Jewish Voice for Labour: BBC Panorama’s “Is Labour Antisemitic?”
Thu 11 Jul 2019
With the transmission on Wednesday evening of the Panorama programme Is Labour Antisemitic? the BBC has reached a new low point in its retreat from its once praised tradition of impartiality.
The BBC has entrusted a programme of great sensitivity to a journalist whose prejudices are well known. The result quite predictably is a farrago of half-truths, distortions and outright invention.
The principle ‘witnesses’ offered by the programme were Labour Party ex-officials, appointed under Blair and deeply hostile to the members’ choice for Leader, Jeremy Corbyn. During the first years of Corbyn’s leadership it was officials working for the then General Secretary Iain McNicol who sabotaged the disciplinary process – not to protect antisemites, but so that Corbyn could be blamed for it. As described by Jewish NEC member Jon Lansman, on resigning they stole and then deleted whole tranches of correspondence – so that once again the Party could be blamed for not processing allegations effectively.
As the Labour Party has said: “These disaffected former officials include those who have always opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, worked to actively undermine it, and have both personal and political axes to grind.”
There has been an outcry against the leakers of privileged correspondence from our ambassador in the United States. Yet this Panorama programme invites us to accept and praise the behaviour of staff who have abused their trust. The BBC has abandoned its professional standards.
Is Labour Antisemitic? was notable for its selective choice of additional witnesses. A small number of (unnamed) Jewish Labour party members made personal statements to camera of their discomfort at their sense of being in a hostile environment. But hundreds of statements from Jewish members entirely comfortable within the Party have been submitted to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission inquiry into the Party’s procedures. They are not difficult to find – yet none were interviewed. A whole constituency party, Liverpool Riverside, was grotesquely maligned as antisemitic and bullying, but not one member of the CLP, Jewish or otherwise, was invited to respond.
The programme was unforgivably careless with its facts. People who were expelled from the Party such as Jackie Walker and Ken Livingstone were fingered as antisemitic. In fact no charge of antisemitism was made against either of them, as it could not be sustained. They were expelled for ‘bringing the party into disrepute’, a conveniently flexible concept. Jackie Walker is Jewish. This was not mentioned. The only supposed ‘crime’ of hers referred to – pointing out the Jewish role in the slave trade – was falsely represented without noting that she had been acquitted of the charge.
The BBC is not alone in its uncritical coverage of the campaign of allegations that the Labour Party is antisemitic – it applies to the whole UK mainstream media. An expert survey by researchers from the Media Reform Coalition showed, however, that the BBC and Guardian out-did all their competitors in bias.
There is indeed a story here worthy of penetrating journalistic analysis. The public would be well served by a programme exploring how so great a moral panic came to be generated on so slender an evidence base. But that would require committed investigative journalism, and a willingness to uncover truths deeply unflattering to powerful people and organisations. The Panorama team would have benefited from watching WitchHunt, a documentary on the subject recommended by top filmmakers Ken Loach and Mike Leigh (who is Jewish).
Any allegation of antisemitism must be taken seriously – and proven cases must be dealt with appropriately. However what is obvious to many in the Labour Party, but not seemingly to Panorama or reporter John Ware, is that many of the alleged instances of antisemitism are not what they seem.
Many are quite evidently statements that members have made about the Israeli state or Zionism, twisted athletically to assert that their criticism is directed at and insulting to Jews. Many are the result of bulk allegations generated on an industrial scale by just a few organisations, prominent among them the Campaign Against Antisemitism, and Labour Against Antisemitism, set up explicitly to undermine the Corbyn leadership and to protect Israel. The new General Secretary Jennie Formby has expanded the numbers of staff and NEC members struggling to catch up with the backlog of accusations that these operations have generated. Panorama mentioned none of this.
This programme has presented a grossly simplified and utterly distorted picture of Labour’s travails with allegations of antisemitism. It is shameful that the BBC has joined in an orchestrated campaign whose principal aim is quite clearly to prevent Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister of a Labour government committed to socialism.