The UK Media’s Spurious Campaign Against Labour “Antisemitism”

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

While I was in London recently, the BBC programme Panorama aired a supposed exposé on Labour’s “antisemitism crisis”.

In the Panorama programme, titled “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?”, a series of whistleblowers formerly employed by the Labour party accused the party’s leadership of failing to tackle antisemitism within its ranks.

“Is Labour Anti-Semitic?” is deeply flawed.

For instance it featured Ella Rose and Alex Richardson who had been caught in an Al-Jazeera video-sting discussing ways of neutralizing pro-Palestinian activists in the Labour party with an operative working under the cover of the Israeli embassy (the operative, Shai Masot, was subsequently expelled from the UK).

“Is Labour Anti-Semitic?” failed to name and identify Rose and Richardson as the pro-Israel activists they in fact are.

It also failed to point out that the Al-Jazeera video-sting showed the Israeli embassy’s methods to include political “hit lists” and establishing front groups.

Rose, currently on the executive of the Jewish Labour Movement, which is affiliated to the Labour party, used to work at the Israeli embassy; and Richardson is an aide to Joan Ryan MP, the Labour Friends of Israel chair who left the Labour party in a hissy fit over Corbyn’s alleged “hatred for Israel”.

A couple of points need to be made.

Firstly, the Labour party is of course not completely free from antisemitism. Antisemitism exists across all sections of British society, and the Labour party is no exception.

However, a 2017 YouGov survey on British attitudes towards Jews, commissioned by the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), found that supporters of the Labour Party were less likely to hold antisemitic views than those of the Conservative Party or the far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP), while supporters of the Liberal Democrats were the least likely to have antisemitic beliefs.

32% of Labour supporters were found to have at least one “antisemitic attitude”, as defined by the CAA, compared to 30% for the LibDems, 39% for UKIP supporters, and 40% for the Conservatives.

Secondly, it has to be admitted that Labour’s response to these charges of antisemitism has been slow and faltering.

The recent creation by Labour of a website titled “No Place for Antisemitism” is therefore a welcome step in the right direction.

Labour has tended to impugn the motives of those accusing it of institutionalized antisemitism, when it should be focusing instead on point-by-point rebuttals of these accusations, since many of them are baseless and often malicious. This was the case with the Panorama programme.

Labour requires departing employees to sign non-disclosure agreements. There can be sound reasons for having such NDAs in any organization, but at the same time they give the impression of being gags on those who leave for whatever reason.

Several former Labour employees who appeared on the Panorama programme breached their NDAs, and of course Panorama made a great show of their “courage in sometimes highly distressing circumstances” by becoming whistleblowers.

Labour needs to reconsider its use of NDAs. Their efficacy is limited.

For instance, a number of the female victims of Trump’s predatory conduct signed NDAs in return for his payments/bribes, but cut themselves loose from their NDAs when the time came. So far Trump, for all his bluster and bullying, has been powerless to stop them.

What Labour needs, among other things, is a rebuttal unit, able to produce material that could be on the air within hours of any groundless charge of antisemitism. This team could speak on its own accord, or perhaps more appropriately, have this material prepared for presentation by suitable party spokepersons.

Rather than saying that the people who appeared on the Panorama programme were “disaffected employees”, etc., which was stating the obvious, a rebuttal unit of this kind could have highlighted the BBC’s disingenuous failure to identify Ella Rose and Alex Richardson as operatives with close connections to the Israeli embassy, and the methods used by the embassy to neutralize opposition to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

This unit could also have been useful in at least one well-publicized case.

The MP Chris Williamson, a staunch Corbyn supporter, was suspended, then readmitted, but has now been suspended again from the Labour party for saying it has been “too apologetic” when dealing with the so-called “antisemitism crisis”.

Here is what Williamson actually said:

“We’ve done more to actually address the scourge of antisemitism than any other political party, and yet we are being traduced.

The party that has done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party.

I’ve got to say I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that. Because in my opinion we’ve backed off far too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic”.

Williamson was therefore saying that his party had been too apologetic in its response to accusations of Labour “antisemitism” (many of which have been found to be manufactured), as opposed to being too apologetic about Labour’s antisemitism per se.

Williamson apologized quickly for failing to be more judicious in his language, but ruthless opportunists, most of them in the media, foisted the latter of the above construals onto him, and the dirt stuck.

A rebuttal team would have been able to respond immediately, and while this might not have been completely successful, it would at least have done something to stem the deluge of false accusations falling on Williamson.

Another thing such a rebuttal team can do is to specify any direct financial ties existing between those bent on charging Labour with antisemitism (many of whom belong to the party’s Blairite remnant) and the UK’s pro-Zionist lobby, and as the already-mentioned Al-Jazeera sting revealed, even the Israeli embassy in London.

A monthly release of a carefully-researched fact sheet updating information on such financial ties could also be one of the tasks undertaken by the rebuttal team.

There is nothing inherently problematic about providing information about which organizations have which politicians on their payroll (for this is what such financial ties amount to)— campaigning groups in the UK and US supply information regularly about politicians who are on the payroll of individuals (the Koch brothers in the US, the Brexiter Arron Banks in the UK) or organizations such as the pharmaceutical industry (the Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker); gambling interests (Louisiana politicians seem particularly susceptible to its donors); the tobacco (the Tory grandee Ken Clarke), brewing and distilling industries; financial services (the Democrat Chuck Schumer, aka the Senator for Wall Street); carbon-energy industries (such as the Virginia Republican congressman Morgan Griffith in the district where I reside); the US gun lobby (many Republican politicians); AIPAC (numerous US politicians of both parties); the press (both BoJo Johnson and his erstwhile rival for the Tory leadership Michael Gove have been paid handsome sums by rightwing newspapers while purporting to be journalists); and so forth.

British politicians and their financial sustainers in the UK’s Zionist lobby should in principle not be entitled to exemptions on this score.

All that needs to be done by Labour is for the facts be stated, with no overlay of commentary.

As a good-faith gesture, the politicians mentioned on this fact sheet could be invited to submit whatever corrections or clarifications they wished.

It may surprise some that the supposedly “liberal” Guardian is spearheading the “antisemitism” campaign against Labour. Far too many people have illusions about The Guardian.

The Guardian, throughout its history, has been a supporter of the centrist Liberal party, now existing as the LibDems. Its support for Labour has largely been confined to the non-socialist Blairite ascendency within the party.

Only four of its current columnists– Aditya Chakraborty, George Monbiot, Frances Ryan, and Gary Younge, each redoubtable in their own way– operate fully outside the confines of a centrist political agenda.

The driving force behind The Guardian’s “antisemitism” campaign against Labour is another columnist, Jonathan Freedland.

Early on in his career Freedland was The Guardian’s Washington reporter. In the days when he was less well-known he put his email address at the bottom of his articles. After reading a biased piece by him on the US and Israel, I emailed him pointing out the details of a Zionist predisposition in his reporting. I did not expect a reply, and got none.

Since then Freedland has gone on to greater things within The Guardian, and he now has oversight of the paper’s editorial line on all matters concerning Israel.

Two things seem of particular concern to Freedland.

The first is to have the flawed IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Association) definition of antisemitism foisted on to the Labour party.

This “definition” is hopelessly imprecise, so much so that it has no standing in law. It is accompanied by a smorgasbord of “illustrations” of antisemitism, with no attempt made to delineate, let alone justify, the possible reasoning behind the choice of the “illustrations” in question.

The definition states:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities”.

Most of the “illustrations” are uncontroversial for anyone who is not antisemitic, but others are not. The latter have in fact a particular bearing on support for the Palestinian cause:

+ accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than to the interests of their own nations;

+claiming that the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour;

 + applying double standards by requiring of Israel conduct not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation;

+ drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

The clear intent behind this particular set of “illustrations” is to conflate criticism of Israel with “antisemitism”.

Anti-Israel or anti-Zionist remarks however are not antisemitic as such.

Analogously, when an African (say) makes an anti-US statement, he/she is not somehow being “anti-Caucasian” or “anti-Christian”, or whatever, as such.

Only someone quite stupid, or downright malicious, won’t be able to grasp this simple point.

Hence, it should be evident to those who are fair-minded and objective that Israel is a racist endeavour– Israeli law now stipulates that Israel is the state for Jews (only) despite the fact that 20% of its population is Arab.

Israeli conduct falls short of standards expected of democratic nations– e.g. using military snipers to murder and wound with impunity medical personnel and journalists in Gaza, all clearly identified by their clothing.

There are aspects of Israeli policy and practice with tangible similarities to the Nazis– arbitrary confiscation and demolition of Palestinian dwellings, the use of attack dogs to bite and corral non-violent demonstrators, the repeated use of collective punishments, starvation as a weapon of occupation, the deliberate destruction of agricultural crops, the use of snipers to target unarmed civilians, and so forth.

These similarities have to be specified precisely and in detail—simply saying something along the lines of “Israel is like Nazi Germany” won’t cut the mustard, since it will be pounced on by Zionists, who will take the opposite line and point to instances where Israel is not like Nazi Germany (and obviously there are such instances).

Freedland’s second concern has been to preempt a Corbyn premiership. Corbyn has been a long-time supporter of Palestinian rights, and his premiership could involve a significant reassessment of UK policy on such issues as BDS.

Ireland has already taken a lead on BDS among European countries, by banning all products from the illegal settlements, and the fear among Zionists is that Corbyn and his Labour colleagues could turn out to be a tad more radical than the Irish, i.e. by recognizing Palestine as a state.

Therefore, at least one question needs to be posed to Corbyn’s pro-Zionist detractors in the Labour party (and The Guardian) who accuse him of being an antisemite:

“If Labour under Corbyn recognizes Palestine as a state— would you consider such recognition to be an act of antisemitism?”.

With the connivance of the media, Corbyn has had several purported cruxes, nearly all fake, posed to him by pro-Zionists within his own party and their supporters in the media.

It is high time Corbyn and his supporters took their turn to engage Zionist critics such as Jonathan Freedland with Labour’s own precisely-phrased and fact-checked cruxes.


Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.