W Stephen Gilbert
In the long history of party politics, coordinated and systematic attacks on one political party are always initiated and perpetuated by a rival party or parties. Not least of the ways in which the increasingly murderous row about alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is unprecedented is that, although it was quietly seeded by Lynton Crosby’s propaganda unit in the Conservative Party back in 2016, it has been swollen into a life-threatening confrontation by elements both within Labour and with supposedly supportive links to Labour.
The depths to which this matter is capable of plunging may be gauged by the remarks made in the House of Lords last week by the party’s then deputy leader in that house, Dianne Lady Hayter.
You might expect offence given by someone in her position would be in overstepping the mark in defending the leadership of the party. If so, you have not been paying attention. Lady Hayter rather accused the party leadership of withholding information from the party’s National Executive Committee.
“That declaiming of intelligence, the refusal to share, is an absolute symbol of the bunker mentality,” she declared. And in case anyone was unclear whether the aforesaid bunker was an innocent feature of the Open golf at Royal Portrush, she added:
Those of you who haven’t [read the book] will have seen the film Bunker, about the last days of Hitler, where you stop receiving any information into the inner group which suggests that things are not going the way you want”.
For someone in the leadership team of a party to compare the leader of that party to Hitler might seem, to most fair-minded people, to be inter alia damaging, disloyal, ill-conceived, excessive and even unhinged. People both in and outside politics have been sacked for much milder comments.
Indeed, all the suspended Chris Williamson did was to question whether the party had conceded too much ground to those finding it a home for anti-Semites. But Hayter’s sacking was deemed “a gross over-reaction” by Wes Streeting MP, who reckoned it to be purely effected to soothe Corbyn’s “feelings”.
In the real world, Hayter being located within the leadership team was properly the deciding factor in the move against her. After all, Corbyn’s “feelings” were not thought to need soothing by any action against the backbencher Dame Margaret Hodge when she called him to his face “a fucking anti-Semite and a racist”. She went unscathed on her way and indeed became the go-to commentator on the issue, especially at the BBC where her daughter is deputy editor of news.
How has the party reached such a pass?
Though Theresa May availed herself of her final Prime Ministerial Questions to pour scorn on Corbyn’s handling of the anti-Semitism issue, rival parties generally have not felt the need to make very much of the matter, content to sit back and watch Labour tearing itself apart. And tearing itself apart it is.
The gradual retreat from the party’s undertaking to honour the result of the EU referendum – a retreat being forced on Corbyn by his colleagues changing their stances and his own principled and unchanging commitment to allowing party democracy to dictate the politics – risks the loss of parliamentary seats outside London, where exasperation that we are still in the EU runs much higher than it does at Westminster.
But the anti-Semitism damage risks Labour failing to gain any counterbalancing electoral advantage from defying Brexit in London, Manchester and other cities with significant Jewish populations. It’s a potential double whammy beyond Chris Patton’s wildest imaginings.
The BBC, always ready to turn anti-Corbyn rhetoric into a story, broadcast a double-length Panorama report entitled ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic?’
The question was rhetorical because reporter John Ware was only interested in arguing that it is. A former Jewish Chronicle and Murdoch press journalist, Ware has plenty of form.
After his incendiary programme about British Muslims, the Muslim Council of Britain described him as “an agenda-driven pro-Israel polemicist”.
No doubt he believes that fixing everyone with a searching stare from over his glasses makes him look like an objective academic, but actually he’s an old-fashioned muckraker. Throughout the report, he used the formula “we’ve been told” before trotting out yet another lurid outrage.
Well, I’ve been told that the BBC is unbiased, but that doesn’t make it so.
Ware referred to “the party which, under Jeremy Corbyn, boasts of being anti-racist to its core”. “Boasts” is such a loaded term. One might counter that the BBC “boasts” of being even-handed to its core on political issues. What a joke.
What’s the story here really?
The BBC can’t resist getting stuck into tales of interference by Russian intelligence in the electoral process in the States and even, where they can find anything to go on, in Britain. So why don’t their reporters follow up leads about Mossad’s and the Israeli embassy’s roles in the anti-Semitism issue in Labour?
There’s plenty of material to examine on the Internet outside the mainstream media.
Ware could have investigated the Act.IL app, set up by the strategic affairs ministry in Israel to subvert Palestinian solidarity interests all over the world. That app has taken a leading role in generating anti-Corbyn propaganda.
Or he could have looked into the activities of Black Cube, the intelligence agency based in London and set up by former officers of Mossad and Shabak, which specialises in constructing countermeasures to criminal charges brought against individuals who share its world view.
That the Israeli government should have an interest in preventing Corbyn from becoming prime minister is not hard to understand. Corbyn has stated quite categorically that he would recognise Palestine as a legitimate state in his first week in office. That’s obvious motivation for Netanyahu, for Washington and for the various pro-Israeli organisations and organs in Britain.
Mossad is arguably the most effective and ruthless intelligence force in the world. Social media is readily exploited as a platform for mischief, because anonymity and false flagging are endemic there. If I am capable of imagining the placing of something damaging on Facebook or Twitter with the icon or hashtag JC4PM, so is a Mossad operative.
The connection to Corbyn is as simply perpetrated as that. It can be done as an anonymous tweet or as a fake post in someone else’s name.
Yet Tom Watson and Keir Starmer have stated that anyone accused of anti-Semitism should be deemed guilty until proved innocent, a new twist in British notions of justice. We are well on the way to HUAC and Senator McCarthy. Soon we’ll all be asked to betray our friends or we’ll be blackballed. What was that about people feeling unwelcome in the Labour party?
And, of course, abuse comes in all directions, not only towards Jewish people and those who support Israel. No leader has been as slandered and smeared, denounced and defied as thoroughly as Corbyn.
His critics assume they are licensed to say and write what they like about him and to be spared any comeback or criticism themselves. Yet any argument with a Jewish MP – or a gentile MP who claims that the party is anti-Semitic – is immediately denounced, even if the point has nothing to do with Judaism.
Marc Wadsworth, a veteran member of Labour’s Black Caucus and campaigner on LGBT rights, was drummed out of the party when he suggested that Ruth Smeeth MP (who happens, though it’s not germane, to be Jewish) shouldn’t be “working hand in hand” with The Daily Telegraph.
If these are the kind of criteria used to judge comments by Labour members, Wadsworth’s treatment by the party should, in turn, be deemed racist and homophobic.
Ware’s Panorama report was directed and produced by Leo Telling and executive-produced by Neil Grant. This team have made earlier – equally calculatedly anti-Corbyn – programmes, including ‘Jeremy Corbyn: Labour’s Earthquake’ for Panorama and ‘The Battle for the Labour Party’ for Channel 4’s Dispatches. Both drew formal but futile complaints from the Labour Party.
The latest programme demonstrates the team’s techniques.
Flying in the face of years of good journalistic practice, there was a number – I counted seven – of ‘testimonies’ given straight to camera over creepy music by individuals who were identified neither by name nor by affiliation. Were they actors? Were they speaking fiction?
In fact, at least two of these contributors have been identified as former employees of the Israeli embassy in London, beginning with Ella Rose, a somewhat notorious social media presence.
Speaking of one of Labour Friends of Israel’s favourite bêtes noires, Rose may be seen online boasting:
I saw Jackie Walker on Saturday and thought, you know what, I could take her, she’s like 5’2” and tiny. That’s why I can take Jackie Walker. Krav Maga training. If it came to it, I would win, that’s all I really care about”.
Krav Maga is a hand-to-hand fighting technique beloved of the Israeli Defence Forces, Shabak and Mossad. This outburst is like something out of a script for The Office.
An identified contributor, Ben Westerman, is one of those who describes the party as “institutionally racist”. None of those who do so seem to entertain a thought for the hundreds of thousands of blameless, sincere, dedicated members who joined long before the likes of Westerman were born and who are incensed by this facile slur.
Westerman has been exposed in a direct lie over his role as ‘investigator’ sent to the Riverside constituency by a member who was present at the (recorded) meeting that Westerman mischaracterised in the programme. That Ware did not fact-check the account speaks to the extent to which he was only interested in material that could be used as a QED.
Much was made of the leader’s office supposedly “interfering” in the disciplinary procedures of the party.
Had the leader’s office not asked to be appraised of events and developments, Ware would, of course, have accused Corbyn of being asleep at the wheel. Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader and a serial Corbyn underminer, has demanded to play a supervising role in the disciplinary proceedings, but as a member of the same camp as Ware, he naturally escapes similar censure.
Watson first came to wide public attention as the parliamentarian most concerned to promote the notion that there existed “a paedophile network linked to parliament and Number 10”, as Watson put it.
A great deal of police resource was channelled into Operation Midland in order to investigate this claim and the sole result is that Watson’s source, an evangelical called Carl Beech, is at present on trial as a fantasist. At the very least, this puts a question mark over Watson’s reliability as a judge and his motives as a self-publicist.
Another programme thread concerned Corbyn’s “platform-sharing” with pro-Palestinian individuals.
Dave Rich, one of many former party officials who left because their wing of the party was no longer in control, tried to advance a binary judgment that either Corbyn was curiously “unlucky” in those with whom he came to share platforms or he must share their views.
Any Vth former studying political history could tell Rich that leaders of all persuasions have shared platforms with other leaders whose politics and/or actions they deplore. Remember Churchill and Stalin at Yalta? Thatcher greeting the former terrorist Begin? Blair literally embracing Gaddafi?
Dave Rich is a director of the Community Security Trust, the former chief executive of which was revealed to be the highest-paid official in a Jewish charity in Britain, remunerated at the rate of the better part of £200,000 per year. How much Rich is paid is not public knowledge, but it may be that he is well named. The actual need for such an organisation has been questioned by no less than The Jewish Chronicle.
Another of Labour’s disaffected ex-staffers who used the programme to rubbish the present leadership, Mike Creighton (one-time director of the party disputes team), gave the game away in a tweet last month:
I’m not interested in winning government. I’m interested in winning the Party.”
Back in the days of New Labour, those in the ascendant would scoff at the left for being, as they characterised it, more concerned to be pure than in power. So the mirror swivels.
The anti-Corbynites don’t care how many Labour members lose their seats – and of course, they will include members of every party faction – as long as Corbyn doesn’t become prime minister. The same will apply if a Corbyn supporter succeeds him as party leader.
They would rather kill the party than find accommodation with policies that are distinct from those of the Liberal Democrats and centrist Tories.
John Ware takes the view that anti-Semitism entered the Labour Party with the arrival of Corbyn as leader. This is a convenient notion. What is more persuasive is that claims of anti-Semitism as a means of undermining the leadership entered the party at that time.
Ware is happy to resurrect stories about Ken Livingstone’s “crank history” of Israel and the Third Reich but stays away from the video evidence of the establishing of a fifth column in Labour by the Israeli diplomat Shai Masot at the 2016 party conference and of Joan Ryan MP fabricating anti-Semitism allegation against a party member seeking information about Palestine.
Ryan would make good copy. Following a no-confidence vote against her by her local Labour group, she left the party to join the breakaway Independents in February who have since fallen out. Bizarrely, though no longer in the party, she remains chair of Labour Friends of Israel. But this suggestive matter is of no interest to John Ware.
Perhaps the most dishonest passage in the entire report featured Sam Matthews, Creighton’s successor as director of disputes in the party.
His talk of contemplating suicide is deeply offensive to those close to people who have actually killed themselves rather than just talked about it in a self-dramatising way. In the early 1980s, I lost more close friends and lovers to suicide than to Aids. Most thoughtful people at some point ponder the pros and cons of ending their lives. Then they shut up about it. They don’t use it as an emotional stick with which to beat others.
Since the broadcast, Matthews has accused both the party and his former union of “coming after the messengers with a vicious and libellous attack, with no due care to the emotional and mental wellbeing of those involved”.
Again, this works both ways.
Party officials who are bound by powerful convention to eschew public comment, were repeatedly smeared in the programme by their predecessors now free to misrepresent from the sidelines. The current General Secretary, Jennie Formby, had her professionalism and integrity questioned with no thought to her own wellbeing as she undergoes chemotherapy.
But Labour’s self-harming, its dose of the flesh-eating condition necrotising fasciitis, is only spreading. Former Corbyn loyalists have weakened.
Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary, placed herself very clearly on the anti-Semitism issue when she told Andrew Marr “I think that we shouldn’t be going for the messengers, we should be looking at the message”.
Nobody in Labour seems brave enough to talk about the issue as it relates to Israel, doubtless because they fear they will immediately be drummed out of the party. As I wrote after the excoriation of Chris Williamson’s perfectly reasonable question, it is impossible to have a rational conversation about anti-Semitism in the party.
Corbyn’s long history of friendship with and support of Jewish interests both in the diaspora and in Israel has been documented and tabulated widely.
One example will suffice, a motion tabled by Diane Abbott in February 2010 and sponsored by MPs from all three main parties including Corbyn:
That this House is concerned that the small number of remaining Jews living in Yemen are facing on-going religious persecution and systematic mistreatment which represents a critical threat to the health, safety and security of their community; notes that the United States administration has facilitated the resettlement of Yemeni Jews in the US for those with ties to that country; and urges the Government to follow this example and consider providing specific measures for those members of the group with ties to the UK who urgently need protection on humanitarian grounds”.
The motion was signed by 25 backbenchers, not including Margaret Hodge, Joan Ryan or Tom Watson.
Those Labour MPs who would prevent Corbyn from entering Downing Street have allies much more powerful than they are themselves: Trump, Netanyahu, Fleet Street, the BBC, the military and intelligence establishment in Britain, the States, Israel and the EU.
Millions of Labour supporters, some of whom want only a Labour government led by Corbyn, some who simply want a Labour government run by anybody discernibly more progressive and enlightened than Boris Johnson, desperately need the politicians to do the job they’re elected to do.
But few MPs are listening to the electorate on this matter or on Brexit or indeed on anything else.
Our politics will remain broken until MPs pay attention to reality rather than believing anything they’re told just because they want to believe it.