Ken Loach
Ken Loach imago images/Future Image via Reuters Connect

I recently wrote to the political philosopher John Gray about a fascinating piece he had written for the New Statesman about China, Russia and the liberal West. We were discussing the unlikelihood of any Chinese interest in Jewish ideas. He wrote, “I would not count on any sympathy for Jewish suffering from China.”

Not just China, I replied: “One thing I have learned from the Corbyn years, and since, is not to count on any sympathy for Jewish suffering from some quite surprising quarters – the BBC and large parts of the British media, much of the Labour Party, including its then leadership, many of whom still pretend that they care about racism when in fact they only care about one kind of racism, but seem surprised that anyone remembers what they said and did at the time.”

The amnesia about all of this on the Labour Left is astonishing. Politicians like Dawn Butler, Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner have spoken about racism as if they had never campaigned for Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister and served in his Shadow Cabinet, knowing full well that he had associated for years with Holocaust deniers and anti-Semitic terrorists . They know, too, that Labour under his leadership had been castigated by the EHRC for “serious failings in the anti-Semitism complaint handling system ” and “significant failings in the way the Labour Party has handled anti-Semitism”.

There is some kind of cognitive dissonance at work here. Leading Labour politicians know this and yet they don ’ t know it. Or they seem to assume that others have forgotten and that this won ’ t affect the way we think of how they speak about racism or, indeed, about anything else.

They are helped in this because many of our news organisations don’t like to bring it up. Is this because they are too polite to mention it? Or because they are so pro-Labour and so anti-Johnson and anti-Brexit that they don't care? Or because they are too embarrassed by their own failure on a number of occasions to raise the issue of Labour anti-Semitism during the Corbyn years, unless it involved well-known political figures like Dame Margaret Hodge, Luciana Berger or Louise Ellman?

For example, when the BBC’s Daily Politics discussed the row about whether Jews are an ethnic minority, the presenter Jo Coburn asked a Jewish panellist, “ isn ’ t there a wider point, that actually perhaps the fact that Angela Rayner didn ’ t immediately recognise previous Jewish political leaders in her tweet underlines the fact that many Jews have succeeded in reaching high political office and therefore dont need to be seen as a group needing recognition [as ethnic minorities] as the same way as others.” ( My emphasis.) In other words, Jews are too successful to be regarded as an ethnic minority.

If Coburn had said this about any other ethnic minority, would she still be at the BBC? In addition, the BBC put up this strapline during the discussion: “ SHOULD JEWS COUNT AS AN ETHNIC MINORITY? ” Again, imagine the uproar if the BBC had put up this caption about any other ethnic minority.

Many might think that this is all safely in the past. Corbyn no longer leads the Labour Party and Sir Keir Starmer has denounced Labour anti-Semitism, even if he hasn’t accounted for his own role in the Corbyn Shadow Cabinet.

However, in a recent issue of The Jewish Chronicle the lead story began, “Furious Jewish student groups have accused Bristol University of dragging its feet after it failed yet again to take action against Professor David Miller, the notorious lecturer who has been under investigation since March after labelling Jewish student societies ‘pawns’ of Israel and calling for the ‘end’ of Zionism.”

On page 5 there was a story about “a teenage boy” who “has been charged in relation to an anti-Semitic incident that took place on the London Underground earlier this month.” On page 8 the headline read: “Fury over ‘ racism ’ slurs against Lord Austin” after a series of “online attacks this week”. Such coverage is typical. Week after week, there are news stories in the Jewish press about anti-Semitic incidents and abuse. Despite their seriousness and frequency, they are rarely reported in the mainstream newspapers or TV news programmes.

Now we have the latest episode in the Ken Loach saga, as the film director is expelled from the Labour Party over his support for groups that denied the very existence of anti-Semitism in the party. Of course, Corbyn and McDonnell have rushed to his defence. The Guardian ran a piece on the Loach story, with no reference to anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism or his infamous reference to Holocaust denial in a BBC interview. Asked about a fringe meeting at a Labour conference and whether it was alright to ask if the Holocaust happened, he replied, “History is for all of us to discuss.” In the same BBC interview, Loach said there was “no validity” to stories of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party; when MPs and others raised it they were “mischief-making”. He later clarified his view: the Holocaust did happen but claims of anti-Semitism in Labour were “exaggerated or false”.

There is another category of Loach defender: people who admire his films, but can’t bring themselves to denounce or even regret his attacks on Israel or Jews. They chose the day he was expelled to list their favourite Loach films online. They forgot to mention comments like “Nothing has been a greater instigator of anti-Semitism than the self-proclaimed Jewish state itself”. Or when in 2009 the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency reported an increase in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, Loach said this anti-Semitism was “understandable”, given Israel’s actions, and called the report a “red herring” designed to “distract attention” from Israel.

Whenever it comes to anti-Semitism or Israel, it ’ s always the same unholy alliance: the former Labour leadership, the Guardian, well-known figures on the far-Left and the ever-curious coverage of all this on BBC news programmes.

David Herman is a freelance journalist. He has written for the Guardian, the New Statesman, Prospect and Standpoint, among others.

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