The News Versus Jeremy Corbyn: Part 2
(The first half of this article is available here)
The Never Ending ‘New anti-Semitism’ Campaign
Without doubt the most persistent and the most repeated line of attack taken against Jeremy Corbyn is the claim that Corbyn is a closeted anti-Semite, and/or that Labour is, as Dan Hodges puts it, “utterly infested with anti-Semitism”, a theme that has dominated the news cycle for the last two years and continues unabated.
Two weeks ago, senior cabinet minister Michael Gove, (who previously said that the millions who use food banks are just mismanaging their money), attempted to smear Corbyn by association. He shared an anti-Semitic tweet, falsely claiming that the account who tweeted it is a “Corbyn supporter and a Labour member”, without apparently bothering to check when the tweet came from a real person or not.
Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland the same week falsely accused a Labour candidate of being an anti-Semite, in a case of mistaken identity, without making the most basic factual checks, such as whether the Labour councillor he accused, Majid Mahmood, was not just another Muslim person with the same name. Freedland apologised on Twitter (one can only wonder how many people who saw the false accusation also saw the apology), but within 24 hours had published a new article in The Guardian titled: “Many Jews want Boris Johnson out. But how can we vote for Jeremy Corbyn?”
As part of this narrative, the public are repeatedly told what the “Jewish community” (defined in a very particular way) are thinking and feeling, as though “Jews” are one homogeneous mass all speaking with the same anti-Corbyn voice.
The Times for instance last week dedicated their front page to a story titled: “Jews will leave if Corbyn wins”, basing this inflammatory headline on a statement from the Tory Party Chairman (hardly an impartial authority), who bases his own crass speculation on “friends of mine” he has known “for much of my life”.
Rivkah Brown responded appropriately:
“Is this a joke? A front page based on the feelings not of any actual Jewish people, but of the leader of the Tory election campaign, James “some of my best friends are Jewish” Cleverly?”
In short, the Jewish community are defined in such a way that systematically excludes from the discussion any voices that have a different view of the situation, particularly those who are supportive of Jeremy Corbyn and (like myself) object to having their identity conscripted and used cynically as a weapon for political advantage.
Excluded from the mainstream debate are organisations like Jewish Voice for Labour, Jewdas, Independent Jewish Voices, Jewish Socialists Group, and thousands of British Jews who openly support Corbyn, many of whom have recently pushed back against this narrative with hashtag movements like #JewsforJeremy, #Jews4Jeremy, and #Jews4Labour, housing hundreds of statements, selfies, selfie videos, and an outpouring of mutual engagement and support:
Also excluded are people like Professor Norman Finkelstein, one of the leading authorities on the Israel-Palestine conflict, whose parents survived Auschwitz and Majdanek concentration camps, and whose comments on the matter are worth quoting at length:
“It’s actually a breathtaking sight to behold, because you see it from The Guardian to The Daily Mail, and everything in between. They’re all united in this hysteria; this completely contrived, fabricated, hysteria. It has as much basis in the real world as the Salem Witch Hunts in the United States. There’s nothing there. Now I don’t mean that as hyperbole, or poetically. There is nothing there. If the best you can come up with is Tony Greenstein, and [Jackie Walker]” (both of whom are Jewish)… “that’s very thin gruel, you know. It’s pathetic… Except when you take the classic examples, the Anti-Communist hysteria, the Salem Witch Hunt hysteria, you really can’t come up with parallels. You have to bear in mind, this has been going on for two years. Nonstop. Every day, another poll.”
“Corbyn’s the real thing. He actually says what he believes… he holds out the promise of real change in British society. And for those who are comfortable with the status quo, Corbyn poses a real threat… There’s exactly zero evidence. Zero. Yeah there are some fringe members who play into antisemitic views…”
Interviewer: “When people hear that and understand where you’re coming from they’ll say hang on, you’ve got a vested interest…”
Finkelstein: “That’s totally ridiculous, I read the polls. I read the data. It hovers between 6–8% are hardened anti-Semites in British society. It’s nothing. Yeah, so there are a few crazies, but there’s no institutionalised antisemitism in the British Labour party. There’s no threat of antisemitism in British society. I’ve read all of the data. I’ve studied it closely”.
This question of what the data shows in the Labour party specifically is addressed by Jewish Voice for Labour, who (with Dr Alan Maddison) add some statistical detail:
“Of these 673 [allegations] linked to Labour members, 220 (33%) were rejected because there was insufficient evidence.
So in Labour we now have 453 allegations which seem to have been handled correctly and promptly. This represents 0.08% of our 540,000 members. It rather contradicts the myth that in Labour antisemitism is “rampant”, or that it has become a “cesspit of antisemitism” or “an unsafe place for Jews”.
(For those interested, a more detailed breakdown of the evidence and data can be found here).
Despite a hysterical obsession with this topic in the media, including hundreds of articles, interviews, features and discussion over several years, you would be hard pressed to find these views reflected anywhere in mainstream news reporting.
Panorama Reenacting The Simpsons
The fixation on Labour’s alleged anti-Semitism crisis reached a new low with the airing of BBC’s Panorama special earlier this year, purporting to be an impartial look into the question: “Is Labour anti-Semitic?”. It has since been widely criticised for its dismissal of the most basic journalistic standards, receiving 1,593 complaints.
Media Lens note that the programme was presented by John Ware, a former Sun reporter who despite posing as a neutral investigative journalist here, is elsewhere quite frank and open about his disdain for Corbyn. He had already presented another Panorama special in 2015 about Corbyn that his team made a formal complaint to the BBC about, and in 2017 wrote an article warning of the terrible danger of Corbyn reaching power, describing him as a person:
“whose entire political career has been stimulated by disdain for the West, appeasement of extremism, and who would barely understand what fighting for the revival of British values is really all about.”
At no point was Ware’s partisan stance on the issue made clear to viewers.
The programme opens with a shot of an unnamed young woman tearfully recounting abusive anti-Semitic taunts she claims to have received at the Labour Party conference. As former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook points out in his breakdown of the programme, “the decision not to disclose the interviewee’s identity is understandable, as it would have discredited the whole narrative Panorama was trying to build”:
“The woman’s name is Ella Rose, a senior official in the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM)” and a former staff member at the Israeli embassy in London.
“Two years ago she and other JLM officials were exposed collaborating with Shai Masot, an Israeli embassy official. He had to be hurriedly removed from the UK after an undercover Al Jazeera documentary showed him plotting with activists in the Labour and Conservative parties to discredit British politicians seen as a threat to Israel… Rose is on record as saying she was a close friend of Masot’s.
Also unnamed was Alex Richardson, employee of Labour Friends of Israel’s Joan Ryan. As investigative journalist Asa Winstanley points out, “he and his boss fabricated antisemitism at Labour conference, privately admitting ‘nothing antisemitic was said’”. At no point in the programme were their affiliations and partisan stances made clear to viewers. A third interviewee, Ben Westerman, was accused of lying in his Panorama interview, with audio recordings and testimony provided by Liverpool Labour members disputing his version of events.
Panorama then went on to doctor a Labour email, completely distorting it’s meaning, before broadcasting it to millions of people, in scenes that are reminiscent of this brilliant and extremely apt Simpsons clip:
The programme was immediately followed by BBC News at 10 where it was given further coverage, maximising the propaganda value, with political editor Laura Kuenssberg sagely adding her two cents:
“This is a problem that has dogged the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, not for a few weeks, not just for a few months, but for several years now.”
As John Hilley observes:
“In effect, the media create, generate and hype the headlines, then blame Corbyn for ‘monopolising’ them.”
Repeat a Lie Until it Takes on the Force of Truth
Five time Emmy Award winning American journalist Sheryl Attkisson, formerly of CBS, wrote a book in 2017 called The Smear, documenting in careful detail how the practice of smearing political figures has become a multi-billion dollar industry, with consultants, strategists, think tanks, PR firms, intelligence agencies and lobby groups creating well-funded attack campaigns aimed at character assassination and destroying reputations:
“Today’s smear artists are sophisticated strategists. Well-paid front men for rich and powerful interests. They research and monitor targets using every available weapon of modern technology,”.
Attkisson stresses that key to a successful character assassination is repetition:
“An attempt to convince must confine itself to a few points and repeat them OVER AND OVER. Focus and repeat — until the audience recites it in their sleep.
Since Tuesday, there have been three candidates suspended from their party for anti-Semitic comments, two of which are Tory, the other being a Liberal Democrat. Yet the far more prominent story has been the crazed accusation leveled at Jeremy Corbyn that he displayed anti-Semitism in the way he pronounced the name ‘Epstein’.
Meanwhile, in the last few days, a homeless dad was among four people in 12 hours to die outside in sub-zero temperatures, another man dropped dead in a Job Centre queue having been declared fit to work, and an inquest heard that an ‘outstanding’ 35 year-old NHS nurse took her own life under “the stress of working 12 hour hospital shifts”.
It is worth noting that, characteristic of smear campaigns, the lines of attack are almost always personal and (with the exception of Brexit) barely relate to Labour’s policies, honest debate about which must be avoided because they are overwhelmingly popular. After all, it’s very difficult to convince people that the NHS should continue to be degraded, starved of funds and sold off to private companies (as is happening), and that decent healthcare should only be available to those with money. It’s difficult to argue that people should pay extortionate tuition fees in one of the world’s richest countries, when university education is currently free (or almost free) in France, Germany, Scotland, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, and elsewhere. And it’s difficult to argue with scrapping Universal Credit, that has forced so many people into homelessness and a reliance on food banks, or that giant corporations should continue with tax avoidance on a scale that beggars belief.
Recognising this, Norman Finkelstein made another important point in his interview about Labour’s alleged anti-Semitism crisis:
“The problem is, even when you win, you lose. What do I mean by that? Because, even if they can prove everything is a lie, first of all, there’s always the assumption when there’s smoke there must be fire. But that’s not the bigger problem. The bigger problem is, it’s sucking so much energy from the Jeremy Corbyn campaign, that he can’t talk about his platform. He has no time anymore to talk about his platform, all the headlines are about antisemitism. Imagine if that happened to Bernie Sanders? You realise the whole appeal of Bernie Sanders is his platform. It’s talking about healthcare; it’s talking about student debt, the 1 percent. Imagine what would happen to the Bernie Sanders campaign if he had to spend 24/7, 365, for *years* now, just talking about antisemitism. So even if you prove every charge is false, you still lose. Because you’ve lost all the time, that could have been invested in putting forth that platform before a broad public”.
Yet while they have done much damage, the major news organisations in overreaching may have let the mask slip, much like they did over Iraq, inadvertently educating generations of people about the real role of the media in our society, and accelerating the current mass abandonment of mainstream news outlets.