4 July 2019 — Media Lens
On June 26, the Labour Party lifted the suspension of pro-Corbyn MP Chris Williamson, triggering a maximum effort propaganda blitz designed to reverse the decision.
Williamson had been suspended on February 27, after footage emerged of him responding to claims of institutionalised anti-semitism in the Labour Party. This is what Williamson said:
‘The party that’s done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party. I’ve got to say I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion… we’ve backed off far too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.’
‘We’ve done more to actually address the scourge of anti-semitism than any other political party, any other political party. And yet we are being traduced.’
Anyone watching the film can see that Williamson was passionate about combating the ‘scourge of anti-semitism’, was emphasising his pride in the Labour Party’s historical commitment to that cause and was frustrated by the failure of the Labour leadership to adequately defend that commitment. The blogger Jewish Dissident captured the reality exactly:
‘Whether one agrees with Chris or not, it’s hard to think of a single comparable instance where an innocuous comment of this sort has led to such a risible media circus, or to such a sustained campaign of personal and political vilification.
‘The treatment of good old Boris, our next Prime Minister, makes for an interesting contrast. The man who is apparently destined to lead our country has a clear track record of actual, as opposed to bogus, racism and bigotry. He’s the man who has talked about “watermelon smiles” and “piccaninnies”, described women as “hot totty”, professed his inability to distinguish between burka-clad women and letter boxes, and derided gay men as “bumboys”.’
Jewish Dissident noted further:
‘Every single one of Johnson’s vile, bigoted comments has been allowed to pass by the media and the Westminster establishment. Because, after all, it’s just “good old Boris” talking.’
And this really is the point – occasional comments and opinion pieces may express revulsion, but propaganda blitzes are not launched at Johnson, with half of his own party and all the opposition party, and all corporate media, shrieking for his head.
Johnson commented on Williamson that it was ‘shameful that Labour have reinstated this key Corbyn ally back into their party after his appalling remarks. We must never allow these apologists for anti-Semitism anywhere near government’.
This warning appeared in an ITV website article that also contained damning criticism from Labour MP Margaret Hodge, Labour MP Stella Creasy, Amanda Bowman, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Gideon Falter, chief executive of Campaign Against Antisemitism, and anti-racism campaign group Hope Not Hate, with three pictured tweets highlighting and repeating their accusations. These six sources were not balanced by a single comment of any kind defending Williamson. This unarguably constitutes a form of extreme propaganda, rather than balanced journalism.
ITV could have turned for a comment to Jewish Voice for Labour, which said it welcomed the lifting of Williamson’s suspension, and criticised the media focus on the MP’s opponents:
‘There is huge support for Chris within and outside the party and this had not been reflected in the media coverage.’
As we have previously noted, a key feature of a propaganda blitz is that accusations are accompanied by expressions of incandescent moral outrage:
‘The rationale is clear enough: insanity aside, in ordinary life outrage of this kind is usually a sign that someone has good reason to be angry. People generally do not get very angry in the presence of significant doubt. So, the message to the public is that there is no doubt.’ (David Edwards and David Cromwell, ‘Propaganda Blitz’, Pluto Press, 2018, p.6)
Thus, Labour MP Margaret Hodge, a key Corbyn opponent, said of the decision to lift Williamson’s suspension:
‘It is appalling, outrageous and unacceptable that he should be allowed back into the party. It’s a cynical move… and we will have Jew haters sitting as Labour MPs under Jeremy Corbyn.’
Thus, also, columnist Rod Liddle, who wrote in the Sunday Times under this title:
‘Unless you’re anti‑semitic, walk away from Labour — it stinks from top to bottom’
As we will show below, this is a completely fake claim. In true McCarthyite tradition, Liddle observed that Williamson, who is the democratically elected MP for Derby North, ‘looks, facially – to me at least – like a man called Reinhardt who has just been discovered hiding out in Argentina and might, if you shouted “Heil Hitler”, have great difficulty controlling the actions of his right arm’.
Liddle expressed his revulsion at ‘the fact that the Labour Party nowadays finds Jew-hating an agreeable and potentially vote-winning sideline and is riddled with it, from top to bottom’, concluding:
‘That Williamson is anti-semitic I have no doubt. But compared with Jeremy Corbyn he is an exemplar of anti-racist progressivism.’
At the other end of the supposed media ‘spectrum’, in a piece titled, ‘Of all the hills to die on, why on earth has Labour chosen Chris Williamson?’, Guardian columnist Marina Hyde described Williamson as an ‘annoying prick in a black polo-neck’ who looks like a ‘boil-washed Terence Stamp’. Hyde lamented ‘Williamson’s long history of highly problematic statements’. Significantly, she did not cite from, or link to, any such long, ugly history. Apparently parroting Jon Lansman, Chair of Labour’s Momentum group, Hyde commented:
‘It’s notable that the returning Williamson didn’t even bother with a non-apology apology.’
It’s unlikely that Hyde cared, or even knew, that Williamson had published a long, gracious message in February that began:
‘A personal message and sincere apology from me regarding my recent remarks on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.’
‘On a personal level, I have been an anti-racist all my life. As a former member of the Anti-Nazi League, I participated in direct action to confront foul anti-Semites in the streets… It pains me greatly, therefore, that anyone should believe that it is my intention to minimise the cancerous and pernicious nature of anti-Semitism.’
These are not the words of a ‘Jew hater’. In addition to this apology, after he was briefly reinstated to the Labour Party, Williamson reaffirmed his commitment to fighting ‘racism in all its forms’, saying he would like to ‘work in tandem’ with the Board of Deputies of British Jews as ‘allies’.
Our July 4 ProQuest national newspaper search of articles appearing in 2019 found:
‘Chris Williamson’ and ‘anti-semitism’ = 608 hits
‘Chris Williamson’ and ‘anti-nazi’ = 5 hits
Examining the results more closely, it turns out that the fact that Williamson literally fought on the streets against anti-semites as part of the Anti-Nazi League has been mentioned twice in UK national newspapers this year.
More than 150 Labour MPs and peers – the infamously pro-war, Blairite section of the party – added to the propaganda blitz by protesting the decision to readmit Williamson in a statement led by the bitterly anti-Corbyn deputy leader Tom Watson.
Also in perfect accordance with our propaganda blitz theory, the propaganda coup de grace was supplied by leftists Owen Jones of the Guardian and Ash Sarkar of the ostensibly ‘alternative’ Novara Media. Williamson’s suspension was lifted on June 26. That day, Sarkar tweeted:
‘This outcome is indefensible.’
On June 27, having presumably missed Williamson’s earlier apology, Jones wrote:
‘Chris Williamson could always show he’s learned why he’s caused distress and then acted on that: I’m yet to see evidence of it.’
One day later, Williamson was suspended again. Jones recently claimed that Williamson ’causes relentless immense damage to the left’.
Asked if he would ‘stand with Chris Williamson’, leftist singer Billy Bragg responded this week:
‘Can’t do that Daniel. Labour needs to resolve the issue of anti-semitism within the party. Right now Williamson is part of the problem, not the solution.’
We asked Bragg what specifically had led him to this conclusion; he did not reply.
Examining Williamson’s ‘Litany Of Unacceptable Behaviour’
‘When I heard the reports in February about Labour MP Chris Williamson, and the offensive things he’d (once again) said, it was the final straw. The comments Williamson made to a meeting in Sheffield – that when it came to antisemitism, Labour had been “too apologetic” – made me despair. I looked back through each and every example of Williamson’s despicable behaviour: lending his support to a man who defends Holocaust deniers; sharing platforms with the likes of Ken Livingstone when MPs had been specifically asked not to; his support of controversial jazz musician Gilad Atzmon; his frankly disgraceful behaviour in the aftermath of the atrocious Pittsburgh shootings. It was a litany of unacceptable behaviour.’
Let’s take a closer look at these apparently damning claims. The accusation that Williamson ‘lent his support to a man who defends Holocaust deniers’ refers to political writer and activist Miko Peled, who is the Jewish son of an Israeli general. Segalov linked to a Guardian article that quoted Peled:
‘This is about free speech, the freedom to criticise and to discuss every issue, whether it’s the Holocaust: yes or no, Palestine, the liberation, the whole spectrum. There should be no limits on the discussion.’
As blogger Number 10 noted:
‘Peled didn’t actually defend Holocaust deniers, as much as defended the right to debate the issue, on free speech grounds (in the same way e.g. Noam Chomsky has).’
In 1980, in a piece titled, ‘Some Elementary Comments on The Rights of Freedom of Expression,’ Chomsky commented that even when dealing with the views of a ‘rabid anti-Semite and fanatic pro-Nazi… this would have no bearing whatsoever on the legitimacy of the defense of his civil rights. On the contrary, it would make it all the more imperative to defend them since… it has been a truism for years, indeed centuries, that it is precisely in the case of horrendous ideas that the right of free expression must be most vigorously defended; it is easy enough to defend free expression for those who require no such defense’. (Our emphasis)
This is a highly principled and very sane position, because denying the right of free expression to genuinely ‘horrendous ideas’ runs the risk of Machiavellians manipulating and extending the definition of ‘horrendous’ to shut down free speech for political gain – exactly what is happening in Britain now. In other words, it lays the foundation for escalating censorship, witch-hunting, and in fact fascism.
As Number 10 commented:
‘Once again, you can disagree strongly with that notion. But it isn’t *inherently* antisemitic in and of itself.’
Indeed, Segalov linked to a Guardian article quoting Peled:
‘The Holocaust was a terrible crime that we must study and from which we must all learn. I reject the idea that Holocaust deniers, foolish as they may be, should be treated as criminals… If we are to do justice to the memory of the millions of victims of the Holocaust, Jewish and Roma and many, many others, then we must engage in robust debate and education about the causes of current, ongoing violence and injustice.’
Segalov also mentioned Williamson sharing a platform with former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who said:
‘When Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.’
Was this an anti-semitic statement? Jewish political analyst Professor Norman Finkelstein commented:
‘Livingstone maybe wasn’t precise enough, and lacked nuance. But he does know something about that dark chapter in history… The Nazis considered many “resettlement” schemes – the Jews wouldn’t have physically survived most of them in the long run – before they embarked on an outright exterminatory process. Livingstone is more or less accurate about this – or, as accurate as might be expected from a politician speaking off the cuff.’
Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook, who is based in Israel, said:
‘Livingstone’s mistake was both to express himself slackly in the heat of the moment and to refer to a history that was supposed to have been disappeared down the memory hole. But what he is saying is, in essence, true.’
Segalov then mentioned Williamson’s ‘support of controversial jazz musician Gilad Atzmon’. But Williamson had already responded on Atzmon last December:
‘Earlier today I tweeted a petition about an Islington Council ban against the Blockheads performing with their chosen line-up. The council has blocked jazz musician Gilad Atzmon from playing with the group.
‘Since then I’ve learned that Atzmon, a former Israeli soldier, is not confined to the jazz world. I am told that in various blogs and in speeches he has adopted anti-Semitic language.
‘I wasn’t aware of this until after I tweeted the petition. As soon as I was informed, I deleted the tweet. I’ve always condemned all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, and strongly disassociate myself from Atzmon’s anti-Semitic views.
‘I therefore apologise for tweeting this petition and any distress or offence it may have caused.’
Finally, Segalov mentioned Williamson’s ‘frankly disgraceful behaviour in the aftermath of the atrocious Pittsburgh shootings’. The ‘behaviour’ involved Williamson retweeting news that a Jewish organisation relentlessly smearing him and Corbyn as anti-semites had itself been accused of using an ‘anti-semitic trope’. Williamson commented:
‘Wow, well blow me down with a feather.’
The tweet did not comment on the Pittsburgh massacre in any way – it was in reference to a different issue in a different country. British politicians regularly comment on – in fact, lie and dissemble about – countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria on the same days that terrible atrocities occur, which they actually caused by voting for illegal wars. Nobody even notices.
It could be that Williamson is secretly a vicious anti-semite, but this simply cannot be established on the basis of any of the claims currently made against him.
Finkelstein – ‘I Don’t Believe In Conspiracy Theories… But This Is A Conspiracy’
It is important to place the Williamson suspensions in context. This is described with rare honesty and courage by Norman Finkelstein, whose mother survived the Warsaw Ghetto, the Majdanek concentration camp and two slave labour camps. Finkelstein’s father was a survivor of both the Warsaw Ghetto and the Auschwitz concentration camp. In an interview with RT in May, Finkelstein commented:
‘Corbyn, he did not present a threat only to Israel and Israel’s supporters, he posed a threat to the whole British elite. Across the board, from the Guardian to the Daily Mail, they all joined in the new anti-semitism campaign. Now that’s unprecedented – the entire British elite, during this whole completely contrived, fabricated, absurd and obscene assault on this alleged Labour anti-semitism, of which there is exactly zero evidence, zero.’
Indeed, an October 2016 report by the Commons home affairs committee found:
‘Despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party, and a number of revelations regarding inappropriate social media content, 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.’
A September 2017 report by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research found:
‘Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population… The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing: the presence of antisemitic attitudes in this group is 2 to 4 times higher compared to the general population.’
The report noted that ‘the prevalence of antisemitism on the far right is considerably higher than on the left and in the political centre’.
Jonathan Cook described in February how a new Labour Party report had ‘decisively undercut’ the claims of Corbyn’s critics: allegations of anti-semitism had been made ‘against 0.08 percent of the 540,000-strong Labour membership. Hardly “endemic” or “institutional”, it seems.’
‘Yeah, there’s some fringe members of Labour who, you know, play the anti-semitic [interrupted by interviewer]… I read the polls, I read the data – it hovers between six and eight per cent are hardened anti-semites in British society. It’s nothing! Yeah, so there are a few crazies, but there’s no “institutionalised” anti-semitism in the British Labour Party. There’s no threat of anti-semitism in British society. I’ve read all the data, I’ve studied it closely. It just doesn’t exist. It’s all being designed and manipulated… I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, as you know, but this is a conspiracy.’
Asked if there was a danger that false accusations might have a ‘cry wolf’ effect in undermining the credibility of genuine claims of anti-semitism, Finkelstein replied:
‘Well, there’s a bigger problem than that – there’s the boy who cried wolf, but I think there’s a bigger problem than that. If Corbyn loses, a lot of people in the Labour Party are going to blame it on those Jews who fabricated this whole anti-semitism witch-hunt hysteria. And that will be a problem, which… you know what the bigger problem there is? It’s true! Jews were the spearhead of this campaign to stop Corbyn. And so, there’s going to be a lot of anger within the Labour Party – that’s not anti-semitism, that’s factually based.’
When reminded by his interviewer that Jews were hardly alone in promoting these accusations, Finkelstein responded:
‘Yes, but they play the most visible role and they play the most aggressive role. The British elites could not have gotten away with calling Corbyn an anti-semite unless they had the support, the visible support, of all the leading Jewish organisations. You have to remember that during the summer [of 2018. See here], all three major British publications, for the first time in British Jewish history, they all took out a common editorial denouncing Corbyn as an anti-semite and saying that we’re now standing on the verge of another Holocaust. They are the enablers of this concerted conspiracy by the whole of British elite society to destroy Jeremy Corbyn.’
‘When I went to Auschwitz I rather complacently said to myself, “thank goodness we don’t have to worry about that kind of thing happening in the UK” and now I find myself faced with the leader of the Labour Party who has opened the door to antisemitism in a way that is truly frightening.’
Hunt’s words represent a level of moral depravity that almost defies belief. To use the Holocaust for political gain in faking the claim that Corbyn could open the door to a second Holocaust, is to do nothing less than exploit the deaths of the 6 million Jews who died under Nazi tyranny. It is truly astonishing that a Jewish newspaper would be willing to publish such a comment. Writer Michael Rosen, a Professor at Goldsmiths, University of London, commented:
‘A possible future prime minister has said something about Auschwitz which the political editor of the Jewish Chronicle has said on twitter is “offensive”. None of this is – apparently – news. What is it then?’
Hunt’s comment generated massive, widespread outrage on social media. And yet, our July 4 ProQuest newspaper database search found a single mention in the entire UK press (in the Daily Mail) – the comment has simply been buried, presumably to avoid damaging the anti-semitism smear campaign targeting Corbyn.
In 2018, Noam Chomsky commented on this campaign:
‘The charges of anti-Semitism against Corbyn are without merit, an underhanded contribution to the disgraceful efforts to fend off the threat that a political party might emerge that is led by an admirable and decent human being, a party that is actually committed to the interests and just demands of its popular constituency and the great majority of the population generally, while also authentically concerned with the rights of suffering and oppressed people throughout the world. Plainly an intolerable threat to order.’ (Chomsky, email to Media Lens, 9 September 2018)
The facts all fit with Finkelstein and Chomsky’s identification of a politically motivated smear campaign. Our July 4 ProQuest search of UK newspaper articles before and after Corbyn stood for the Labour leadership in May 2015 found these mentions:
‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘anti-semitism’ before 1 May 2015 = 18 hits
‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘anti-semitism’ after 1 May 2015 = 13,080 hits
None of the 18 articles accused Corbyn of anti-semitism. In his first 32 years as an MP, it was just not a theme. And not, as we have discussed, because Corbyn was not known or smeared – he was subjected to vile personal abuse by the press, just not in relation to any supposed anti-semitism.
Conclusion – Grounds For Expulsion
As Finkelstein noted, it is absurd and obscene to suggest that Jews in Britain are facing a second Holocaust under Corbyn; it is a monstrous fabrication. But if expressing anti-semitism merits expulsion from the Labour Party when there is no threat to Jewish people in British society, how are we to respond to the acts of politicians who personally vote to authorise illegal British and US wars in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria? These acts are not merely examples of prejudice, they do not merely offend – they kill, maim and displace literally millions of people, bringing whole countries to their knees.
The ethical demerit of mere words suggesting that the Labour Party has been too apologetic in defending its record on racism cannot possibly compare to political actions that launched wars causing almost unimaginable levels of human suffering. The very suggestion that they can be compared, or that the words are worse, can itself be viewed as a form of mass murder denial, of a fascistic disregard for ‘our’ crimes destroying human life.
And here, finally, we can find credible grounds for suspending Williamson. He, after all, ‘Generally voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.’
Notably, Williamson shamed himself by voting for the illegal war of aggression, the oil grab, that reduced Libya to a smoking ruin in 2011. But the same, of course, is true of almost all his Labour and Tory critics, who could all be suspended and expelled for the same reason.
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