Antisemitism is real, but it was unfairly misconstrued by the BBC.
“Telling me Hitler was right. Telling me Hitler did not go far enough.”
Labour party member Izzy Lenga is just one of the spokespeople who listed instances of xenophobic abuse in Wednesday’s BBC Panorama: Is Labour Anti-Semitic? Amid several other Labour insiders, Lenga told the BBC that the party was no longer “a safe space for Jewish people”.
Since Jeremy Corbyn secured leadership in 2015, allegations of antisemitism have risen significantly. In April 2019, the Sunday Times reported that 863 complaints were launched against party members. The documentary came after three Labour peers resigned on Tuesday, owing to the antisemitic environment, following nine MPs who quit on the same grounds in February 2019.
Seeking deeper insight, BBC Panorama interviewed several former party officials, claiming that Jeremy Corbyn and General Secretary Jennie Formby had interfered in the disciplinary process, acting ‘angry and obstructive’ in regard to the issue. When former Head of Labour Party Disputes Team Mark Creighton gave advice on tackling antisemitism, political aide Seumas Milne allegedly laughed in response.
“Not a fair or balanced investigation”
Faced with these serious claims, BBC Panorama seemed to neglect impartiality. Stirring huge backlash, the documentary was labelled by many a politically-motivated smear campaign against Corbyn. Labour’s Press Office immediately launched a statement denouncing the programme as “not a fair or balanced investigation”. Instead, the broadcast was “seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided polemic, which breached basic journalistic standards, invented quotes and edited emails to change their meaning”, according to the Labour statement.
Spearheading the documentary was reporter John Ware, an anti-Corbyn figure condemned by campaigners as unfit for impartial analysis. Ware, a former Sun journalist, was pre-emptively criticised for the role by Momentum, owing to his previous controversy. In 2015 Ware produced BBC Panorama: Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s Earthquake, slammed for bias and inconsistencies surrounding the leader.
Sources within the documentary were also dubious. Panorama failed to mention that their leading expert Alan Johnson is a senior research advisor for Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) – the UK’s most active Israel lobby group, leading to concerns that a pro-Israeli agenda might distort fair judgement.
Another source was Alex Richardson – assistant of Labour Friends of Israel’s chair Joan Ryan. Richardson, according to investigative journalist Asa Winstanley, had previously falsified antisemitism at a Labour conference, confessing in private “nothing antisemitic was said”; a misconduct exposed in Al Jazeera’s 2017 documentary The Lobby.
Scope must also be considered. Depicting the party as institutionally racist, Panorama did not mention that such complaints make up 0.06% of the membership. As a result, Labour has called for an investigation into similar levels of Islamophobia in the Conservative party, whilst demanding an honest investigation into antisemitism.
An honest investigation
An honest investigation is undeniably needed. Antisemitism is real, and dangerous. No matter party affiliation, racial abuse against Jewish citizens cannot be tolerated in Britain.
Yet, the way to tackle the issue is clearly not through a one-sided narrative. A more balanced approach would have included interviews with Corbyn supporters, particularly Jewish Labour members who stand by their leader and refute the allegations. A fair report would also acknowledge Corbyn’s moves to target antisemitism, proposing to adopt a code of conduct and setting up inquiries, such as at the Oxford University Labour Club. But this was left untouched.
The venom of antisemitism can be purged, but we need a fair display of the facts. Inequitable and misleading information, editing and sources only fuels party politics and distracts from the real issue. BBC Panorama did not seem to be asking the question Is Labour Anti-Semitic?, but affirming it. When faced with a party’s internal civil war, we must listen to both sides.