Since antisemitism in the British Labour Party became an issue nearly three years ago, the BBC has covered the topic with varying degrees of accuracy and impartiality. The ‘hot topic’ at the moment is the party’s new ‘Code of Conduct for anti-Semitism’ which, as noted by the CST’s Dave Rich, “has been rejected by all of British Jewry’s leading organisations and by the Party’s only Jewish affiliate, the Jewish Labour Movement”.
“This new code is being spun by Labour as more comprehensive and practical than the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism that is used in full, with all of its illustrative examples, by the UK and Scottish governments, the Welsh Assembly, over 120 local authorities and several other governments. It is nothing of the sort, and the row over these two competing definitions has become emblematic of why the Labour Party still has not solved its anti-Semitism problem.
The authors of Labour’s new code have sliced up the IHRA definition, adopted some of its examples and wrapped the rest in ambiguities and equivocations described by the Jewish Labour Movement as “a get out of jail free card” for anti-Semites.”
Since the formation last year of a pro-Corbyn fringe group called ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’, BBC audiences have seen its representatives interviewed and quoted in dozens of items of BBC content and it was to that minority group that the corporation turned once again on July 23rd when the BBC News channel aired an item by assistant political editor Norman Smith ahead of a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party concerning that ‘Code of Conduct’.
Most of that item was given over to an interview with Naomi Wimborne Idrissi (also a member of another fringe group called ‘Free Speech on Israel’ and yet another titled ‘Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods‘) who was given a generous slot in which to promote unquestioned falsehoods concerning the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
With no challenge from Smith, BBC viewers were told by the inadequately presented anti-Israel campaigner Wimborne Idrissi that the IHRA definition is: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]
“…a document that has been pushed for many years now by pro-Israel organisations. And the problem with it is that it includes in its provisions elements that are designed to prevent certain kinds of criticism of Israel and of Zionism. It’s designed to do that.”
“It’s a fake, Norman. It is a fake and we are being snowed with this thing.”
Wimborne Idrissi was also allowed to falsely claim without challenge from her BBC interviewer that: “Kenneth Stern, an American academic…who drafted the original document which has morphed into this IHRA thing” is a critic of it “because it represses freedom of speech”. She later added:
“Is it antisemitic to say Israel is a racist state? Maybe it is sometimes, but often it is not, and we have to be free to say that when it is not antisemitic.”
As Dave Rich points out, the IHRA definition does not “repress” freedom of speech at all.
“The IHRA definition does no such thing, stating plainly that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.” This leaves room for the full range of rational, evidence-based opposition to Israeli laws, policies and actions. It doesn’t allow for the kind of obsessive, irrational hatred that depicts Israel as a Nazi state of unparalleled cruelty that needs to be wiped off the map, or that sees “Zionist” conspiracies behind everything from 9/11 to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, and for good reason: because, as the IHRA definition recognises, antisemitism sometimes includes “the targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.””
Predictably – at least to those familiar with her record – Wimborne Idrissi claimed that those campaigning against antisemitism in the Labour Party are ‘manipulating’ the issue of antisemitism and in fact have an ulterior motive.
“…the reason for the row is not genuine concern for real antisemitism.[…] But all Jeremy Corbyn can do to satisfy his critics, to be absolutely honest, Norman, would be to resign. And then it would all stop.”
“The trouble is nobody out there believes them. Your viewers are going to be thinking “what is all this about?” – are Jews really concerned to shut us up about Palestine and nothing else matters? It’s dangerous for us.”
As regular readers know, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality clearly state that audiences should be made aware of the “particular viewpoint” of contributors.
“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”
Wimborne Idrissi was however introduced merely as “a member of the Jewish Voice for Labour” with no explanation of what that group is, no mention made of her long record of anti-Israel campaigning and no explanation of the ideology behind any of the other fringe groups to which she belongs.
With Norman Smith having made the highly questionable claim at the beginning of his report that its subject matter is a “row” that “…at its heart is the issue of how free people should be to criticise Israel and Israeli policies amid fears of some of the Jewish community that too often that slips into antisemitism…”, Wimborne Idrissi’s anti-Israel campaigning history is obviously highly relevant.
Members of the BBC’s funding public may also be asking themselves exactly how Wimborne Iddrissi’s unchallenged falsehoods concerning the IHRA definition and other aspects of this story contributed – as BBC public purposes require – to their ability to “engage fully” with this issue.