Right wing Labour MPs launched a fresh assault on the left last week, following a BBC Panorama documentary that accused Labour’s leadership of fuelling antisemitism.
The documentary—fronted by right wing hack John Ware—suggested that Labour has a problem with antisemitism because of Jeremy Corbyn’s long-standing support for Palestine.
It also claimed that people from Corbyn’s office interfered in internal disciplinary cases over charges of antisemitism.
An official response from the Labour Party said the programme “was a seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided polemic”.
“It was an overtly biased intervention by the BBC in party political controversy,” it said.
It also accused the programme’s makers of inventing and editing quotes.
Yet Labour’s right wing deputy leader Tom Watson said the party’s response was “deplorable”. He accused Labour’s general secretary Jennie Formby—a supporter of Corbyn—of hiding information on antisemitism in the Labour Party.
Corbyn supporters hit back with a defence of Formby.
But none of their responses dealt with the question that is central to contesting the right’s argument—the right to criticise the state of Israel.
The documentary repeated the smear at the heart of Labour’s antisemitism row—that opposing Israel is inherently antisemitic.
It rested on a very dangerous conflation of Jewish people with the state of Israel and its founding ideology, Zionism.
This is the idea that Jewish people should have a state of their own in Palestine, and that in this state they should be the majority.
It justified the ethnic cleansing of some 850,000 Palestinians from their homes when Israel was created in 1948. And it justifies the racist exclusion of Palestinians from Israel today.
Many Jews oppose Zionism because of this.
But Ware simply asserted that criticism of Zionism is “offensive to Jewish people because Zionism is the project that established Israel as a secure Jewish homeland”.
This made Zionism appear as something integral to being Jewish, and therefore anti-Zionism as essentially antisemitic.
The left’s opposition to Israel was presented as the root of the problem—and clamping down on it the solution.
Right wing MP Louise Ellman—vice chair of Labour Friends of Israel—complained that Labour members in her constituency “wanted to talk mostly about the Middle East”.
Former Labour staffer Ben Westerman called opposition to Israel “an obsession that just spills over all the time into antisemitism”.
Another former senior Labour staffer, Mike Creighton, said Corbyn could have dealt with
antisemitism “with a significant speech on the issue of the Middle East, particularly saying that Israel has a right to exist”.
Yet Labour’s leadership has given up on defending the right to call Israel racist. Instead the row has become increasingly personalised, vicious, and unpolitical.
This won’t beat the right. The only way to break out of it is to take head-on the issue at the heart of the right’s argument—the right to stand in solidarity with Palestine, and to call Israel a racist state.
Programme offers little evidence for its claims
The programme’s claim that antisemitism had become rife in Labour was light on evidence, with no facts or figures to back it up.
Instead it relied on anecdotal claims by right wing former staffers, such as that Labour members at party meetings were “engaged in Holocaust denial”.
These were all vague, unsubstantiated and deliberately unverifiable.
Former staffers complained that only 15 people had been expelled for antisemitism, as if they wished more antisemitic members had been found.
Ben Westerman, sent to investigate a dispute in Labour’s Liverpool Riverside constituency, claimed he had been asked by a member if he came from Israel.
But members from Riverside said they had a recording that shows the person—a new, Jewish member of the party—actually asked what branch he was from.
Labour also claimed that the documentary had deliberately edited a quote from an email from communications director Seamus Milne, which warned against “muddling up political disputes with racism”.
John Ware’s bare-faced bias
John Ware—the reporter who fronted the Panorama documentary—has a long history of opposing the right to criticise Israel. Many of the people he interviewed as “experts” on antisemitism are actually pro-Israel activists.
In an article last year, Ware wrote that anti-Zionism had “morphed into antisemitism—itself a Corbyn legacy”.
And in 2006 he fronted another Panorama documentary suggesting that British Muslim charity Interpal funded terrorism.
The Muslim Council of Britain responded at the time, “Ware’s over-reliance on partisan Israeli and American sources clearly exposed the flimsy basis of his arguments against the British Muslim charity, Interpal.”
Ware has also claimed that opposition to Islamophobia—“The ‘I’ word”—had “closed down debate on extremism”.
And in 2003 even right wing Labour home secretary David Blunkett said a Panorama documentary by Ware on asylum seekers played into a “Powellite anti-immigration agenda”.
Many ‘experts’ with ties to Israel
One “expert” brought in to discuss antisemitism was Alan Johnson—presented as a neutral, independent author.
In fact, Johnson is an employee of the pro-Israel think-tank, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (Bicom).
Bicom also runs a campaign group, We Believe in Israel, which organises pro-Israel activists in opposition to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Johnson is also one of the authors of the “Euston Manifesto”—a 2006 document that defended the invasion of Iraq and equated anti-Zionism with antisemitism.
Another expert, Dave Rich, is the author of the book “The left’s Jewish problem,” which argues that anti-Zionism is a mask for antisemitism.
And an unnamed witness to antisemitism in Labour turned out to be Ella Rose—a former employee of the Israeli embassy.