westerman on PANORAMA.

      In the PANORAMA programme Mr Westerman claims he was asked “Where are you from?” As the transcript shows, he was actually asked about his branch affiliation. Mr Westerman looks VERY SORRY FOR HIMSELF, hurt and near to tears, and goes on to say, speaking of himself, “You are assumed to be in cahoots with the Israeli government…it’s this obsession that spills over all the time into antisemitism.”

      So, by enquiring about Mr Westerman’s branch affiliation, the elderly (Jewish!) Party member was deemed to be implying Mr Westerman was “in cahoots with the Israeli government”, and therefore antisemitic!

      Neither the interviewee or her silent friend had any idea Mr Westerman was Jewish – and neither would have deemed it relevant.

      Both the interviewee and her silent friend referenced their own Jewish heritage during the interview. Mr Westerman did not.

      None of the six Riverside members interviewed by Mr Westerman knew of his Jewish heritage – it was not relevant in any case.

      Mr Westerman’s Jewishness only becomes relevant when he tries to use it for political purposes. He now claims that not only did one of us know of his heritage, but that this comrade implied he was working on behalf of Israel – simply because she posed an innocent question enquiring about his Party branch affiliation.

      How far does this distortion and misrepresentation spread through the Panorama ‘investigation’?

      NOTE The recordings of the six interviews will be made available shortly.

  4. spirit

    I imagine splitting up your analysis is a rather sensible way of protecting your own mental health. I’ll try to stick to a single point for the sake of my own.

    In one of the many articles generated by the Guardian last night – and this particular example was well stocked with ostentatious, brazen politicking – had this sentence as its own standalone paragraph:

    “One source suggested the Panorama documentary contained “around 5%” of the detail that had been collated to submit to the EHRC.”

    I found this both sickening and encouraging with a lingering aftertaste of jadedly cynical. If this 5% is in any way representative, then it seems that the two particular groups who have worked so hard compiling voluminous ‘dossiers’ of [putative] evidence and seem to have made it impossible for the EHRC to prevent itself being used as a prop, have nothing that stands up to scrutiny. Yet here we are.

    I don’t want to spoil it for you before you get round to your next instalment, but it’s almost impossible to point out anything in the programme that’s verifiable or not easily debunked within seconds. You mention Ben Westerman’s testimony/anecdote about his visit to Liverpool and his encounter with two terrible Labour antisemites. He is, of course, a brave, young, handsome whistleblower who, on LBC with Nick Ferrari yesterday declared that the response to the documentary has itself been an act of antisemitism and furthermore:

    “To go public against a big institution like the Labour Party, which is known to everyone in the country, is a scary thing and to put your face on TV like that.

    “And instead of showing contrition and saying these people had really suffered as they clearly have, the party has implied that they’re lying, that these young Jewish people have an agenda or an axe to grind which itself is indicative of this problem.”

    Quite right, Ben. We should, nay we must, uncritically believe this account and accept his interpretation of events because these are genuinely serious issues. All we have is the testimony of this brave, young whistleblower. Oh, hang on… What’s that? You say there might be tapes?

    All the best to you, Mike.

    PS I like that you’ve described Dave Rich as a ‘commentator’. And all those comments are strictly in a personal capacity and nothing to do with his day job, otherwise surely the Charity Commission would be having words, right?

  5. neilpick

    It’s a minor point, but a significant one in terms of how the Labour right embroiders and lies to suit its narrative. A propos the Mear One mural, ” …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……”. Really? Apart from the antisemitic trope that that statement represents, the premise is inaccurate. Of the six bankers represented, only two were Jewish, three were Christians. Just saying.

    1. Zippi

      I have, on numerous occasions, directed people to video and commentary of the painting of the mural and interview with the artist, explaining who the bankers were, what they represented, who the other figures were and what it meant. ‘Tis a pity that those who are quick to denounce it are not so quick to do the slightest bit of research before passing comment. The video footage have been online for years!

Comments are closed.