Readers based in the UK may be interested in attending an event organised by UK Lawyers for Israel which is to be held in North-West London on October 30th.
Details and tickets here.
On September 16th members of the British Jewish community held a rally against antisemitism in Manchester and a few hours before the event one of its organisers – Raphi Bloom of North West Friends of Israel – gave an interview to the local radio station BBC Radio Manchester.
Mike Shaft began by asking his guest “why is this taking place?”. After Mr Bloom had cited the absence of any improvement since the demonstration he described as being “specifically about the antisemitism that was engulfing Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party” that was held in London in March ,noting that the crisis has only grown since then, Shaft responded: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
[2:10:45] Shaft: “You can’t believe that the only antisemitism in this country is in the Labour Party.”
As Mr Bloom mentioned the support for Corbyn on social media from people on the far Right such as David Duke and Nick Griffin, Shaft interrupted:
[2:11:34]Shaft: “But you’re never talking about the Right.”
Following Mr Bloom’s response he went on:
[2:12:07] Shaft: “Mr Corbyn has apologised for hurt caused by antisemitism in the party and pledged to stamp it out. He’s stressed that people who hold antisemitic views have no place in the Labour Party. He said people who use antisemitic poison are not his supporters nor do they speak for him or the party. Why can you not accept that?”
Mr Bloom pointed out that those words have not been followed by actions, citing the lack of action in various cases including the recent remarks made by a Trade Union leader.
[2:14:03] Shaft: “Well there was an action in this past week where the Labour Party accepted the…the…the definition of antisemitism. But let me ask you…”
Bloom: “No it didn’t. It accepted it with a caveat – with a big caveat.”
Shaft: “It accepted it. Let’s leave it there because I want to move on. Let me ask you this: does criticism of Israel mean that you’re antisemitic?”
After Mr Bloom had clarified that the IHRA definition of antisemitism does not preclude criticism of Israel, the obviously very badly prepared Shaft went on:
[2:15:03] Shaft: “Let me ask you a question please because I couldn’t get my head round it. What was the decision taken recently by the Israeli government regarding people who weren’t born there?”
Mr Bloom pointed out that “we’re coming in here to talk about antisemitism against the British community but you’re asking me about the actions of the government of Israel” to which Shaft replied “yes I am”.
Mr Bloom then explained to Sharp that his question taps into the antisemitic dual loyalty trope that is described in the IHRA definition as “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” but the BBC presenter persisted.
[2:15:43] Shaft: “If you could answer my question please it would help. We’re running out of time I’m warning you.”
Bloom: “But I want to make it very clear – I’m organising a rally today against antisemitism in the UK. What does that have to do with the actions of the Israeli government? Why are you asking me about the actions of the Israeli government?”
Shaft then employed the Livingstone Formulation.
[2:16:00] Shaft: “Because…I can tell you exactly why; because if people speak out against that, they’re described as being antisemitic. So explain to me please – and this is for a matter of fact – ‘cos I said, I don’t know exactly what the decision was. Can you tell me what the decision was?”
Incredibly – even after having received an explanation as to why holding Jews responsible for the actions of Israel is antisemitic – Shaft later again pursued that line of questioning.
[2:17:17] Shaft: “Let me ask you this: are you as a Jewish person happy with the treatment of the Palestinians?”
Bloom: “Again, I have to pull you up on this. I’m sorry to do this.”
Shaft: “You can pull me up all you want. I’d like you to answer the question.”
Bloom: “I’m here to talk about rising antisemitism in the UK. I’m here to talk about…”
Shaft [interrupts] “But it comes as a result of stuff that Israel is doing.”
After Raphi Bloom had explained that “if people attack Jews in this country because of the actions of the Israeli government it is antisemitic”, that British Jews have no influence over Israeli government policies and that to hold them to account for Israel’s policies and actions is antisemitism, Shaft went on:
[2:19:21] Shaft: “Well I’ve already mentioned what Jeremy Corbyn has said, apologised.”
Shaft closed the interview with a statement that cannot possibly be considered to meet BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality:
[2:20:34] Shaft: “We’re out of time and you’ve mentioned…you’ve mentioned a lot of names and I don’t know what these people have said. I do know some other people are using this as a stick to beat Jeremy Corbyn with and it’s never going to be resolved, we’ll wait and see.”
So here we have a BBC presenter who was so badly prepared for an interview that he had to ask his interviewee to explain a topic that he could not even present accurately to listeners, who found it appropriate to promote Labour Party messaging, claiming that the topic of the interview – antisemitism – is used “as a stick to beat Jeremy Corbyn with” and used to silence criticism of Israel. On top of that – despite having had the significance clarified to him on air – the BBC presenter repeatedly pressed his British Jewish interviewee to ‘explain’ Israeli government policy and actions in an obviously extremely problematic line of questioning.
1) Dr Denis MacEoin chronicles the UK Labour Party antisemitism story at the Gatestone Institute.
“Mainstream, moderate political parties are normally sensitive to accusations in the media or from the public that threaten to put citizens off voting for them. Labour’s anti-Semitic reputation has been on the front pages of newspapers, has led to a plethora of articles in leading magazines, and has been a deep cause of concern for some two years now. The current British government is in a state of crisis – a crisis that could result before long in a fresh general election in which Labour might hope to win or further increase its vote, as it did in 2017. One might have thought that they might do anything to win voters back by abandoning any policies that might make the public think them too extreme to take on the responsibilities of government in a country facing confusion over its plan to exit the European Union. But this July, they did the opposite by turning their backs on moderation, presumably in the hope that this is where the voters are.”
2) At Tablet Magazine Tony Badran discusses “The Myth of an Independent Lebanon“.
“The reason Hezbollah continues to be able to fly in Iranian planes loaded with weapons straight into Beirut airport has nothing to do with absence of state authority, or lack of LAF capacity. Rather, the theory undergirding U.S. policy, which posits a dichotomy between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah, simply has no relation to the reality of Lebanon. The LAF will never take action to prevent Hezbollah’s arms smuggling, because it will never be asked to by the Lebanese government, regardless of how much we “professionalize” it or build up its capacity.”
3) Dr Jonathan Spyer takes a look at Turkish interests in Syria.
“Idlib is set to form the final chapter in a Russian-led strategy that commenced nearly three years ago. According to this approach, rebel-controlled areas were first bombed and shelled into submission and then offered the chance to ‘reconcile’, ie surrender to the regime. As part of this process, those fighters who did not wish to surrender were given the option of being transported with their weapons to rebel-held Idlib.
This approach was useful for the regime side. It allowed the avoidance of costly last-stand battles by the rebels. It also contained within it the expectation that a final battle against the most determined elements of the insurgency would need to take place, once there was nowhere for these fighters to be redirected. That time is now near. There are around 70,000 rebel fighters inside Idlib. The dominant factions among them are Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, (the renamed Jabhat al-Nusra, ie the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria), and the newly formed, Turkish-supported Jaish al-Watani (National Army), which brings together a number of smaller rebel groups.”
4) At the INSS Michal Hatuel-Radoshitzky and Kobi Michael discuss “The End to US Funding to UNRWA: Opportunity or Threat?“
“The US decision to cease funding UNRWA is no less than historic. Although the Palestinians view such a step as a serious blow, if it is presented as a necessary step on the path to Palestinian statehood, it has the potential to harbor long term, positive implications. While Israel should certainly prepare for negative scenarios that such a policy move may generate in the near term, it is unwise to cling to the current paradigm that distances the Palestinian leadership’s pragmatic and ethical responsibility for rehabilitating and resettling Palestinian refugees within the Palestinian territories. With staunch Israeli, American, and international incentives and policy initiatives, the US decision to cease funding UNRWA can serve as a wake-up call to the Palestinian leadership and potentially inject new life into the Israeli-Palestinian process.”
As we saw previously when, on August 28th, the New Statesman published an interview with the former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in which he addressed comments made by the current UK Labour party leader in 2013, listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard inaccurate framing of that story repeatedly promoted by the BBC political correspondent Tom Barton.
The same editorial policy was evident in the news bulletin heard by listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ on August 28th (from 02:30 here). [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]
Newsreader: “Labour has reacted angrily to allegations by the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that Jeremy Corbyn is antisemitic. Lord Sacks also described comments about a group of British Zionists made by Mr Corbyn before he became Labour leader as the most offensive by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell in the 1960s. Here’s our political correspondent Tom Barton.”
Barton: “Lord Sacks was referring to a speech Jeremy Corbyn gave in 2013 in which he spoke about a group of Zionists who, he claimed, didn’t understand English irony. The former Chief Rabbi told the New Statesman that was the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968. He said the comments implied Jews were not fully British and described Jeremy Corbyn as an antisemite. Labour said comparing its leader with the race-baiting Enoch Powell was absurd and offensive. The party added that Mr Corbyn had used the word Zionist in the accurate political sense to describe a particular group of pro-Israel activists and not as a synonym or code for Jewish people.”
As noted here previously, by the time Barton was presenting that report he had been provided with a transcript of edited parts of Corbyn’s speech which showed that he was not talking about “a particular group” of people but about British Zionist Jews. He had also been told by the man who recorded Corbyn’s 2013 speech that as far as he knew, he was the only ‘pro-Israel activist’ present. Nevertheless – and even as it was obvious that Rabbi Lord Sacks’ comments were based on the fact that he did not buy into the notion that Corbyn was referring to a “particular group” present at a particular event – Barton continued to amplify the team Corbyn framing which hinders audience understanding of those comments.
Later on in the same programme (from 22:00 here) listeners heard an item described in its synopsis as follows:
“We discuss the latest row over Jeremy Corbyn – the former Chief Rabbi has described some of the Labour leader’s remarks as the most offensive made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech.”
Presenter Chris Mason began by playing a recording of part of Powell’s 1968 ‘rivers of blood’ speech followed by a recording from the 2013 speech by the person he described as “the then obscure Labour back bencher Jeremy Corbyn”. Listeners next heard a reading of some of Lord Sacks’ related comments including:
“It was divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.”
Declaring that “we’re going to explore both sides of the argument”, Mason went on to introduce his first contributor as “Jewish, a journalist and a member of the Labour Party”. He did not however inform listeners of the relevant fact that Michael Segalov is a Corbyn supporter and apparently a member of Momentum.
After Segalov had tried to persuade listeners that Corbyn’s 2013 comments were “a joke he tried to make” he absurdly went on to claim that:
Segalov: “They came – let’s be clear – at a time when Israel-Palestine wasn’t at the heart of political debate in this country.”
Segalov [24:10]: “…I don’t think Jeremy would have used those words today but to compare them and to conflate them with, you know, the real abhorrent racism that’s expressed in the ‘rivers of blood’ speech is frankly [a] disservice to that racism that really existed then.”
Sidestepping that signposting of antisemitism as not ‘real’ racism, Mason asked:
Mason: “What about that other point in the line from Jeremy Corbyn? Yes, there was the argument about the use of the word Zionist but there was also that line about English irony – and ultimately belonging – casting in the eyes of some Jewish people as outsiders; as somehow not properly English or British.”
Listeners again heard Segalov try to present Corbyn’s remarks as a joke fallen flat – “it wasn’t funny” and “it was clumsy language” – before he went on to claim that “he wasn’t casting an aspersion on all Jewish people”.
Mason did not bother to clarify to listeners that Corbyn’s reference to “Zionists” in fact describes the majority of British Jews before Segalov was given a platform from which to promote the claim that there is a need to “draw distinct lines between Judaism and Jewishness”.
Segalov: “And it sometimes feels that people on both sides are responsible because we don’t really draw those lines. There are people in the Labour Party, on the Left, who fail to do those things. They conflate Judaism and Zionism. But frankly many of our Jewish leaders do the same thing too. Rabbi Sacks does that in his interview to some extent. Look at our current Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis who wrote in the Telegraph a few years ago and saying those things are one and the same Judaism and Zionism. I mean we deserve better; Jewish people deserve better and Palestinian people do too.”
“Zionism is a belief in the right to Jewish self-determination in a land that has been at the centre of the Jewish world for more than 3,000 years. One can no more separate it from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain.
Open a Jewish daily prayer book used in any part of the world and Zionism will leap out at you. The innumerable references to the land of Israel are inescapable and demonstrative. Throughout our collective history we have yearned for a chance to determine our own future, to revive an ancient language and return to rejoice in our love for this tiny sliver of land. Zionism is a movement celebrated by people right across the political spectrum, all over the world, and requires no endorsement or otherwise of the particular policies of any Israeli Government at any time.”
Listeners heard Segalov go on to claim that in order to “deal with” the issue of antisemitism in the British Labour Party there “has to be a concerted effort by the Jewish community and by the Labour Party” before again promoting the notion that there needs to be a conversation held “in the Jewish community and the Labour Party too: one that says we need to tackle antisemitism whenever it raises its ugly head but also says Judaism is a religion, Zionism and Israel are in politics” and going on to claim that Rabbi Sacks “conflated those two things”. Segalov proceeded to refer to another part of Lord Sacks’ New Statesman interview which has nothing to do with the Labour antisemitism story, asserting “that level of ignorance does no service to debate”.
Radio 4 listeners next heard Mason read out a Labour Party statement in which it was once again claimed that “Jeremy Corbyn described a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists in the accurate political sense – not as a synonym or code for Jewish people”.
The second contributor to this item was Jonathan Goldstein of the Jewish Leadership Council who was first asked by Mason:
Mason: “Was Lord Sacks exaggerating?”
Two of Mason’s three subsequent questions presented clear signposting to listeners.
Mason: “Yeah but being precise about this intervention tonight and that comparison with the ‘rivers of blood’ speech.”
Mason: “In specific terms though, is the comparison with the ‘rivers of blood’ speech fair? Not least because Enoch Powell was a shadow minister at the time; he knew his message would be heard by a national audience and he knew it has a capacity to offend. Mr Corbyn didn’t.”
Unless the BBC’s domestic audiences are given both an accurate portrayal of the content and circumstances of Corbyn’s 2013 speech and a critical view of his supporters’ statements after it came to light, they will clearly not be able to “engage fully” with that issue or understand the ensuing criticism of the Labour leader.
However, as Radio 4’s reporting of this latest story shows, the BBC’s funding public continues to be denied that full range of information.
Earlier this week we noted how, on the morning of August 25th, listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard unquestioning amplification of a statement put out by the Labour Party concerning remarks made by its leader in 2013 from the BBC’s political correspondent Tom Barton.
We observed that Barton had apparently not fact-checked the Labour claim that Corbyn was referring to “a group of people, pro-Israel activists who were made up of both Jewish people and non-Jewish people” before amplifying it to the BBC’s domestic audiences and that the one person who has been identified as having attended that event, Richard Millett, stated in an interview that “he does not recall any other pro-Israel activists in the audience”.
We also noted that a transcript of parts of Corbyn’s 2013 remarks that had been edited out of the video of the speech showed that he had in fact been speaking about Zionist British Jews rather than a specific group of activists at a particular event and that Tom Barton was subsequently provided with that transcript.
Later on August 25th the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM‘ aired an item (from 22:00 here) in which Richard Millett was interviewed by Tom Barton. Mr Millett told BBC Watch that he had informed Barton that as far as he was aware he was the only ‘pro-Israel activist’ at that event but that information was not included in Barton’s report.
In short, by early evening on August 25th one would have expected Tom Barton to be a lot more sceptical of what he had earlier in the day described as follows:
Barton: “And this is it, so Labour’s defence of that point is that he was talking in context, very particular, particularly about a group of people, pro-Israel activists who were made up of both Jewish people and non-Jewish people and he was using it to refer to…ah…this particular group of activists and not – they say – to the Jewish community.”
Three days later, on August 28th, the New Statesman published an interview with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in which he gave his view of Corbyn’s 2013 speech.
“In his first comments since Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis reached new heights this summer, Sacks told the New Statesman: “The recently disclosed remarks by Jeremy Corbyn are the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. It was divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.”
“We can only judge Jeremy Corbyn by his words and his actions. He has given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate who want to kill Jews and remove from Israel from the map. When he implies that, however long they have lived here, Jews are not fully British, he is using the language of classic pre-war European anti-Semitism. When challenged with such facts, the evidence for which is before our eyes, first he denies, then he equivocates, then he obfuscates. This is low, dishonest and dangerous. He has legitimised the public expression of hate, and where he leads, others will follow.””
Tom Barton reported on that story for the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ on August 28th. Listeners first heard a contribution by Barton in the news bulletin (from 02:30 here). [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Newsreader: “The former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has accused Jeremy Corbyn of being an anti-Semite and compared some of his remarks to those of Enoch Powell’s in the 1960s. Mr Corbyn has said his comments – made before he became Labour leader – have been taken out of context. Here’s our political correspondent Tom Barton.”
Barton: “Lord Sacks was referring to a speech Jeremy Corbyn gave in 2013 in which he spoke about a group of Zionists who he said didn’t understand English irony, despite having lived in the UK for a very long time, probably all their lives. Lord Sacks told the New Statesman that was the most offensive comment made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968. Jeremy Corbyn has said that he is now more careful with how he uses the term Zionist, saying it has been hijacked by anti-Semites, while a Labour spokesperson said comparing the Labour leader with Enoch Powell was absurd and offensive.”
Later on in the same programme, presenter Simon Jack introduced an item relating to the same topic (from 16:15 here).
Jack: “Let’s return to that story then in the headlines. The former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has described the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite who has given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate. He made the comments in an interview with the New Statesman. Our political reporter Tom Barton is at Westminster and obviously he also described it as the most offensive since Enoch Powell. Ehm…how significant, you know, remind us of the comments that Sacks was referring to in this interview.”
Obviously Barton’s portrayal of the context to Lord Sacks’ remarks is crucial to audience understanding of the story. After having clarified that the former Chief Rabbi is “a pretty significant figure to intervene in this row about antisemitism in the Labour Party and in particular those comments from Jeremy Corbyn…” Barton went on to repeat the description of Lord Sacks’ comments given previously by Jack. He later addressed the issue of their context.
Barton: “Well first of all just let me remind you exactly what Jeremy Corbyn said that…the former Chief Rabbi was referring to. So this was a speech that Jeremy Corbyn made in 2013. He was talking about pro-Israel campaigners who he said at a meeting a few days earlier after a speech by the Palestinian [sic] Liberation Organisation’s representative in the UK, they said he had been berated by these campaigners. Now he described them as Zionists and said that despite having lived in the UK for a very long time, probably all their lives, they didn’t understand English irony. Now that statement in particular has been taken by some to be a suggestion that Jewish people living in Britain were somehow not properly British and Lord Sacks shares that view. He said today that those comments imply that no matter how long they’ve lived here, Jews are not fully British and he said that that’s the language of classic pre-war European antisemitism. Now Labour have dismissed this intervention, saying that it is absurd to – and offensive – to compare Jeremy Corbyn to – quote – the race-baiting Enoch Powell. They say Jeremy Corbyn described a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists in, they say, the accurate political sense; not as a synonym or a code for Jewish people.”
As we see, despite having received the transcript of the missing parts of Corbyn’s 2013 speech that clearly shows that Corbyn was not talking about “a particular group of pro-Israel activists” at a specific event and despite having been told that there was not “a group” at that meeting but one man who he had interviewed three days earlier, Barton continued to amplify team Corbyn’s talking points.
Immediately after that programme Radio 4 listeners heard another report from Barton during a long item in the Six O’Clock News in which both he and the newsreader repeated the same framing.
Newsreader: “One of Britain’s most respected religious figures, the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, has accused Jeremy Corbyn of being antisemitic. Lord Sacks was reacting to remarks which Mr Corbyn made five years ago before he became Labour leader but which came to light last week. During a meeting of pro-Palestinian activists, he accused a group of Zionists of not understanding English irony, despite living in the country for a very long time.”
Barton: “Lord Sacks was referring to a speech made by the Labour leader when he was a back bench MP. He talked about pro-Israel campaigners who, he said, had berated the Palestinian [sic] Liberation Organisation’s representative to the UK at an event a few days earlier. Describing them as Zionists he said that despite having lived in the UK for a very long time, probably all their lives, they didn’t understand English irony. Lord Sacks told the New Statesman that that was offensive. […] The party said the Labour leader had described a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists in the accurate political sense; not as a synonym or code for Jewish people.”
Although Barton is obviously aware of the fact that Corbyn’s remarks have “been taken by some to be a suggestion that Jewish people living in Britain were somehow not properly British” he did not bother to clarify to the BBC’s domestic audiences how wide that view of the remarks is. He did, however, continue to promote and amplify the inaccurate framing put out by Corbyn’s supporters, thereby hindering audience understanding of the story.
The August 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item relating to the story which had been reported in the same station’s news bulletins the previous evening: that of Jeremy Corbyn’s 2013 remarks concerning British Zionists who he said:
“…clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either.”
Webb: “A statement last night from Jeremy Corbyn on those remarks about British Zionists and their failure to understand irony. Our political correspondent Tom Barton is here. What’s he saying now, Tom?”
Barton: “Well of course for months Jeremy Corbyn’s faced criticism over the way the Labour Party has handled complaints of antisemitism and one of the key issues has been about the words people use and in particular how that term – Zionist – can be used to attack the Jewish people as a whole. And now Jeremy Corbyn has had to defend his own use of that word after a speech in 2013 where he talked about British Zionists who he said may have lived in this country for a very long time, perhaps all of their lives, but – who he said – didn’t understand English irony. Now he was talking in particular about a group of pro-Israel activists who he said had berated the Palestinian representative to the UK following a speech in Westminster a little before that speech that he made in 2013. It drew criticism though from several Labour MPs including Luciana Berger who said the comments were inexcusable. Well last night Jeremy Corbyn published a statement saying that he used the term Zionists – in his words – in the accurate political sense to describe pro-Israel campaigners and not – he said – as a euphemism for Jewish people. He also though said that he is now more careful about how he uses the term Zionist because he says it has been increasingly hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews.”
Justin Webb then apparently tried to raise a relevant point which had been glaringly absent from BBC Radio 4’s previous coverage of the story.
Webb: “But when he said…when he said ‘having lived in this country for a long time, probably all their lives’, that then doesn’t sound as if he’s referring to a group that isn’t in a sense ‘other’.”
Barton: “And this is it, so Labour’s defence of that point is that he was talking in context, very particular, particularly about a group of people, pro-Israel activists who were made up of both Jewish people and non-Jewish people and he was using…”
Webb: “I see.”
Barton: “…it to refer to…ah…this particular group of activists and not – they say – to the Jewish community.”
Did Tom Barton bother to fact check that Labour “defence” before regurgitating it on air? Did he ask the Labour Party how exactly it had determined the religion/ethnicity of people it claimed attended an event in Parliament over five and a half years ago? Apparently not.
“Millett says he does not recall “berating” the Palestinian envoy at the end of the 2013 event in Parliament, but is convinced that Corbyn was referring to his blog criticizing Hassassian’s remarks, saying he does not recall any other pro-Israel activists in the audience.” [emphasis added]
In the video of Corbyn’s 2013 speech he does not mention “a group of people” – let alone their ethnic/religious origins – but refers only to “Zionists”.
Moreover, from remarks made by Corbyn before that ‘English irony’ claim – remarks which were edited out of the video – it is obvious that he was indeed talking about Zionist British Jews rather than “this particular group of activists”.
And as Tom Barton’s Twitter feed shows, he knew that video had been edited and was later provided with the transcript of the rest of Corbyn’s speech.
Webb and Barton closed the item by discussing the potential effects of Corbyn’s statement would “make a difference” within the Labour Party itself.
As we see not only were the BBC’s domestic audiences once again not given any explanation as to why Corbyn’s remarks were regarded by many as offensive and antisemitic, but the BBC’s political correspondent quickly quashed that line of discussion with unquestioning repetition of an obviously inadequately checked statement given to him by team Corbyn.
“The BBC will provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world.”
“…clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either.””
The Jewish Chronicle reported on the same day that a Labour spokesman had claimed that:
“Jeremy is totally opposed to all forms of antisemitism and is determined to drive it out from society. At this event, he was referring to a group of pro-Israel activists misunderstanding and then criticising the Palestinian Ambassador [sic] for a speech at a separate event about the occupation of the West Bank.”
As shown by the part of Corbyn’s speech which preceded those remarks but was edited out of the video, the claim that he was referring to a specific “group of pro-Israel activists” who ‘misunderstood’ a speech given several days earlier is highly questionable.
Nevertheless, listeners to BBC Radio 4 on August 24th heard uncritical amplification of team Corbyn’s ‘explanations’ while the links between the event organisers and Hamas was erased from audience view and no effort whatsoever was made to explain to the BBC’s domestic audiences why Corbyn’s comments were objectionable.
Six O’Clock News (from 07:44), BBC Radio 4, August 24th:
Newsreader: “The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has said that Jeremy Corby’s comments that British Zionists don’t understand English irony have been taken out of context. A number of Labour MPs have strongly criticised Mr Corbyn for the remarks which he made at a Palestinian conference in 2013. Mr McDonnell said the Labour leader had devoted his life to securing peace in the Middle East. Our political correspondent Jonathan Blake has this report.”
Blake: “The comments in question were made by Jeremy Corbyn during a speech at the Palestinian Return Centre, which represents Palestinian refugees, when he was a back bench Labour MP. Mr Corbyn referred to a disagreement between a group of people he described as Zionists and the Palestinian representative to the UK, Manuel Hassassian, after he spoke at an event in the Houses of Parliament.”
Recording Corbyn 2013: “This was dutifully recorded by the thankfully silent Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion, and then came up and berated him afterwards for what he’d said. They clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either.”
Blake: “The Labour MP Luciana Berger said Mr Corbyn’s comments were inexcusable and made her feel unwelcome in her own party. She said that she had lived in Britain all her life and didn’t need any lessons in history or irony. Several of her parliamentary colleagues supported her but the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said Mr Corbyn’s comments had been taken out of context.”
Listeners then heard an edited version of part of an interview with McDonnell which had been aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 02:43:39 here) earlier in the day.
McDonnell: “In certain contexts certain phrases are appropriate. To take them out of context is unacceptable and I think is not helping issues. It’s exacerbating the issue. Where we want to get to now is let’s recognize there is antisemitism in our society. Let’s have a real serious debate about the actions needed to tackle that antisemitism wherever it’s displayed.”
Blake: “In a report into antisemitism within the Labour Party in 2016, the Labour peer Lady Chakrabarti said that the term Zionist was used by some as a euphemism for Jew and that it should be used carefully. The party’s code of conduct states that such language may otherwise provide evidence of antisemitic intent. A spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn said he was totally opposed to all forms of antisemitism, adding that he was referring to a group of pro-Israel activists misunderstanding and then criticising the Palestinian ambassador.”
The World Tonight (from 03:38), BBC Radio 4, August 24th:
Newsreader: “The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has denied using the term Zionist to refer to Jewish people. He was recorded making the remarks at a Palestinian conference five years ago. This evening it’s emerged that Mr Corbyn has been reported to the Parliamentary standards watchdog by a Conservative MP in connection with the comments. With the details, here’s our political correspondent Jonathan Blake.”
Blake: “In a speech in 2013 Jeremy Corbyn referred to a group of people who had disagreed with the Palestinian representative to the UK after a speech he’d made at an event in the Palace of Westminster as British Zionists. He said that they had two problems. One is they don’t want to study history and secondly, he said, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either. Several Labour MPs criticised Mr Corbyn’s remarks. In a statement he said he used the term Zionist in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people, adding that he’s now more careful using the term Zionists because it has been increasingly hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews.”
Midnight News (from 07:40), BBC Radio 4, August 25th:
Newsreader: “The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has defended comments he made about Zionists when he was a back bencher five years ago. A Conservative MP has reported Mr Corbyn to the Parliamentary standards watchdog after it emerged that he told a Palestinian conference that British Zionists did not understand English irony. Mr Corbyn has denied using the term to refer to all Jewish people. With the details, here’s our political correspondent Jonathan Blake.”
Blake: “For months Jeremy Corbyn has faced criticism that he has not done enough to tackle antisemitism within the Labour Party. Now he has defended his own actions after several Labour MPs spoke out against comments he made during a speech in 2013. Mr Corbyn was addressing a group representing Palestinian refugees and described a group of what he called British Zionists berating the Palestinian representative to the UK after he made a speech at the Palace of Westminster. He said the group had two problems: they didn’t want to study history and didn’t understand English irony either. In a statement the Labour leader said he’d used the term Zionist in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people, adding that he was now more careful because the term had increasingly been hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews. That is something which the Labour peer Lady Chakrabarti warned against in a review of antisemitism within the Labour Party in 2016.”
As we see, the focus of all three of those news reports was amplification of the Labour claim that Corbyn’s remarks had been misunderstood, with no attempt made to explain to the BBC’s domestic listeners why they were so widely seen as offensive and antisemitic.
1) At the Jerusalem Post Adam Milstein writes about “The Grave Danger of Media Bias“.
“We must hold the media accountable for honest reporting. We must reject and condemn stories that spread inaccurate information and newspapers that fail to broadcast corrections as dramatically as they broadcast untruths. If journalists fail to understand that antisemitism is a deeply embedded bigotry that persistently impacts their understanding of the world – and a hatred that is central to Hamas’ political actions – they cannot accurately report on actions at the Gaza-Israel border. A story pinning the death of an innocent Palestinian baby on Israeli soldiers should raise a red flag. Journalists must present facts and a careful understanding of the nuances that shade coverage of complex situations. A headline taken out of context should not be tolerated.”
2) Writing at ‘Foreign Policy’, James Bloodworth explains how “Labour’s New Anti-Semitism Has Disturbingly Old Roots“.
“The conspiratorial beliefs of the new cranks have combined with an older form of anti-Semitism emanating from the most unreconstructed reaches of the old left. Labour’s current leadership drips with nostalgia for the days of Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev. Corbyn has never been a full-throated apologist for the Soviet Union, but two of his most influential confidants—trade unionist and former Stop the War chair Andrew Murray and Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s spin doctor—certainly are.
Their influence sets the foreign-policy tone in the leader’s office. Israel is viewed through the old Soviet lens. Zionism equals racism, my enemy’s enemy is my friend, and indiscriminate violence by an oppressed nation should be supported, because the ends justify the means. Those beliefs have blurred into conspiratorialism in the past. During the 1970s, Soviet authorities, steeped in the old-fashioned Russian anti-Semitism, published “anti-Zionist” books that promoted the claims of a “Zionist-controlled” media and described Zionism as a variant of fascism, arguments still popular among some of Corbyn’s supporters today.”
3) The JCPA’s Yoni Ben Menachem discusses terrorism in Jordan.
“It now appears that the terrorists of radical jihadist Islam are again cropping up in Jordan for a new wave of attacks on the security establishment and that the aim is to destabilize the Hashemite Kingdom. On August 11, 2018, an explosive device was planted in a Jordanian police vehicle in the town of Fuheis. The blast killed a policeman and wounded six others.
A quick investigation led to the terror gang’s hideout in a building in the city of Salt. The siege on the building lasted several hours. When the security forces tried to break into the building, the terrorists set off explosive devices they had planted in advance; the building collapsed on the terrorists and security forces.”
4) Also from the JCPA comes a collection of essays titled “Defeating Denormalization – Shared Palestinian and Israeli Perspectives on a New Path to Peace“.
“The Palestinian leadership’s strategy of “denormalization of relations” with Israel is one of the central, if lesser understood, components of the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. Denormalization may be an unfamiliar term to Western observers of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Conceptually, it is modeled after the international anti-normalization campaign that brought about the collapse of the former South African apartheid regime in 1994. […]
While the PA leadership has positioned BDS and its denormalization corollary as a grassroots campaign to pressure Israel to concede to Palestinian political demands, this campaign does not represent the attitudes or interests of the average Palestinian. In fact, some 150,000 Palestinians who are employed either in the Palestinian-Israeli West Bank industrial zones or in Israel are generally unaware of and uninterested in the international BDS and denormalization campaign.
The articles in this collection reveal the demand among a growing number of Palestinians for engagement and opportunity together with their Israeli neighbors.”
In previous posts (see ‘related articles’ below) we have noted how BBC coverage of the Jeremy Corbyn wreath-laying story has failed include background information relating to the claim promoted by the Labour leader’s supporters that he was honouring victims of an Israeli air strike on the PLO headquarters in Tunisia in 1985.
The context to those statements – which to date has not been provided to BBC audiences in any of the content we have seen – is the fact that the strike came in response to a Palestinian terror attack against Israeli civilians in Cyprus.
That omission was evident again in an item (from 23:26 here) aired in the August 15th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’. Presenter Mark Mardell introduced that item thus: [emphasis in italics in the original]
Mardell: “Jeremy Corbyn says when he paid tribute to the Palestinian dead in 2014 in a Tunis cemetery he was at a conference alongside many other people from other political parties. We’ll speak to one of them in a moment. Those attacking Mr Corbyn claim he helped lay a wreath honouring members of the terrorist group which murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. He vehemently denies that as a slur.”
Radio 4 listeners then heard part of an interview with Corbyn aired on Channel 4 News the previous day.
Corbyn: “I was there when the wreaths were laid – that’s pretty obvious. There were many others there who were witness to that. I witnessed many other people laying many wreaths.”
Reporter: “Did you lay the wreath?”
Corbyn: [sighs] “I laid one wreath along with many other people in memory – as I’ve said – of all those who died in the awful attack in 1985 which, as I keep repeating – you seem not to understand – was condemned by the whole world.”
Mardell did not bother to inform Radio 4 listeners that the strike was on the PLO’s headquarters in Tunis, that among those in whose “memory” Corbyn says he laid the wreath were members of the PLO terror group including leaders of Fatah’s ‘Force 17’ , that the strike came after a terror attack against Israeli civilians or that the local Jewish community in Tunisia was subsequently targeted, including in a shooting attack at the Synagogue in Djerba in which three people were murdered.
He went on to introduce a guest whose political affiliations (Liberal Democrats) were not clarified and who was allowed to present his own ‘credentials’.
Mardell: “Lord Phillips of Sudbury attended that conference. […] What did you make of the conference? Why did you go?”
Phillips: “Well I’m an oddball [laughs] in that I’m a fanatical supporter of the right of the State of Israel to exist and indeed offered to fight for them in 1973 but a profound critic of their policy in Palestine [sic] which I believe is shocking in terms of their own high standards in history and most of all I’m convinced that what they’re doing and continue to do – and indeed it gets worse – is actually jeopardising the safety of the State of Israel and so on.”
It would of course have been helpful to listeners to know that Lord Phillips’ self-declared record as “a fanatical supporter of the right of the State of Israel to exist” has not prevented him from taking part in an event organised by supporters of the Hamas terrorist group which most certainly does not share that sentiment, meeting a Hamas leader by whom he was “immensely impressed“, advocating for boycott of Israel in line with the BDS campaign which seeks to eradicate the Jewish state or indulging in ‘Jewish lobby’ conspiracy theories.
Listeners then discovered that Phillips cannot even remember where the conference he was asked to tell them about took place.
Phillips: “…I have taken advantage of I think it’s three – could be four – trips, parliamentary trips, to usually Israel and Gaza and the West Bank but on this occasion to Egypt [sic] for this conference, simply to a) inform myself directly and better in order that I can be in touch, form opinions which are factually based and thus be a better advocate for the whole situation.”
Failing to point out to listeners that the conference was also attended by leaders of Palestinian terror factions and even a convicted terrorist who tried to blow up Israeli cinema goers, Mardell asked:
Mardell: “But at this particular conference in Tunisia, were there many people who were like-minded like you who believe that the State of Israel should exist?”
Claiming that “this was quite a few years ago” (actually less than four years ago), Phillips avoided the question while mentioning “a big delegation of European representatives” and “lots of MEPs.”
Mardell next asked whether the conference (which he did not bother to inform listeners was titled the “International Conference on Monitoring the Palestinian Political and Legal Situation in the Light of Israeli Aggression”) was “hostile to Israel”.
Phillips: “I did…well this is…absolutely not.”
Phillips went on to claim that he had a “general memory” of delegates being at the conference because they were “interested in what’s going on in the Middle East”.
In response to questions from Mardell concerning Corbyn’s participation in the wreath-laying, Radio 4 listeners then heard more of the type of ‘contextualisation’ heard in a previous Radio 4 programme.
Phillips: “…this conference went on a couple of days. It was a very crushed programme with side meetings and heave knows what. And I could quite imagine he was asked to go along and lay a wreath. […] I could absolutely imagine that he was drawn into this slightly shambolic huge meeting and laid a wreath, as he thought, just for the people who died and then got caught up in what he’s now caught up with.”
Phillips – and the item – closed with listeners being told that too much fuss is being made about anti-Jewish racism.
Phillips: “And of course we live at a moment in time when the sort of antisemitic thing has in my view grown way out of all control and good sense.”
That remark hardly comes as a surprise from a contributor on record as claiming that the issue of antisemitism is used “like McCarthyism and a good way to silence people” and that people fail to ‘speak out’ on Israel “for fear of being branded anti-Semitic”. Nevertheless, it is obvious that listeners to this item gained no insight into the real nature and agenda of that ‘conference’ in Tunis but were in fact materially misled on that topic.
The August 15th edition of BBC Two’s ‘Victoria Derbyshire’ included an item introduced by the presenter as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]
Derbyshire: “Next: in simple terms antisemitism is described as hostility to, prejudice or discrimination against Jewish people. But even the definition of the term has been the cause of debate in recent weeks as the Labour antisemitism row goes on. Now one of the most high-profile lawyers in Britain, Mark Lewis, and his partner Mandy Blumenthal – a property company director – tell this programme in an exclusive joint interview that they believe the level of antisemitism in this country has become so severe that they no longer feel safe living here. Instead, they say, they’re moving to Israel and intend to do this by the end of the year.”
One might have thought that, having invited two people onto the programme ostensibly to hear about the experiences – including a death threat – that have prompted them to reach the decision to uproot their lives and relocate to a different country, Derbyshire would have refrained from spending the next fifteen minutes telling them why they are wrong.
However, the BBC presenter could have been easily mistaken for a member of the Labour Party’s press team as she read out a list of Jeremy Corbyn’s statements on antisemitism followed by a list of “actions that he has taken as leader of the Labour Party in order to tackle the antisemitism” as well as a pre-prepared statement from the Labour Party – while concurrently promoting a context free defence of Corbyn’s participation in a ceremony honouring terrorists in Tunisia four years ago obviously taken from a Labour Party statement.
Derbyshire: “And [Corbyn] absolutely explained why he was there. Absolutely explained why he was there. That they and others were paying their respects to those killed in an Israeli air raid in 1985 including civilians.”
Derbyshire later inaccurately described the conference in Tunisia in which Corbyn had participated together with senior members of terrorist organisations as a “peace conference” and the standard of BBC fact-checking was also on display in another segment:
Derbyshire: “Can we talk about your politics? […] Let’s talk about your politics because there will be some who will accuse you of saying this simply for political motivations because you’re not Labour supporters. You’re members of the UK Zionist party which was relaunched this year.”
Blumenthal: “Hold on, hold on. What is the UK Zionist party? I’m sorry to interrupt you but you’re saying that I’m a member of a UK Zionist party?”
Derbyshire: “Sorry – that was the information I was given. That’s obviously inaccurate.”