[Note: This article is much-delayed – events between the last instalment of my feature on the BBC’s Panorama: Is Labour Antisemitic? meant that I could not finish it until now. I wanted to run my analysis right through to the end as the next step is to compose a complaint – or a series of them – to the BBC. Current events have now made that timely, as you’ll see at the end of the piece.]
The next part of Panorama: Is Labour Antisemitic? started by saying the Chakrabarti Report had said people should not be judged on the company they keep. Mr Ware’s voiceover said this was “Just as well – for Mr Corbyn.”
She had drawn specific red lines over past history, according to Mike Creighton – platform-sharing being one of them.
“For someone who insists he’s such a principled anti-racist and he always opposes anti-Semitism, it is extraordinary the number of times he finds himself alongside people who have a record of expressing views or doing things that are completely the opposite of the anti-racism he claims,” says
One would expect, following this, a series of allegations that Jeremy Corbyn shared space with anti-Semites, in an attempt to show that he is also anti-Semitic.
But all we saw was a claim about inviting an alleged anti-Semite named Raed Salah to Parliament. Was this the only platform-sharing accusation the Panorama team could find that hasn’t been disproved?
If so, the platform was on very dodgy ground indeed. Raed Salah spent time in a British jail after coming to the UK to attend a Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting in the House of Commons. Panorama showed footage of Mr Corbyn inviting him to it. The arrest appears to have been on the basis that he had written an anti-Semitic poem, but was overturned when it was revealed that somebody had produced a falsified version of the poem with the words “You Jews” inserted to create a false impression of anti-Semitism. It seems this person suffers a lot of interference of this sort. What kind of person devises and carries out a plan like that – and for what purpose? Mr Ware did not say.
It is a flawed argument anyway. Mr Corbyn spent more than 15 years talking with people associated with terrorist groups in Northern Ireland before the Good Friday Agreement. He wasn’t a terrorist sympathiser himself – he was working for peace – and eventually won an award for it from the Gandhi Foundation.
The official Labour response doesn’t really address this, and one has to wonder whether it was just inserted here but refers to another query: “Jeremy Corbyn’s record on opposing anti-Semitism goes back decades. He has proactively addressed anti-Semitism within the party in direct communications to the party membership, in articles, speeches, videos and interviews.”
Moving on, we are told modern anti-Semitism has its roots in ancient conspiracy theories that the difference between them and others is that “they are malign, powerful and tricksy – always tricksy, behind the scenes, pulling the strings, their power is always shrouded and hidden. The New Left had their own form of anti-Semitism which was that the Jews were the arch-Imperialist power, and this is what has filtered through into the present-day Labour Party,” we are told without a shred of proof.
Ah, but Mr Ware wanted to tell us that Mr Corbyn has himself engaged in a conspiracy theory about Israel (not Jews, then? Wrong subject!) – in 2012, 16 Egyptian border guards were murdered. “As the BBC reported at the time, the Egyptian government were clear – jihadists were to blame… Despite all this, a week later, on Iranian state TV, Mr Corbyn turned up with his own highly-conspiratorial interpretation of the facts.”
What did he say? “You have to look at the big picture. In whose interests is it to destabilise the new government in Egypt? In whose interests is it to kill Egyptians other than Israel? I suspect the hand of Israel in this whole process of destabilisation.”
Nothing in his comment suggests any anti-Semitic intent. He was referring to the state of Israel, acting for political purposes of its own, and not to the Jewish people, many (if not most) of whom live elsewhere and do not share the political views of that state’s government.
And this is reflected in the official Labour response: “Jeremy Corbyn’s speculation about the perpetrators of attacks on Egyptian border guards was based on previous well-documented incidents of killings of Egyptian forces by the Israeli military.”
Mr Ware, interviewing former disputes team member Dan Hogan, asked an obvious question: If Mr Corbyn were still associating with the same people he did before he became Labour leader, would he survive the disciplinary process?
The answer is telling – but perhaps not for the reason Mr Ware wanted us to think: “If he were an ordinary member of the Labour Party, no… I think he would be expelled.”
This tells us that higher-ranking members of the party are protected from complaints about their behaviour – which explains more about the survival in the party of people like Margaret Hodge and Tom Watson than it does about Jeremy Corbyn.
The official response: “This is offensive nonsense… Jeremy Corbyn was subject to the same rules as everyone else. He has not done or said anything that constitutes a breach of the party’s rule book.”
This Writer’s problem with that is: Neither did I! But I have been expelled. And high-ranking party members do seem to get away with saying the most offensive things and having complaints against them dismissed – possibly by Mr Hogan and/or members of the disputes team at the time he was there. This would have been a legitimate point to investigate, but Mr Ware skated over it because he wanted to attack Jeremy Corbyn, not to find out what is really wrong in the Labour system.
Next came more testimony: “We feel like we don’t belong here, and we have to do far more than anybody else to be accepted.” This person – unnamed – stated: “A year ago, a member of the Labour Party decided to do a video, just about me, a 45-minutes video, where he started… by saying I was “a fucking Jew… Someone told me I was a pig – a Jewish pig… Do you feel that they single you out just because of being Jewish?”
I would like to see evidence to support this. If the video exists, why wasn’t it shown as proof? This is only hearsay without it.
Moving on: In August 2018, Mr Corbyn acknowledged that Labour could have handled its anti-Semitism crisis better, we were told. The accompanying video clip showed him saying the party had been “too slow”.
We were told “many members are no longer convinced”. But Mr Ware and his team have spoken to only 20 Labour Party members out of a membership of more than half a million. Is that “many members”? Or is it in fact a pitiful few?
The disputes team members interviewed on the programme had left the party, we were told. Kat Buckingham said she was stuck between an “angry” leader’s office and an “arcane” disciplinary system when she left in 2016. It is interesting that the fact of her early departure was left until so late in the programme. Claims of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party were relatively few at that point. And what does she mean by an “arcane” disciplinary procedure?
She said she had a breakdown: “People felt it was okay to make people feel unwelcome in their community. It’s not okay.” But what about all the attempts to make Labour members – who haven’t committed any anti-Semitic acts – feel unwelcome in that party? What about all the moves to push them out? Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Next up: Sam Matthews. “There were elements… certainly in the leader’s office… who regarded us and our team as Blairites who were working to undermine the leader of the Labour Party. And now suddenly our boss is someone who has openly accused members of my team of being politically-motivated, of not investigating complaints against Blairites but of investigating complaints against supporters of Jeremy. And this all created an environment and a culture that meant that the mental health of me and my team went through the floor.”
But it is known that high-profile Blairites – especially those who freely accused other party members of anti-Semitism – got a free pass when complaints were made about them. This Site has reported on that phenomenon. Mr Matthews currently stands accused of leaking to the press huge amounts of material about Corbyn-supporting party members who have been accused of anti-Semitism. And what about these claims the disputes team members shredded a large volume of complaints against their friends/Blairites/people who made false accusations?
Moving on again: In return for not having to work out their notice periods, disputes team members like Louise Withers-Green were told they’d have to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, we were told. She complained that it was highly-restrictive about what she would be allowed to say – but isn’t that justified, considering her job was to root around the private personal information of party members?
Some of the controversy around the programme prior to its transmission was about Labour using these legal devices when the party’s official line is to oppose them. It is true that the Data Protection Act orders data holders to keep people’s information confidential – but in the Labour Party, the official data holder is the general secretary. Disputes team members, who handle personal data every day, must also be held to confidentiality by some means and it seems likely that NDAs were the only such means available.
And they have broken those agreements – most clearly with the leaks to the press that led, in my own case, to me being libelled as a Holocaust denier by The Sunday Times and four other news outlets including the Jewish Chronicle. Whoever committed that offence did so in breach of an NDA long before Panorama got anywhere near them.
Summing up in voice-over, Mr Ware concluded: “Notions about Jews, their supposed power, their hidden influence, and malign intent have surfaced within Labour as never before.” Really? On the basis of this film, such accusations hang on the claims of a very small number of people whose motivation is highly suspect, accusing a very high number of their fellow party members.
As I write this, I note that the BBC received 1,593 complaints about this Panorama hatchet-job during the period in which it was broadcast – that’s one-quarter of all the complaints it received in that time.
And now I’m off to write another one.
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