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With Panorama's Hatchet Job on Labour Antisemitism BBC has become the Tory's attack dog

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Though it was not mentioned by Panorama, these staff members were caught repeatedly violating the party rulebook by excluding thousands of Corbyn supporters during the two leadership contests, in 2015 and 2016. These mass purges had nothing to do with antisemitism. People were ousted for "offences" such as retweeting posts by the Green Party or, in one case, praising the band the Foo Fighters.

It was the enormous backlog created by these exclusions that overwhelmed the party machinery, leaving it incapable of handling disciplinary matters involving antisemitism.

Labour officials note that, even after Corbyn was secure as leader, the obstruction continued. A small number of staff the people Panorama interviewed actively blocked the rapid resolution of high-profile antisemitism cases, dragging them out to embarrass the leadership.

Since a new general secretary, Jennie Formby, was brought in and a new and larger disputes team appointed, including staff with legal training, the speed of handling antisemitism complaints is reported to have increased four-fold.

The paradox is that those telling Panorama that Labour is "institutionally antisemitic" are the very people who failed to deal effectively with antisemitism complaints when they were in charge.

Fears of a stitch-up

The most astounding and intentional ommission from the programme, however, are the countervailing voices in support of Corbyn. The Labour leader himself and senior staff like his chief strategist, Seumas Milne, declined to be interviewed. That is understandable. They had strong grounds to suspect that Panorama planned a stitch-up.

Interviews of Labour leaders denying "institutional antisemitism" set against footage of tearful Jewish party members like Ella Rose speaking of abuse would have been a bad look.

But what was undoubtedly inexcusable was Panorama's failure to interview even one of the many Jewish Labour members who deny the antisemitism narrative, or to note that many of the most high-profile party members suspended or expelled for antisemitism are, in fact, themselves Jewish.

Jewish members expelled

One of the explusions briefly mentioned by Panorama was Jackie Walker, who is herself Jewish, as well as black.

The fact that Jewish activists have been disciplined for their criticisms of Israel or disputing the Labour antisemitism narrative suggests that the furore, in part at least, represents the redrawing of battle-lines within the Jewish community about who gets to speak for Jews about Israel.

This was vital, but missing, context for understanding one of Panorama's central charges: that Corbyn's inner circle had interfered in the complaints process by offering advice to the disputes team.

What Panorama failed to mention was that the advice was actually sought by the disputes staff. And it related to the need to handle sensitively the issue of the party being seen to take disciplinary action against Jewish members accused of antisemitism by other Jewish members.

Labour administrators were effectively being asked to take sides in an ideological fight between different kinds of Jewish activists hardline Zionists and anti-Zionists.

'Wrong kind of Jews'

Why, one can reasonably ask, did Panorama ignore Jewish Voice for Labour in this supposed "investigation" of Labour and anti-semitism? The group was specifically set up by Jewish members to counter the claims being made by activists like Rose.

Groups like the Jewish Labour Movement have implied that Jewish supporters of Corbyn are the "wrong kind of Jews" an extremely ugly insinuation that Panorama appeared to endorse by entirely sidelining them. This was one of the reasons the Labour leadership censured the programme-makers in a 50-page document presented to BBC boss Tony Hall, in which it argued that Panorama had "pre-determined the outcome of its investigation".

As Corbyn's office noted, Panorama had cherrypicked and distorted evidence, presented only one side of the story, and relied almost exclusively on staff who have very large axes to grind.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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