OPEN LETTER — How the Guardian became the flagship for the false ‘anti-Semitism’ Smear Campaign of Labour’s Zionist Right
Jonathan Freedland’s contemptible attack on Ken Loach and his refusal of a right of reply
For over 2 years, the Guardian has run a campaign whose aim has been to paint the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn as anti-Semitic. You have personally insinuated that Corbyn worked with a holocaust denier, as have other contributors.
The Guardian’s hostility to Corbyn has surpassed even that of the tabloids. It is little wonder that in the past 8 years the Guardian’s sales have declined from over 400,000 to just over 150,000 today. It is no longer seen as a paper of the Left.
The Guardian used to be the only British paper to have an informed coverage of the Middle East. Correspondents such as Michael Adams and David Hirst were renowned the world over. Today their role has been filled by Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn at The Independent.
When Comment is Free was established 10 years ago under the late Georgina Henry, I was one of a number of contributors. My first article for CIF was The seamy side of solidarity, a coruscating attack on the anti-Semitic Jazzman Gilad Atzmon. It was a call for the Palestine solidarity movement to dissociate themselves from Atzmon and his supporters.
My article began with the observation: ‘Like the boy who cried wolf, the charge of “anti-semitism” has been made so often against critics of Zionism and the Israeli state that people now have difficulty recognising the genuine article.’ That observation is particularly relevant since you have repeatedly made false allegations of anti-Semitism against people like Ken Loach.
The Zionist lobby was not happy with Jewish anti-Zionists writing under the banner of The Guardian. They therefore formed ‘CIF Watch’ In January 2002 in ‘A new anti-Semitism?’ the Guardian quoted Lord Greville Janner, a leading Zionist and a notorious child abuser, as saying that the Guardian was ‘viciously and notoriously anti-Israel’.
The Guardian succumbed to the pressure and I and others were banned from contributing. CIF Watch even changed its name to UK Media Watch because, as they boasted, their work was complete.
As a senior editor at the Guardian you led the anti-Corbyn campaign with your article Labour and the left have an antisemitism problem. The strap line was: ‘Under Jeremy Corbyn the party has attracted many activists with views hostile to Jews.’ You provided not an iota of evidence to substantiate this.
You cited Vicki Kirby’s quote that Jews have ‘big noses’ but failed to correct this when David Baddiel, the Jewish author of Infidels, pointed out that this was a direct quote from his play.
You also cited the bogus allegations of anti-Semitism at Oxford University Labour Club by its Chair Alex Chalmers who resigned when the Labour Club decided to give its backing to Oxford’s Israel Apartheid Week. It was later revealed that Chalmers had been a paid intern at Bicom, an Israeli propaganda organisation.
There have been numerous articles in The Guardian’s Comment or Opinion sections, on the false anti-Semitism theme. Nothing contradicting this narrative has appeared. Submissions from Professor Avi Shlaim, myself and others were rejected. Far from Comment being Free, when it comes to Zionism it has been tied down and silenced as surely as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver.
As you are well aware it is Zionism and anti-Semitism which go hand in hand. Have you forgotten the time when David Miliband attacked the Tories for their alliance with anti-Semites such as Michal Kaminski and Robert Zile in the European Parliament? You even wrote an article Once no self-respecting politician would have gone near people such as Kaminski. This of course was before the election of Jeremy Corbyn.
Kaminski fronted the Committee to Defend the Good Name of Jedwabne, a village in Poland that burnt alive up to 1,600 of its Jewish inhabitants in 1941. Robert Zile distinguished himself by marching every March with veterans of Latvia’s Waffen SS in Riga.
Prominent Zionists were ‘incandescent’ when the Board’s Vivian Wineman raised the issue with David Cameron? Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle wrote about how Poland’s Kaminski is not an antisemite: he’s a friend to Jews.
The alliance of Zionists with the anti-Semitic Right is a world wide phenomenon, with the Israeli government supporting the anti-Semitic attacks of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban on George Soros. Soros’s offence being to help fund Israeli human rights groups. And there is the little matter of the invitation by the Zionist Organisation of America to Steve Bannon of Breitbart and the Alt-Right to speak to its annual gala dinner.
Despite this your most recent article Labour’s Denial of Antisemitism in its Ranks Leaves The Party in a Dark Place repeats the lie that there were ‘loud calls for the expulsion of Jewish groups’ at Labour Party Conference. What there were was calls for the disaffiliation of the Jewish Labour Movement, a Zionist not Jewish group. The JLM is the ‘sister party’ of the Israeli Labour Party, a party of segregation and ethnic cleansing.
Your suggestion that Ken Loach was ‘echoing … the language of Holocaust denial’ is contemptible. Unlike you, Loach has spent a lifetime confronting and opposing racism and supporting the poor and dispossessed. You have spent your career defending Apartheid when it comes in Jewish clothes.
You argued that Ken Loach, Len McCluskey and Ken Livingstone, not being Jewish, are unqualified to comment on anti-Semitism. Racism is not subjective. Non-Jews are perfectly capable of expressing an opinion. Many Jews in the Labour Party also deny your claims so it depends on which Jews you speak to or for. You also compared Jews to Black, Women’s and other oppressed groups. Jews in Britain are not oppressed as Jews.
Ironically it is anti-Zionist Jews who are the primary victims of the fake anti-Semitism witch hunt. Moshe Machover, Jackie Walker and myself have been suspended or expelled. It is as if the Labour Party during the era of South African Apartheid had ostracised White South Africans opposed to Apartheid at the behest of Labour Friends of South Africa!
Jews have been the loudest critics of the attempt to equate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. To pretend that all Jews have one opinion, that they are homogenous, is not only fundamentally dishonest but also anti-Semitic. I expect better of you Jonathan.
People like Archbishop Desmond Tutu have described Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as similar to what happened in South Africa. Ha’aretz quotes him as saying that:
‘“I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces… Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.”
You seem to find it difficult to accept that a Jewish settler colonial state can be anything other than inherently racist. You have made turning a blind eye to Israel’s crimes into an art form. How can a state which demolished in January a Bedouin village, Umm al-Hiran, in Israel’s Negev, in order to make way for an exclusively Jewish town be considered a normal democratic state? Or why is it that a plurality, 48% of Israeli Jews want to see the expulsion of Israeli Arabs?
Your suggestion that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism is based on your argument that 93% of British Jews identify with Israel. In fact just 59% identify as Zionists. But even were you correct so what? If a majority of Hindus supported Suttee would it be racist to oppose it? Jews who support Israel are identifying with the world’s only apartheid state. That is wrong whoever they are.
What I really find remarkable is that having launched an abusive and dishonest attack on Ken Loach you didn’t even have the courage to print his reply, Comment is Free — Guardian’s One-Eyed View of Labour Politics Ignores the Palestinians. That really is cowardly.
Ken Loach is a living legend. His films have borne eloquent testimony to the evils of racism and imperialism, as well as being a devastating indictment of the way the poor and dispossessed are treated — from Cathy Come Home to I Daniel Blake. What will you leave to the world other than a few instantly forgettable tirades against anti-Zionists plus a few thrillers?
You are living proof Jonathan that even the most ‘liberal’ of Zionists ends up in Netanyahu’s choir singing the same songs of ‘anti-Semitism’. As Israeli society moves further and further to the racist Right you find it impossible to change the tune.
Of one thing I am certain. If Jews in Britain experienced even a tenth of what Palestinians in Israel had to put up with then your references to anti-Semitism would carry some weight.
There is only one thing I don’t understand. When Jeremy Corbyn accused you of “utterly disgusting subliminal nastiness” why he thought it was subliminal? It seems all too clear.
Ken Loach’s Reply to Jonathan Freedland that the Guardian refused to print
Ken Loach, 5 October 2017
On 27th September 2017 the Guardian published an article by Jonathan Freedland called Labour’s denial of antisemitism in its ranks leaves the party in a dark place. Ken Loach wrote a response for Comment is Free beginning “The taint of antisemitism is toxic. Yet, with hints and innuendos, your columnist, Jonathan Freedland, tries to link me, Len McCluskey and Ken Livingstone to Labour’s ‘dark place’, for which it seems we are in part responsible. This is cynical journalism.”
The Guardian has refused to carry Loach’s article. We are pleased to do so here.
The taint of antisemitism is toxic. Yet, with hints and innuendos, your columnist, Jonathan Freedland, tries to link me, Len McCluskey and Ken Livingstone to Labour’s ‘dark place’, for which it seems we are in part responsible. This is cynical journalism.
What is his evidence? Len and I were welcomed at the packed first meeting of ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’. Strangely, Freedland ignored this progressive new group, which has published its own response to his attacks on us. The founding document says: ‘we stand for rights and justice for Jewish people everywhere and against wrongs and injustices to Palestinians and other oppressed people anywhere’. We support that.
But Freedland disputes our right to contribute. We are ‘not Jewish — a fact that might limit their authority to speak on the matter’. The matter in question is antisemitism in the Labour Party.
Many Jewish comrades say that they know the Labour Party to be a welcoming environment and have not experienced hostility as Jews. This chimes with my fifty years of involvement with the labour movement. But, for Freedland, this is a discussion to which only one group — Jews who share his political perspective — can contribute. It is exclusive — no place for solidarity or collective support. This goes against all traditions of the left where we stand alongside each other to oppose injustice.
People join left organisations to fight racism and fascism, intolerance and colonial oppression. Throughout history, it is the left that has led this fight. Racism including antisemitism is real enough and will emerge in all political parties. The Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) acknowledges this in relation to allegations about the Labour Party: ‘a very small number of cases seem to be real instances of antisemitism’. I trust their judgement.
This present campaign about antisemitism surfaced when Jeremy Corbyn became leader and drew on a number of cases that pre-dated his leadership. It has been led by his political opponents inside and outside the Labour Party, seeming in part to be aimed at undermining Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters and therefore his leadership. JSG wrote ‘accusations of antisemitism are being weaponised to attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party’.
Corbyn has always opposed racism and defended human rights wherever they have been attacked, which includes the plight of the Palestinians. This will alarm apologists for Israeli occupation and expansion. Further, he stands on a socialist programme which has disturbed the right of the party.
There is a further, more serious allegation, that I gave ‘spurious legitimacy’ to Holocaust denial. In a BBC interview I was asked about a speech I had not heard and of which I knew nothing. My reply has been twisted to suggest that I think it is acceptable to question the reality of the Holocaust. I do not. The Holocaust is as real a historical event as the World War itself and not to be challenged. In Primo Levi’s words: ‘Those who deny Auschwitz would be ready to remake it.’The first terrible pictures I saw as a nine-year old are ingrained on my memory as they are for all my generation.
Like readers of this paper, I know the history of Holocaust denial, its place in far right politics and the role of people like David Irving. To imply that I would have anything in common with them is contemptible. The consequences of such a smear are obvious to all: let the poison escape and it will be picked up on social media and reputations may be tarnished for ever. A brief phone call would have clarified my position.
One thing Freedland has got right — the ages of Len McCluskey, Ken Livingstone and me (he wittily makes a rhyme of our names). Freedland is happy to embrace one prejudice — ageism.
Exaggerated or false claims of antisemitism can create a climate of fear in which legitimate discussion about the state of Israel and its actions are stifled. Antisemitism and debate about Israel should be separate issues. Once again it is the Palestinians who are marginalised or ignored. Freedland writes frequently about Israel, yet his concern for the Palestinians takes second place. So while we are clarifying our position, could he make clear whether, for example, he accepts:
- that land stolen from the Palestinians should be returned to them and all illegal settlements removed, as UN Resolutions demand.
- that Israel is breaking the Fourth Geneva Convention by transporting Palestinian children to Israeli prisons without access to lawyers or their families.
- and that the deliberate destruction of civilian life, hospitals and medical facilities in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge were war crimes.
And will he endorse the distinguished Israeli historian Ilan Pappe when he writes about the founding of Israel: ‘The ethnic cleansing of Palestine (is) a crime against humanity that Israel has wanted to deny and cause the world to forget’?
So many questions, so many injustices. Labour has much to do in developing an ethical foreign policy and social and economic justice at home. It now has principled leaders and a growing, enthusiastic membership. Let the party not throw away this great opportunity. We have a world to win.