10. Chris Williamson — ‘too apologetic’.
Claim: In a speech to a Sheffield Momentum meeting on 26 February 2019, Chris Williamson, then a Labour MP, said the Labour Party had been ‘too apologetic’ for, or about, antisemitism.
The story was broken by a Yorkshire Post reporter (now Political Correspondent on Sky News), Liz Bates.
The story was quickly taken up by the media. BBC’s Nick Robinson tweeted:
The ‘complaint’ Mr Robinson refers to here is the successful complaint I made to BBC against Mr Robinson’s false accusation of antisemitism against Jewish Black left activist Jackie Walker, which he was required to delete, though for which he has never apologised, in which he also accused Chris Williamson of antisemitism for defending her.
Guardian uploaded the clip to YouTube with the caption: ‘Chris Williamson says Labour has been ‘“too apologetic” about antisemitism’.
A slightly longer transcript shows what he in fact said:
The first and most obvious thing to note is that nowhere in this speech do the words ‘for, or about, antisemitism’ occur. ‘Too apologetic’ is the end of the sentence. We can rule out any possibility that Mr Williamson said the words ‘too apologetic for, or about, antisemitism’: they are simply not on the video.
So did he, then, say Labour had been ‘too apologetic’ for, or about, antisemitism without using those words?
Is that his implication?
Mr Williamson says, ‘And now we — Jeremy [Corbyn], me and others — are being accused of being bigots, of being antisemites’. It is worth noting that false accusations of antisemitism against Labour Party members have been extensively documented in Al Jazeera’s documentary, ‘Labour Files — The Crisis’.
Mr Williamson, Mr Corbyn and innumerable others had been, and continue to be, falsely accused of antisemitism. BBC’s Nick Robinson, for instance, had just been required by BBC to delete a tweet in which he accused Jackie Walker of saying ‘Jews controlled the slave trade’. (See below, 9: Jackie Walker — ‘slave trade’.)
The sentences beginning ‘And I’ve got to say…’, halfway down the transcript, refer directly to those accusations, the party being ‘demonised as a racist, bigoted party’. False and exaggerated claims had been made, such as the claim against Ms Walker, and Mr Williamson refers here to those who make such false and exaggerated claims, saying Labour’s response had been ‘partly responsible’ for these claims by being ‘too apologetic’ towards those who make them.
It is towards those who make these claims that he says Labour have been ‘too apologetic’. Not ‘for/about antisemitism’, as Liz Bates/BBC/Guardian claim, but towards those who ‘demonise the party as a racist, bigoted party’, ie who make false and exaggerated claims.
There is no validity to the accusation that he meant ‘too apologetic for antisemitism’, since he simply does not say that. He is not referring to the phenomenon of antisemitism at all, but rather to false and exaggerated claims of it.
To assert that he says, or means, ‘too apologetic’ for, or about, antisemitism is plainly false, and those claiming it need now to explain from what source they derive ‘for, or about, antisemitism’, since it is nowhere in Mr Williamson’s speech, and is directly contrary to the meaning of his words.
9. Jackie Walker — ‘slave trade’.
Claim: Jackie Walker, a Black Jewish Labour activist, said ‘Jews controlled the slave trade’. Again, the BBC’s old reliable Nick Robinson said exactly this in a now-deleted tweet.
In fact, what Ms Walker said was this: “Oh yes — and I hope you feel the same towards the African holocaust? My ancestors were involved in both — on all sides as I’m sure you know, millions more Africans were killed in the African holocaust and their oppression continues today on a global scale in a way it doesn’t for Jews… and many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean. So who are victims and what does it mean? We are victims and perpetrators to some extent through choice. And having been a victim does not give you a right to be a perpetrator”.
BBC finally retracted Mr Robinson’s accusation, describing it as giving an ‘insufficiently accurate impression’ of her words, and Mr Robinson was required to delete his tweet, though he has never apologised for it, and in acknowledging the smear, regrettably, made the further smear against Mr Williamson above.
Claim: Jeremy Corbyn said ‘Jews [or sometimes Zionists] don’t understand English irony.’
The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland, again, has made this claim repeatedly, not least in the blurb for his Royal Court Play, ‘Jews. In Their Own Words’, where he uses the phrase ‘…and a dose of English Irony’. It has become so commonplace that merely using the word ‘irony’ in this context has become a sort of shorthand for the whole ‘crisis’ narrative.
In fact, what Jeremy Corbyn said was this.
‘…the other evening we had a meeting in Parliament in which Manuel [the Palestinian Ambassador Manuel Hassassian] made an incredibly powerful and passionate and effective speech about the history of Palestine, the rights of the Palestinian people. This was dutifully recorded by the, thankfully silent, Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion [my emphasis]; and then came up and berated him afterwards for what he had said.
They clearly have two problems. One is they don’t want to study history and, secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either. Manuel does understand English irony and uses it very very effectively. So I think they needed two lessons which we can perhaps help them with.’
You will note the (habitually) careful language: ‘the Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion.’ Unless you were one of the named self-identifying Zionist protesters who had disrupted the meeting in question, Mr Corbyn’s remarks about irony obviously do not apply to you. Indeed, one of the protesters, Richard Millett, sued Mr Corbyn for libel — his entire case was that he was identifiable as one of the people Corbyn called ‘disruptive’ at the meeting. (He has now dropped the case.) So unless you’re him, this isn’t about you. Or ‘Jews’. Or ‘Zionists’.
Further detail and context here:
Claim: Jeremy Corbyn laid a wreath for the alleged masterminds of the Black September Munich Olympics atrocity of 1972, Atef Bseiso and Salah Khalaf.
This is often rendered in popular terms on social media as ‘laid a wreath for the Munich terrorists’, which forms part of the ‘terrorist sympathiser’ media narrative, but we can dismiss that at once: the Munich terrorists are buried 600 miles away in another country, Libya.
The story was broken in the Daily Mail. It consisted of a series of photographs; of Hamman Chott cemetery in Tunis, of Corbyn holding a wreath, of a memorial slab in Arabic, which includes the names Bseiso and Khalaf, and of a wreath on the memorial slab.
The claims made by Daily Mail are actually quite modest. Corbyn was present at a memorial for victims of the PLO HQ bombing in 1983, many of whom were civilians. The atrocity was condemned by Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and the UN. But ‘just feet’ (Daily Mail) from where this ceremony took place is a memorial slab, in Arabic, which commemorates PLO members including Bseiso and Khalaf.
The article does not at any point claim Corbyn laid a wreath at this memorial, it merely states he was standing ‘just feet’ from where it is.
There were a great many pictures (it was a state occasion, an annual remembrance), but nowhere is there a picture of Corbyn laying the wreath on the memorial slab to Khalaf and Bseiso.
This is because he didn’t do so. Labour Press tweeted
In a ‘Morning Star’ article, dated Oct 5 2014, Corbyn stated that ‘wreaths were laid’ for PLO victims of assassination who have been identified as Khalaf and Bseiso (though there is some question about the dates of their killings, 1991 or 1992). ‘Wreaths’ were, indeed, ‘laid’ (passive voice), but not by Jeremy Corbyn. The suggestion that he himself honoured either Bseiso or Khalaf, let alone ‘the Munich terrorists’, is unsubstantiated by any evidence of any kind; there is no picture of it happening, despite the existence of many other photographs of the occasion, and despite such a picture’s obvious utility to the PLO as a propaganda tool; and it has been consistently denied. There is no reason to believe it ever happened, and no evidence that it did.
6: Baddiel’s Leaflet
Claim: There was a leaflet circulated at a Labour Party Conference about the Holocaust that didn’t mention Jews.
TV celebrity David Baddiel claimed in a TV promo for his book ‘Jews Don’t Count’ that he had been informed by ‘someone on the NEC’ [Labour Party National Executive Committee] that there had been a leaflet circulated at a Labour Conference about the Holocaust that didn’t mention Jews.
What he seems to be referring to in garbled form here is a petition by the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) in 2008 at a far-right rally in Derbyshire, which, by some unaccountable error, lists the other victims of the Holocaust but omits ‘six million Jews’. It has never been repeated, and SWP have never denied or minimised the Holocaust in any way. Ironically, the petition was specifically about remembering the victims of the Holocaust, in the face of far-right Holocaust denial.
Nothing to do with the Labour Party. Nothing to do with a Labour Conference. Nothing whatsoever to do with Jeremy Corbyn.
Mr Baddiel has never, to my knowledge, been challenged on his claim, nor has he been required to show any evidence that what he claims happened ever happened at all.
He makes the claim here, at 55.00
5: The IHRA definition.
Claim: Corbyn’s Labour Party was antisemitic because of its initial reluctance to adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism and all its examples.
The new head of the EHRC, Baroness Falkner, recently said the definition is ’extremely poorly worded and probably unactionable in law’ while it ‘directly conflicts with the duty to protect free speech’
The Labour party have been forced to publish details of a ‘secret code’ in operation, which was an attempt to make the IHRA definition legally actionable. Mr Corbyn was condemned for using this code, which Keir Starmer has been forced to admit he is still using.
4: The EHRC report.
Claim: The EHRC found the Labour party ‘institutionally antisemitic’.
The EHRC report, entitled ‘Investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party’, is 130 pages long. A search of the document itself (Ctrl F) using the words ‘institutionally antisemitic’ turns up only one result, on page 127. This section is annex 7, ‘How we carried out the investigation’, and it cites a report by Professor Alan Johnson (BICOM), ‘Institutionally Antisemitic: Contemporary Left Antisemitism and the Crisis in the British Labour Party’ (March 2019). It is used as a reference for the EHRC report, and is not part of the content.
The claim is not made anywhere in the EHRC report itself. It simply doesn’t say it. Read it.
Claim: Jeremy Corbyn referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘our friends’.
Speaking ahead of a meeting with representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah in Parliament in 2009, Mr Corbyn said: ‘Tomorrow evening it will be my pleasure and my honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking. We’ve also invited friends from Hamas…’
Asked later about these words, Mr Corbyn said:
‘“The language I used at that meeting was actually here in parliament and it was about encouraging the meeting to go ahead, encouraging there to be a discussion about the peace process,” he said. Asked whether he still regarded Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”, the Labour leader said: “No. It was inclusive language I used which with hindsight I would rather not have used. I regret using those words, of course.”’
The accusation that using the word ‘friends’ in an inclusive way as a boilerplate diplomatic courtesy to promote a successful meeting means Mr Corbyn agrees with everything Hamas and Hezbollah say is plainly false. Mr Corbyn told Channel 4 News:
“I’m saying that people I talk to, I use it in a collective way, saying our friends are prepared to talk. Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hezbollah and what they do? No. [My emphasis.] What it means is that I think to bring about a peace process, you have to talk to people with whom you may profoundly disagree. There is not going to be a peace process unless there is talks involving Israel, Hezbollah and Hamas and I think everyone knows that.”
Tony Blair in an interview with The Guardian in 2017 said:
“In retrospect I think we should have, right at the very beginning, tried to pull [Hamas] into a dialogue and shifted their positions. I think that’s where I would be in retrospect. But obviously it was very difficult, the Israelis were very opposed to it. But you know we could have probably worked out a way whereby we did — which in fact we ended up doing anyway, informally.”
As far as I’m aware, Mr Blair has never been accused of antisemitism because of this.
Verdict: True but grossly misleading due to stripped context.
2: Ruth Smeeth/Marc Wadsworth.
Claim: Marc Wadsworth used an antisemitic trope to Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth.
At the launch of the Chakrabarti report on antisemitism in April 2016, black rights activist Marc Wadsworth was reported as saying to (then Labour MP) Ruth Smeeth, who is Jewish, ‘Look who’s working hand in hand with the media’.
- Marc Wadsworth had no knowledge Ms Smeeth is Jewish, nor any reason to know it. He merely recognised her as a Labour MP, and saw Ms Smeeth and a Daily Telegraph journalist passing a document between them. There is nothing in his words to suggest antisemitism.
- There simply is no antisemitic trope of ‘working hand in hand with the media’. Of course Jewish people work in and with the media, why shouldn’t they? The trope is control and ownership of the media, not being pally with someone from the Telegraph. So this accusation requires the manufacturing of an entirely new antisemitic trope, and one which is patently ridiculous.
Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHv3D7g4RH4
Claim: Corbyn defended an antisemitic mural which depicted ‘hook-nosed, Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of the poor’.
Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland has made this accusation frequently, for instance:
The mural in question, ‘Freedom for Humanity’ by the artist Kalen Ockerman, known professionally as MearOne, was painted on a wall in Hanbury Street in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in mid-September 2012. It was ordered to be removed after complaints that it was antisemitic.
MearOne posted a Facebook message about this:
‘Tomorrow they want to buff my mural
Freedom Of Expression.
Mr Corbyn commented:
‘Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller [sic] destroyed Diego Viera’s [sic] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.’
A number of points need to be established here.
- The mural does not show ‘hook-nosed Jewish bankers’, as Jonathan Freedland and innumerable others have repeatedly stated. We can rule this accusation out straight away. MearOne named the seated Monopoly players in the image. Two only out of the six seated figures are Jewish (Rothschild and Warburg). The others (three ‘bankers’ and a bizarre figure from the Edwardian occult scene, Aleister Crowley) are various Christian denominations and a ‘Thelemist’ respectively (Crowley invented his own religion, Thelema).
2. Nor is the mural’s message antisemitic in any obvious way. MearOne stated:
‘I came to paint a mural that depicted the elite banker cartel known as the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Morgans, the ruling class elite few, the Wizards of Oz. They would be playing a board game of monopoly on the backs of the working class. The symbol of the Free Mason [sic] Pyramid rises behind this group and behind that is a polluted world of coal burning and nuclear reactors. I was creating this piece to inspire critical thought and spark conversation. A group of conservatives do not like my mural and are playing a race card with me. My mural is about class and privilege. The banker group is made up of Jewish and white Anglos. For some reason they are saying I am anti-Semitic. This I am most definitely not… What I am against is class.’ [My emphasis.]
Those who accuse the mural of being antisemitic are generally referring to the allegation that it depicts ‘hook-nosed Jewish bankers’: it is simply a fact that it does no such thing, and arguably anyone seeing rich men oppressing the poor who immediately thinks ‘Jews’ maybe has some thinking to do about the word ‘trope’.
MearOne has made other statements about the image, including references to David Icke’s antisemitic ‘Rothschild Zionism’ conspiracy theory. Whilst the artist has made contradictory statements about the image, and whilst its iconography can certainly be interpreted as referring to Icke’s ‘Rothschild Zionism’ idea, there is no suggestion Corbyn could be expected to have been aware of this. This interpretation requires the decoding of a deeply encrypted set of images, one of which — the ‘Eye of Providence’ — is of course on every US dollar bill. The encrypted ‘Rothschild Zionism’ message, if that’s what it is, is completely hidden from the casual observer and it is plainly unreasonable to expect Mr Corbyn to have been aware of any such interpretation from a casual view of a thumbnail of the image.
There’s an excellent discussion of the ‘Rothschild Zionism’ interpretation by Bob Pitt here: