Tag Archives: Anti-semitism

New report highlights the inaccurate news coverage of antisemitism controversy

New report highlights the inaccurate news coverage of antisemitism controversy
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star

13 October 2018

Though it is the first in-depth, academic-level research focussing on the media coverage of the controversy surrounding antisemitism in the Labour Party, the Media Reform Coalition’s (MRC) new report has been ignored by the mainstream media.

This media blackout is perhaps unsurprising when you consider the report’s broad findings: “we identified myriad inaccuracies and distortions in online and television news including marked skews in sourcing, omission of essential context or right of reply, misquotation, and false assertions made either by journalists themselves or sources whose contentious claims were neither challenged nor countered.”

An “independent coalition of groups and individuals committed to maximising the public interest in communications”, the MRC’s current chair is Natalie Fenton, Professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The report is co-authored by Dr Justin Schlosberg, Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Media at Birkbeck, University of London, and Laura Laker, a freelance journalist with eight years’ experience, including appearing on Sky News, BBC Breakfast and LBC radio. Schlosberg is an active member of the Labour Party and Jewish Voice for Labour, while Laker is not a member of the Labour Party, and has not voted consistently for Labour in local or national elections. For the research geeks out there, the researchers analysed their sample of 258 news items separately, “yielding a 93% agreement across the coding decisions”, which they argue “is considered near perfect agreement and indicates highly reliable findings.”

The report looks at the media coverage of the core document at the heart of the controversy – the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which the Labour Party has been under intense pressure to adopt.

The authors’ provide crucial context missing from most media reporting, noting that although the IHRA itself adopted the definition in 2016, only six of its member state countries have adopted it to date, and only eight countries in total. In contrast, the media has repeatedly inflated how widely the IHRA definition had been adopted. Speaking on the BBC Today Programme in September 2018, presenter John Humphrys said the definition had “been accepted by almost every country in the world”. Similarly, writing in the Guardian Jonathan Freedland referred to the “near universally accepted” IHRA definition.

The Board of Deputies (BoD), Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) and many commentators have also repeatedly referred to over 120 UK local authorities having adopted in full the IHRA definition. However, the report explains “to date, less than a third [of local authorities in the UK] have heeded the call” and that “several of those local authorities that have adopted the definition do not appear to have included any of the accompanying examples” (which are defined as being part of the full IHRA definition by its supporters). Suspicious of the “over 120 local authorities” claim, I personally contacted the BoD, JLC and LFI and asked for a list of all the local authorities that have adopted the IHRA definition. All three organisations refused to provide me with the list.

Discussing sourcing, the report notes “A number of news reports focused on the code controversy also featured no defensive sources at all. The Guardian was a particular outlier in this respect, with critical sources given an entirely unchallenged platform in nearly half of the articles within this sub-sample”.

“In sum, both quantitative and qualitative analysis of sourcing revealed marked skews which effectively gave those attacking Labour’s revised [antisemitism] code and championing the IHRA definition a virtually exclusive and unchallenged platform to air their views”, the report concludes about sourcing. “By comparison, their detractors – including a number of Jewish organisations and representatives of other affected minorities – were systematically marginalized from the coverage.”

The report ends by looking at media coverage of the alleged antisemitic remark Labour activist Marc Wadsworth made to Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth at the launch of Shami Chakrabarti’s report into antisemitism in June 2016. In actual fact the video footage shows Wadsworth simply accused Smeeth of “working hand in hand” with the Daily Telegraph newspaper. There was, the report notes, no evidence of antisemitism in Wadsworth’s remarks (Wadsworth has always maintained he didn’t know Smeeth was Jewish). However, taking its framing from Smeeth and her supporters, the media coverage repeatedly reported that Wadsworth had accused Smeeth of conspiring with the press in general (which chimes with a longstanding antisemitic trope), and even of being part of a “Jewish media conspiracy” (The Sun).

“Nearly half of the reports in the sample (15 out of 33) either quoted Smeeth directly or referred to her allegations without mentioning Wadsworth’s denial”, Schlosberg and Laker note. “This was a clear subversion of the journalistic principle of offering a right of reply to those who face reputational damage from an allegation of harm.”

With the so-called left-wing Guardian and trusted BBC coming in for lots of criticism, the report concludes “overall, our findings were consistent with a disinformation paradigm” – defined by the authors as “systematic reporting failures that broadly privileged a particular agenda and narrative.”

“This does not mean that these failures were intentional or that journalists and news institutions are inherently biased”, they caveat.

Whether the skewed, anti-Corbyn coverage was intentional or not, this vital research provides some important lessons for those wishing to see a Corbyn-led Labour Party in government powerful enough to carry out its manifesto promises. First, it is clear the media, including those organisations which are perceived to be sympathetic to the Corbyn Project, cannot be trusted to report accurately on Labour Party politics. They must be consumed carefully and actively monitored. Second, to overcome future attacks on the Corbyn Project, Labour Party members, Corbyn supporters and concerned citizens must become better organised and more powerful – and, most importantly, build up their own independent media to combat the lies and distortions.

Read the Labour, Antisemitism and the News: A Disinformation Paradigm report http://www.mediareform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Labour-antisemitism-and-the-news-FINAL-PROOFED.pdf

Antisemitism and the Labour Party: Rebecca Ruth Gould interview

Antisemitism and the Labour Party: Rebecca Ruth Gould interview
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
3 September 2018

Last month Professor Rebecca Ruth Gould from the University of Birmingham published an article titled ‘Legal Form and Legal Legitimacy: The IHRA Definition of Antisemitism as a Case Study in Censored Speech’ in the peer-reviewed academic journal Law, Culture and the Humanities – “the first extended scholarly treatment of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s new definition of antisemitism”.

Ian Sinclair: The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland has referred to “Labour’s failure to adopt the full text of the near universally accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.” Does this characterisation concur with your research?

Rebecca Ruth Gould: Freedland’s claims are misleading and inaccurate. The leading American-Jewish newspaper, The Forward, offers a very different account of the IHRA’s status within the Jewish community. In its pages, the IHRA (both the organization and the definition) has been described as “worthy of outrage,” by Lev Golyakin, who also points out that over a fifth of the 31 IHRA’s member countries “are currently engaged in outright glorification of Nazi collaborators and Holocaust distortion and/or denial.” Why should anyone take guidance from an organisation that collaborates with the rightwing governments of Hungary, Lithuania, and Romania, which have recently been engaged in whitewashing their role in the Holocaust? Yair Wallach has further shown in Haaretz, Israel’s leading liberal newspaper, that the IHRA definition is useless for addressing antisemitism due to its failure to engage with structural racism.  Finally, Freedland’s reference to the “full text” is misleading. During the IHRA delegate meeting in 2016, the examples were determined to be advisory, and not part of the full definition itself. Yet Freedland, along with many other UK commentators, erroneously refers to the “full text” as if that included the examples. This conflicts with the IHRA’s own position. While it is true that the definition has been adopted by all IHRA member states by virtue of their membership, the “full text” of the definition from the point of view of the IHRA and its member states is precisely the two-sentence definition and not the examples, as the press release makes clear when it states “the following examples may serve as illustrations.”

The recent weaponisation of the IHRA definition is itself conducive to antisemitism. It falsely suggests that there is a consensus among Jews around this document and its uses, and that all Jews oppose criticism of Israel, when in fact the most intense and significant criticism of human rights violations by the state of Israel generally comes from Jewish scholars, NGOs, activists, and lawyers, who oppose the ways in which this nation-state presumes to speak on their behalf and in their name when it discriminates against Palestinians.

IS: What effect has the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism had on civil society and public debate in the UK?

RRG: Increased censorship, within the mainstream media and on university campuses (the focus on my article), has been the most notable effect. Antisemitism experts and scholars like Brian Klug, David Feldman, Stephen Sedley, Anthony Lerman, Rachel Shabi, Kenneth Stern, Adam Wagner, have made important contributions to the debate, but their voices are drowned out by a headline-hungry media. These individuals do not represent a consensus; they have written in various ways about the definition and about antisemitism more generally. In some cases, they support the use of the IHRA definition for specific purposes (such as the classification of hate crimes by the police), but in most cases, they oppose its adoption for the purpose of censoring speech. I don’t agree with them on all particulars, but I respect their voices. They speak from multiple sides of the debate, and their voices should be heard.

And yet their wise, intelligent, and discerning words have not been given a platform in the same way as have more narrow-minded commentators like Jonathan Arkush and Jonathan Freedland. To its shame, The Guardian (a newspaper that has led the way in exposing the injustice of the UK immigration regime) has refused to recognize non-Zionist Jewish organizations like Jewish Voice for Labour in their coverage and has contributed significantly to the false narrative of consensus around the IHRA definition. I should note in fairness that The Guardian has good coverage of human rights violations in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, but its coverage of the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party has been appallingly one-sided.

Just as non-Zionist Jews have been silenced in this debate, so too have the voices of Palestinians and their supporters. While BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) groups recently published a letter noting their concerns with the document, they have generally been denied a platform to express their views in mainstream media outlets. And yet the proposal to ban anti-Israel speech affects them too. The adoption of the IHRA examples would send a message that the “right to self-determination” of the Jewish people (as stipulated in the examples) is sacrosanct in ways that rights for Palestinians are not, and that Jewish rights matter more than the rights of other ethnic minorities. Minimally, this a double standard. Maximally, it is prejudice that seeks to be enshrined in law. Although the working definition has no legal status, my article shows how it has been interpreted in UK university contexts as if it were a law. Notably, proposals targeting Islamophobic speech have not received the same airtime in mainstream media outlets. I would oppose those too, because censoring speech is inconsistent with democracy.

IS: What advice would you give to organisations, such as the Labour Party, which are considering – or are in the process of – adopting the IHRA working definition and examples?

RRG: The first thing that must be said in any consideration about how a European political party ought to address antisemitism is that Europe’s history of antisemitism and role in the genocide of the Jewish people means that the dangers of antisemitism will always need to be given serious consideration. Just as every accusation of sexual harassment should be taken seriously, complaints of antisemitism must be treated with empathy and open-minded inquiry, even in cases of intense political disagreement. In a political context that is witnessing the ascendancy of rightwing neo-Nazism across Europe (in Sweden, Denmark, Austria, and Germany) we cannot afford to trivialise antisemitism, even as we rightly resist its weaponisation. Antisemitism is so deeply implicated in European history that it is hardly surprising if the discourse around Israel has in certain ways exacerbated antisemitism.

I don’t therefore support those who deny that there is any antisemitism in the Labour Party. Labour has nothing to gain by taking such a position. There is always room for self-education and self-critique. But we need to move beyond the idea that policing speech is an adequate solution, or that the best way to respond to politically-motivated pressure (which has less to do with Israel than with factions within the Labour Party, many of which are not Jewish) is to concede to it. If we allow one political faction to determine whether criticism of Israel is to be understood as antisemitic, where do such concessions end? Do we also allow radical Islamists to determine what criticism of Islam should be considered Islamophobic? In my view, concessions to specific groups who ask for censorship is never helpful.

Labour must recognize the internal diversity of the Jewish community, and not allow a political faction to silence other points of view, as is happening now to an unprecedented degree. Adoption of the IHRA definition will harm Palestinians and the Palestinian cause; it will also harm non-Zionist Jews, as can be seen from the attempted expulsion of Professor Moshe Machover from the Labour party on the grounds of his violation of the IHRA definition, and the strong opposition that the definition has faced from Jews whose political convictions differ from the Board of Deputies.

I think Corbyn should publicly consolidate his ties with Jewish Voice for Labour and the Jewish Socialist Group. Of course, not all of his critics will be satisfied by that, but such is the nature of politics. Corbyn should also discourage the demonization of any country or political faction, including Israel and Zionists. Above all, we must not be distracted from the struggle for global justice by this domestic political fight.

The Alice in Wonderland nature of the Labour Party anti-semitism controversy

The Alice in Wonderland nature of the Labour Party anti-semitism controversy
by Ian Sinclair
Medium
12 July 2018

Over the last few months the mainstream media coverage about anti-semitism and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has reached Alice in Wonderland proportions.

How surreal, you ask? Here are a few examples.

Despite the Labour leader having a decades long record of anti-racist work and repeating ad nauseam that he condemns anti-semitism, in April 2018 Tory Home Secretary Sajid Javid “urged the Labour leader to ‘once and for all’ clarify his opposition to antisemitism”, the Guardian reported. The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland tweeted that claiming any Jewish person or organisation is “exaggerating or ‘weaponising’ [charges of anti-semitism against Corbyn and Labour]… is itself anti-semitic”. Not to be outdone, Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, “said he would also like action to be taken against those who minimise reports of antisemitism”, including Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey, according to the Guardian.

Frustratingly, some on the Left have been sucked into this ludicrous, often hysterical framing. Asked why anti-semitism was “endemic in the Labour Party” by the BBC’s Andrew Neil, the Corbyn supporting Co-Founder of Novara Media Aaron Bastani didn’t question whether it really was “endemic” but answered “I think there are a few explanations”. Similarly, on Frankie Boyle’s BBC show New World Order invited guest comedian David Baddiel mused “Who knows if Jeremy himself is anti-semitic?” Before this he quipped “He [Corbyn] does say there is no room in the Labour Party for anti-semites. And that might be because it’s full.”

Let me be crystal clear. The evidence shows there is a problem with anti-semitism in the Labour Party and on the broader Left. However, the relentless hounding of Corbyn on anti-semitism is based on a number of erroneous, evidence-free assumptions: that it is widespread in the Labour Party; that it is worse in the Labour Party and the Left than on other parts of the political spectrum; and that the problem has worsened under Corbyn.

Analysing polling data a September 2017 report from the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (IJPR) found “the political left, captured by voting intention or actual voting for Labour, appears in these surveys as a more Jewish-friendly, or neutral, segment of the population.” Interestingly, the IJPR went on to note “the absence of clear signs of negativity towards Jews on the political left” was “particularly curious in the current context” as there were “perceptions among some Jews of growing left-wing anti-semitism.”

“Despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party” a October 2016 Home Affairs Committee report on anti-semitism found “there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.”

Analysing YouGov polling data from 2015 and 2017, in March 2018 Evolve Politics website noted “anti-semitic views amongst Labour party voters have actually reduced substantially” since Corbyn was elected leader. Moreover, the report highlights the Tories and UKIP “have a far bigger problem with their voters agreeing with anti-semitic statements.”

Though the survey evidence is for Labour voters rather than members of the Labour Party, it still provides a valuable corrective to the dominant narrative, I think.

The warped nature of the debate is evidenced by the two high profile cases of supposed anti-semitism — activist Marc Wadsworth and former London mayor Ken Livingstone.

Speaking at the June 2016 launch of the Chakrabarti Inquiry report into allegations of anti-semitism in the Labour Party, Wadsworth accused Ruth Smeeth MP of “working hand in hand” with the Daily Telegraph — something Smeeth and her supporters labelled anti-semitic. Wadsworth has said he wasn’t aware Smeeth was Jewish. But even if he was aware, how, exactly, is referring to her alleged links with a right-wing newspaper anti-semitic?

A couple of months earlier, Livingstone did a live radio interview about allegations Labour MP Naz Shah was anti-semitic. “Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism. This was before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews”, Livingstone noted, somewhat off topic.

After the interview Labour MP John Mann famously confronted Livingstone on television, calling him a “lying racist” and “Nazi apologist”, and accusing him of “rewriting history”.

Livingstone and Wadsworth have both been forced out of the party.

However, discussing the controversy in an Open Democracy interview, the American Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein noted “Livingstone maybe wasn’t precise enough, and lacked nuance. But he does know something about that dark chapter in history.”

The work of Francis Nicosia, the Raul Hilberg Distinguished Professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Vermont, confirms Livingstone’s comments, though insensitive and unhelpful (including for Corbyn), were broadly correct. “Throughout the 1930s, as part of the regime’s determination to force Jews to leave Germany, there was almost unanimous support in German government and Nazi party circles for promoting Zionism among German Jews”, the academic noted in his book Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, published by Cambridge University Press in 2008. Indeed, Nicosia notes a formal agreement — the Haavara Transfer Agreement — was signed between the Zionist movement and Nazi government in 1933, “facilitating Jewish emigration from Germany to Palestine by allowing Jewish immigrants to Palestine to take a small portion of their assets with them.”

The Nazi government’s support for Zionism, of course, was not sincere but “temporary”, “largely superficial” and instrumental, Nicosia explains. And the relationship between Zionist organisations and the Nazis was obviously “not one of mutual respect and cooperation between equals” but something forced on the Jewish population by the most unfavourable of circumstances. With these caveats in mind, the historical fact, however inconvenient, remains: the Nazis, for their own interests, broadly supported Zionism in the 1930s.

When considering the controversy, it is important to understand two things. First, as I have already noted, there is a real problem of anti-semitism on the Left that needs to be addressed. Second, anti-semitism is being used by opponents of Corbyn inside and outside of the Labour Party to undermine his leadership. More broadly, anti-semitism is being weaponised in an attempt to neuter criticism of Israel, and to minimise the ability of a future Corbyn government to support Palestinian rights and criticise Israel. As Daniel Finn notes in his superb April 2018 Jacobin magazine article: “There is nobody in such close proximity to power in a major Western state with a comparable record for Palestinian rights.”

This contextual reading is validated by Tory-supporting Arkush’s recent assertion that Corbyn holds “anti-Semitic views”.

“He was a chairman of Stop the War, which is responsible for some of the worst anti-Israel discourse”, Arkush said, giving the game away.

The intense political pressure created by this media-driven shit-storm has put the Labour leadership in a very difficult position — made worse by Corbyn’s own stupid 2012 comments on Facebook about the removal of an anti-semitic mural. However, the leadership has arguably been too defensive, which though it might make short-term tactical sense, is likely storing up problems for the future.

Rather than capitulate, Project Corbyn needs to do three things. First, be clear there is a problem with anti-semitism in the Labour Party and on the broader Left, and deal with any accusations swiftly, effectively and, most of all, fairly. Second, follow Owen Jones’s suggestion of carrying out a wide-ranging, class conscious political education programme to combat conspiratorial thinking. And third, it needs to stand up firmly and unapologetically to any bogus claims of anti-semitism being made for nakedly political purposes.

“It’s a test of the movement’s mettle”, Finn argues. “If we can’t hold the line in defense” on this “we certainly won’t be in any condition to resist the pressure that is still to come”, he writes. “Across a whole range of issues, from the Saudi war in Yemen to the privatization of the NHS, the ability to hold up under heavy fire will be essential. Things are going to get a lot harder. If we start retreating now, sooner or later there won’t be anything left to defend.”

It was welcome, therefore, to see Corbyn’s spokesperson give such a robust response to Arkush’s shameful allegations, stating his “attempt to conflate strong criticism of Israeli state policies with antisemitism is wrong and undermines the fight both against antisemitism and for justice for the Palestinians. It should be rejected outright.”

More of this, please.