This anti-Semitism complaint against Tom Watson should not stand up

Antagonists: Professor Geoffrey Alderman and Tom Watson.

Tom Watson deserves censure – indeed, expulsion – from the Labour Party for his role in accusing innocent members of anti-Semitism – but he doesn’t deserve it for correctly quoting scripture.

It seems that a professor of Jewish history, Geoffrey Alderman, has made an official complaint against Mr Watson about the Labour deputy leader’s Easter message:

In his Easter 2019 “message” to his followers, Mr Tom Watson MP referred to the arrest of Jesus of Nazareth. Specifically, he said that Jesus was arrested by “a squad of Roman soldiers under the direction of a servant to the High Priest.”

The allegation that Jews were Christ-killers, implicated in if not actually responsible for the death of Jesus, is widely regarded as the oldest antisemitic trope.

This is interesting, because scripture itself is very clear on the subject – that the Jewish priesthood of the day were expected to betray Jesus as it would fulfil prophecy, but they were not empowered to kill him.

All four Gospels state that Jesus was arrested by order of the Jewish priesthood of the day. Consider Matthew 26:47*:

“While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared; with him was a great crowd armed with swords and cudgels, sent by the chief priests and the elders of the nation.”

And at Matthew 26:51 we may read:

“At that moment one of those with Jesus reached for his sword and drew it, and he struck at the High Priest’s servant and cut off his ear.”

It goes on to say that Jesus was led off, under arrest, to the house of Caiaphas the High Priest, where the chief priests and the whole Council “tried to find some allegation against Jesus on which a death-sentence could be based; but they failed to find one, though many came forward with false evidence. Eventually they settled on blasphemy.

Mark tells the same story in chapter 14: 43-64.

It is in Luke, chapter 22: 47-53, 66-71.

And it is in John, chapter 18: 3-14, 19-24, 29-32.

Maybe this part of the Christian story has been used to raise anti-Jewish sentiment in the past. It is also possible that it was concocted when Christianity was adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire, for political reasons.

But my experience is that any such animosity, if it did exist, has long since been dropped.

In any case, I would be very interested to see Professor Alderman’s evidence to show that the story didn’t happen as described in the Bible. What historical records can he produce?

I attended a church school – Anglican – and we were taught to respect people who belonged to other religions; not to attribute the sins of their fathers (for want of a better phrase) upon them; and also that “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword”.

My Religious Education class visited a synagogue (and a mosque, come to that) to learn about other beliefs. It was never suggested to us that this story was the “oldest antisemitic trope”. If it was, I would say it had been laid to rest.

So I find it extremely strange that Professor Alderman wants to resurrect it.

If anything, it seems that he is trying to create an anti-Christian spin on it.

I certainly hope that none of his fellows in the Jewish religion follow this bad example.

Tom Watson is a wrong ‘un, no doubt. But to demonise him by trying to stir up animosity between Jews and Christians is completely unacceptable and I hope everyone of both religions condemns his words.

Source: Excl: Watson subject of formal antisemitism complaint by Professor of Jewish history | The SKWAWKBOX

*All Biblical quotes are from my old copy of the New English Bible.

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29 thoughts on “This anti-Semitism complaint against Tom Watson should not stand up

  1. Martin Odoni

    But even so, when a Labour member is accused of anti-Semitic behaviour with any supporting case presented, he/she MUST be expelled automatically, without even an investigation, right? I mean, I’m sure ‘someone’ high up in the Parliamentary Labour Party was arguing for that just a couple of weeks ago. Mind’s gone a complete blank who it was, but hey ho.

    1. Florence

      I thought the same reading this article. Thin to non existant evidence? Claim that if one person is offended, it proves the alleged case? These and more have all been used against party members. This complaint does feel like a calculated use of the IHRC full examples to show how threadbare it all is.

      Still wondering too who it was who demanded draconian expulsion before investigation…….😶 …..

  2. Mark C

    Be interested to see what side the likes of Marsan, Oberman, Barber and Riley etc, previous fanboys of Watson, will come down on

  3. Rita

    I too was somewhat taken aback by this Biblical complaint (which I do not give a damn about) but I have not been as generous as you in suggesting letting despicable Watson off the hook. Frankly I am quite happy to see him wriggle until the party’s unfair disciplinary procedure meanders its way to another political decision.


    If you’re going to cite a work of fiction as evidence of, well, anything, then surely you’ve lost the plot?
    Jesus was never arrested because there’s no evidence he actually existed.

    It’s a story, people and nation states really need to get over themselves and their superstitions.

    Interestingly, the mechanations of Tom Watson are uncannily similar to Grima Wormtongue’s. I’m sure I could find suitable scripture within my copy of Lord of the Rings to prove Watson is anti-royalist. Or something.

    Luckily we’re in the middle of the sixth mass extinction and soon all this nonsense will be swept away. Justifiablly so, given the evidence of our low collective IQ. Just a shame about all the other species we’re taking with us.

    1. trev

      A work of fiction? Well you’re entitled to your own opinion of course, but that’s all it is, i.e. your opinion.

      1. Neil Booth

        Not really a good argument that. He is indeed entitled to his opinion. However, it is not merely that. There is no hard evidence of Christ being the Son of God. Or, beyond the writings of his small group of followers that he ever existed at all. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that very many of the disciples ‘could’ write, so who did put down the testaments of Christ? The Bible is a ‘one piece of evidence’ part of history. History is known to be (according to all the great Historiography experts) less and less valid the smaller the evidence base. When there is only one document, no matter how many authors (the Anglo-Saxon chronicles for example) it is treated with extreme caution as its accuracy is highly suspect. Only Holy Books are exempt from this accepted practise, not because they are more accurate, they aren’t, but because historians are wary of pissing off millions of believers. There is no hard evidence the Bible is true, or historically accurate, and as with many documents in History, it could well be taken, if not for its religious importance as total fiction. Religion is based on faith, not fact. It is also highly historically tenuous. As such sneering at someone for simply pointing that out is pretty daft.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        Can we have a bit of respect for other people’s religious beliefs, please?

      3. Mike Sivier Post author

        Can we have a bit of respect for other people’s religious beliefs, please?

      4. trev

        That’s the point I’m making, atheism is just as much a belief system as religion and shouldn’t be asserted as fact as it is just yet another opinion. Though having said that, some people who believe in religion have had their beliefs reinforced by personal experience, not that it can be proven to anyone else.

  5. Peter Twohey

    Your point is well made but I am less certain of the assumption you draw. If true it is indeed a dangerous path to tread. His complaint also highlights the absurdity of Watson’s position and I am interested to see if he has more to say on the subject. Until then I shall keep my powder dry. Watson’s position (by his own rules) is now untenable and taken together with his paedophile disaster any honourable man would resign his position.
    Not I suspect our Tom….Pity.

  6. Zippi

    Anybody who knows scripture will know that, as an anti-Semitic trope, this is nonsense. Jesus was of the House Of David so, he was sent to death by his own people; this was on charges of blasphemy, whether you agree, or not, is beside the point. Also, according to Biblical scripture, not only was this prophesied, but it was necessary for our salvation so, to blame “the Jews” is not only nonsense but hypocritical and shows a lack of understanding of Biblical scripture. Only those who were alive at the time could have any bearing on what took place and certainly the English translations of the Bible are not explicit when describing which of the tribes of Israel were at odds with Jesus. Christians should be indebted to Jews, firstly, for giving us Jesus and second and most importantly, for enabling the Resurrection, upon which Christianity is founded.
    Why Tom Watson was talking about this in an Easter message, which is about the Resurrection, I know not.

    1. Deborah Maccoby

      My letter of the week published in the New Statesman on April 12, 2004 (I have copied and pasted it from the NS archive). I based it on a book by my father, Hyam Maccoby, Revolution in Judaea: Jesus and the Jewish Resistance, which I recommend all here to read. Basically, my father (together with many other scholars) argues that the Sanhedrin did not try Jesus secretly for blasphemy; he was tried first by the police court of the collaborationist High Priest for sedition against Rome and then by a Roman court; he was found guilty of rebellion against Rome (he had claimed to be the non-divine Jewish Messiah and King of the Jews) and crucified by the Romans. The Pharisee rabbis, who were opposed to the quisling High Priest, were sympathetic to Jesus and the Jewish people as a whole supported his rebellion..

      Letters – Letter of the week
      Monday 12th April 2004

      Ann Widdecombe (Observations, 5 April), commenting on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, accuses the Jewish community of “denying the reality of a shameful episode in their history. You do not have to believe that Jesus was the Messiah to recognise the illegality of His trial . . .”

      Many scholars now accept that Jesus was tried not by the Sanhedrin for blasphemy but by the police court of the High Priest (a collaborator with Rome) for sedition against Rome. The punishment for blasphemy would have been stoning by the Jews, not crucifixion by the Romans, the standard punishment for rebellion against the Roman empire.

      It is now recognised by many scholars that the Gospels as we have them were written
      between about 70 and 100AD by Gentile-Christian editors working on original Jewish-Christian source material and changing it to absolve the Romans and put the blame on the Jews. These editors were writing soon after the crushing of the Jewish Revolt in 70AD and it was deeply embarrassing to them that the chief figure of their religion was a Jew who had died upon a Roman cross. So they had to make it clear that Jesus had not died as a rebel against Rome but was put to death by the Jews, whom they branded as an accursed people who had killed the Son of God.

      Deborah Maccoby
      London E5

      1. Mike Sivier Post author

        But one of the Gospels makes it clear that the Jewish authorities could not put him to death – that had to be done by the Romans. Also, the Gospels don’t mention the Sanhedrin but do mention Caiaphas so this is interesting as it corroborates and contradicts at the same time (it seems). Good to have it, though.

        I’m more interested in the fact that Ann Widdecombe apparently also gave voice to this “oldest anti-Semitic trope”, as Prof Alderman describes it. Will we see her accused in a similar way?

      2. trev

        That’s all very interesting but Jesus made it clear that no one was responsible for His death because He willingly laid down His own life (John 10:17 – 18)

  7. kipperwacker

    There are varying accounts from different versions of the bible. What you *should* be questioning surely is Watson’s choice – which is unnecessary and vituperative and, yes, anti-semitic

    1. trev

      In England at least, not sure about the rest of UK, we use the Authorized version aka the King James Bible, and so I take it Mr. Watson would be referring to that one.

  8. Dave Jones

    As a fairly typical, modern-day, open-minded Christian, I believe Mike is correct in saying that, on the whole, “any such animosity, if it did exist, has long since been dropped.” Christianity has always taught that the death of Jesus was for the salvation of all humanity. Therefore, all humankind, in its waywardness, was somehow responsible for his death – not just this or that race or nation. Retrospectively, we could see it as a mere accident of history that the occupying Roman power in Jerusalem at that time sentenced one Jesus of Nazareth to death at the instigation of the Jewish religious authorities of the day.

    Incidentally, I don’t know if Mark Bevis is a Labour Party member, as I am; in which case he could be in breach of party rules by being so categorically dismissive and belittling towards Christian belief. The Labour Party Rulebook, Chapter 2, Clause 1, Section 8 says, “No member of the Party shall engage in conduct which …. might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on age; disability; gender reassignment or identity; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; RELIGION OR BELIEF; sex or sexual orientation … ” [Capitalised emphasis mine].

  9. angryanglo

    It’s always the philosemitic hypocrite that shills the loudest who is hiding the biggest prejudice. Always be deeply suspicious of philosemites, they are not unlike male feminists who are among the biggest abusers of women.

      1. trev

        I’m not sure how to respond to that, other than it sounds like a huge generalization and is yet again just another opinion.

  10. Deborah Maccoby

    Dear Mike,

    Re your comment that “one of the Gospels makes it clear that the Jewish authorities could not put him to death” see this extract from Revolution in Judaea (Orbach and Chambers, 1973, p.204):

    “The author of John’s Gospel….noticed a certain difficulty. Why, if the Jewish authorities were so convinced that Jesus was a blasphemer, did they not execute him themselves, instead of handing him over to Pilate on a trumped-up charge of sedition? John finds an ingenious solution to this difficulty by putting into the mouth of the Jews,’It is not lawful for us to put any man to death’ As a matter of historical fact, the Jews DID have the right, at this time, to carry out the death penalty for religious offences, subject only to the automatic ratification of the Procurator.”

    My father has a footnote here, which reads: “See Haim Cohen, op.cit, pp. 346-350, Paul Winter, op.cit. p.10 and p.154, S.G. F. Brandon, op.cit. p.92, H. Mantel, Studies in the History of the Sanhedrin, pp.254-265.” The books by Cohen, Winter and Brandon are, respectively: The Trial and Death of Jesus, On the Trial of Jesus and The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth.

    It is astonishing that no fuss was made about Ann Widdecombe’s NS article in 2004 — but this was before tropes became a thing. I have found a link to her article:

    all the best,


    1. Zippi

      Whatever the evidence, Biblical Scripture tells us that Jesus’s death was not only necessary for our Salvation but was prophesied and fulfilled Scripture; in short, it was God’s will therefore Jews should not be held responsible for the death of one of their own, nor should any of the descendants of the House Of Israel.

    2. Zippi

      “If you believe this film should not be shown, then you must believe the Bible should not be read.” She has a point why did she have to entitle her article Why “The Jews” are Wrong?

  11. Deborah Maccoby

    PS You say that the Gospels don’t mention the Sanhedrin, but in fact the Synoptic Gospels – Mark, Matthew and Luke – do mention the “elders”, which means the Sanhedrin (Mark 14: 53, Matthew 26: 59: Luke 22: 66).

  12. Deborah Maccoby

    Dear Mike,

    Re Watson and the arrest of Jesus: John’s Gospel is the only one that mentions Roman soldiers arresting Jesus; the other Gospels try to exculpate the Romans by only referring to Jews, mixing together the quisling High Priest and the anti–Roman “elders”, ie the Pharisee rabbis who were the majority in the Sanhedrin:”the chief priests and the scribes and the elders” (Mark 14: 43, Matthew 26:47), Luke 22: 52).

    All the Gospels say Judas betrayed Jesus by leading to him those who arrested him – and the unhistorical story of Judas’s betrayal was used to symbolise the treachery of the whole Jewish people. My father points out (page 298) that the very early “Gospel of Peter, of which a fragment was discovered in 1884, does not contain the story of Judas’s treachery at all. Its narrator tells how, after the crucifixion “we, the twelve disciples of the Lord, were weeping and were in sorrow”.

    John gives the true story by referring to Roman soldiers and officers from the High Priest, but unhistorically adds “Pharisees” (18:3).

    Watson, however, leaves out Judas and Pharisees and only mentions Roman soldiers and the quisling High Priest’s servant – he presumably thinks that the High Priest’s servant led the soldiers to Jesus. So I don’t think Watson’s account is antisemitic.

    But in general I don’t think the use of “tropes” should be countered with accusations of antisemitism and suspension and expulsions from political parties: instead there should be debate and evidence – and many thanks to you for providing such an opportunity on your website.

    all the best,


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