The Labour Files documentary is a report on the content of leaked Labour Party files acquired by Al Jazeera, revealing “a criminal conspiracy against its members”.. “the wholesale hacking of the press”… “a hierarchy of racism.. under Starmer’s leadership” and the physical surveillance of members and their families, including children. In episode 2, Al Jazeera reveals that the Labour files include “the entire contents of the party’s disciplinary folders since before Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015”…
- In 2016, Labour member Helen Marks is interviewed by the Labour Party over accusations of anti-Semitism, within her CLP, made by a local councillor. Helen, who is Jewish and who’s father lost his entire family during the holocaust, explains that he was equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Rica Bird, who is also Jewish, attends the interview as a witness. The interview is conducted by Ben Westerman, an investigator working for the disputes team, who is also Jewish.
- 3yrs later, Mike Creighton, Labour’s Director of the Disputes Team (2009-2017) tells BBC’s Panorama that he struggled with the question of whether Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitic or not.
- Ben Westerman tells Panorama that, during the interview, Rica Bird had demanded to know if he was from Israel. Westerman claims that Bird had meant to imply that he was somehow “in cahoots with the Israeli government,” which he views as an anti-Semitic trope. As it turns out, Marks and Bird had a full recording of the interview and it revealed that Bird had merely asked which branch of the Labour Party he was from, thus proving that Westerman was telling a complete lie when he made that claim.
- Jewish anti-racist campaigner, Andrew Feinstein, a former ANC member of parliament, author and lecturer on genocide prevention, has reviewed the leaked files and concluded that although there were some clear examples of anti-Semitism there were plenty of examples in the disciplinary files “where there is no anti-Semitism whatsoever.” Feinstein provides a number of examples where members had simply posted content calling on Israel or Netanyahu to be held accountable for their “appalling abuses in the occupied territories.”
- The files also reveal that even sharing an earlier Al Jazeera documentary, The Lobby, was flagged as anti-Semitic. The Lobby had exposed indisputable evidence of direct links between the Israeli embassy in London and anti-Corbyn groups within the Labour Party, such as Labour Friends of Israel and The Jewish Labour Movement. Feinstein sees this as “an attempt to close down any sort of meaningful political discussion or debate on these matters.”
- According to Al Jazeera, the files show that a large number of people were being investigated simply for expressing the view that Israel was an apartheid state. Author, Antony Lerman, points out that this view is shared by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem.
- In 2014, Israel bombed the densely populated Gaza strip and killed 2,251 Palestinian civilians, including 500 children. In 2015, for the first time ever, we saw a political leader elected to office, Jeremy Corbyn, who was sympathetic to the Palestinian plight and who vowed to recognise a Palestinian state if elected to government. Al Jazeera reveals that anyone who expressed anger over the events in Gaza (mostly Corbyn supporters), would suddenly find themselves facing Labour’s disciplinary proceeding.
Then, in April 2016, John Mann attacks Ken Livingstone and calls him a “lying racist” and a “Nazi apologist” after Livingstone claimed that Hitler had supported Zionism. As a result, Labour announces an investigation into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in the party. During the press launch of the investigation, pro-Corbyn activist Marc Wadsworth states that he’d seen a journalist from the right wing Daily Telegraph secretly hand a copy of his press release to Ruth Smeeth MP, implying some sort of collusion. Smeeth immediately storms out of the press meeting but later puts out a statement that Wadworth had employed an anti-Semitic trope, about Jews colluding with the media, against her. That statement was printed in a number of newspapers and used to attack Corbyn’s leadership. Wadsworth tells Al Jazeera that he had no idea Smeeth was Jewish and reveals that Smeeth had to take down her statement after his lawyers wrote to her informing her that her claims were libelous. Of course the press did not print that Smeeth had retracted her statement shortly after.
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, Media Officer for JVL, explains that, pro-Corbyn Jewish members were suddenly being “absolutely demonised and vilified in the media.” As a result, they decided they needed to set up their own group to give voice to Jewish members who were in support of the Corbyn leadership and who did not support Zionism. They set up Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL). Jenny Manson, Co-Chair JVL, tells us that the Labour Party were suddenly embroiled in a longstanding debate between Jews who support Zionism and those who do not and that Labour decided to side with those in support of Zionism and label those who do not support Zionism as anti-Semites.
Geoffrey Bindman QC (a member of JVL) and Antony Lerman explain that the term ‘anti-Semitism’ has now been given a broader definition, outside of the normal understanding “that it is a prejudiuce or hatred of Jews as Jews simply because they are Jews or believed to be Jews” in order to include any criticism of Israel. Lerman explains that some Jews claim that Israel is part of their Jewish identity, which “is essentially turning criticism of Israel and Zionism into anti-Semitism”
There is a core group of militants Zionist who campaign on behalf of Israel, including Jonathan Hoffman (former Vice Chair of the Zionist Federation) and Damon Lenszner. They effectively stalk, bully and assault pro-Palestinian activists. In June 2019, both men pleaded guilty to charges of harassment and threatening behavior… in exchange for government prosecutors dropping related assault charges. Al Jazeera reveals that Hoffman and other’s in his circle have, at times, nurtured ties with the English Defense League (EDL), a far-right, Islamophobic, English Nationalist organisation. They also reveal video footage of a group of far right Jewish activists at a meeting hosted by Sharon Klaff, co-founder of pro-Israel group ‘Campaign4truth.’ Klaff is openly hostile towards Muslims, she publishes blogs in which she describes Islam as “the greater enemy” and she is a prominent supporter of the EDL. The meeting was organised by Klaff to discuss Sadiq Khan’s candidacy for Mayor of London. In the video, members express their unhappiness at the prospect of having a Muslim Mayor. Also attending the meeting is Dan Fox, former Director of Labour Friends of Israel and the partner of Labour MP Stella Creasy (another vocal opponent of Jeremy Corbyn). Fox appears to be arguing in favour of Sadiq Khan’s candidacy and attempting to persuade the group that Khan is a “good Muslim” who can be trusted.
- The files also reveal a WhatsApp conversation between Claire Frances Fuller (Head of Internal Governance), Tracey Allen (Manager of the General Secretary’s Office) and Mike Creighton (the Director of Audit Risk and Property), all senior officials in the party, where they talk about the prospect of stabbing Jeremy Corbyn with a knife or an ice pick and then jokingly discuss if it might be against party rules.
Having read the leaked files, Peter Oborne observes that this is a conversation between about a dozen senior party officials who seem to form a sort of cabal within the party and who “hold the party leadership in contempt”. This group is supremely confident in themselves, clearly trusting each other, safe in the knowledge that this conversation will never be leaked.
- In 2016 the PLP launched a coup against Corbyn and pushed for a leadership challenge. Staff at Labour HQ immediately launched “the validation process”.. a process of scouring the social media profiles of new members with the aim of weeding out anyone with “offensive views”. Worth noting here that the validation process team was headed up by Sam Matthews. The leaked files reveal that what Matthews’ team were actually doing was trawling the profiles of people who had posted content that might be considered ‘abusive’ but only toward a small select group of 57, right wing, anti-Corbyn Labour MPs. In other words, they were targeting Corbyn supporters. According to Al Jazeera, they managed to identify over 11,000 members for ‘investigation’.
- Al Jazeera also reveals that the ‘validation process’ diverted staff away from dealing with important disciplinary issues and created a backlog of cases, including some dealing with anti-Semitism. It’s no small irony then that the head of the ‘validation’ team, Sam Matthews, gets promoted to Head of Disputes shortly after and is put in charge of handling anti-Semitism cases.
- The files also show that In Feb 2018, frustrated over the slow progress being made on tackling anti-Semitism cases, Corbyn writes to the then General Secretary Iain McNicol expressing his anger over the Disputes Teams apparent inability to deal with the problem. McNicols responds to say that over half the cases reported were against people who weren’t even labour Party members. He also warned against criticising the disputes team, saying that it would “undermine the work they do and serve only those in the right wing press.”
In April 2018, Jennie Formby, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, replaces Iain McNicol as General Secretary. According to Al Jazeera, this is when the leadership finally had some control over the disputes team. New staff were brought in and it suddenly became apparent that, under McNicol, there had been no record keeping, which made it impossible to find out the reasons why members had been suspended or why they were being investigated in the first place. It was also clear that some cases simply hadn’t been worked on at all and had been sitting there, untouched, for 2-3 years.
Peter Oborne explains that once Jennie Formby had taken over as General Secretary and Corbyn finally has direct control over the disputes team, the number of suspensions, investigations and expulsions from the Labour Party, specially in relation to anti-Semitism cases, shot up exponentially, as they started to clear the backlog that McNicol’s team had been sitting on. Oborne feels it important to point out that this information should also have us all asking “deep questions about the dominant media narrative on the Corbyn era.”
During McNicols 2.5yr tenure as Corbyn’s general secretary, only 44 cases of anti-Semitism were brought before the NEC. However, under Jennie Formby’s 2yr tenure, that shot up to 379 cases. In other words, records show, the anti-Corbyn faction accusing Corbyn of being anti-Semitic actually did very little to tackle anti-Semitism within the party and, by contrast, the data shows that after Corbyn finally gained control of the disputes team, the party made massive progress in rooting out anti-Semitism.
- According to Al Jazeera, the data, revealed in the files, also stands in direct conflict with the claims that had been made in the Panorama documentary ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic.’ They point put that these claims were made by GLU staff, including Sam Matthews, who worked there under Iain McNicol’s tenure. They reveal that one claim, made by Sam Matthews, where he accused Seamus Milne (Director of Communications) and the leader’s office, of interfering in the disciplinary process is proven to have been completely false. What actually happened was that Milne had been contacted by Emilie Oldknow (an Executive Director, overseeing the disputes team), asking him for his input on specific cases.
- Al Jazeera reveals that the Panorama documentary also took Milne’s response to Oldknow completely out of context. The full email from Milne tells a very different story… “..this member is a Jewish activist, the son of a Holocaust survivor.. if we’re more than occasionally using disciplinary action against Jewish members for anti-Semitism, something’s going wrong and we’re muddling up political disputes with racism… Quite apart from this specific case, I think going forward we need to review where and how we’re drawing the line if we’re going to have clear and defensible processes”
- Peter Oborne reveals that what “the Panorama documentary withheld from the viewer was the fact that most of the idealistic young people [that they had interviewed for the documentary] were officials in the anti-Corbyn Jewish Labour Movement (JLM)”
- JLM’s International Officer, Izzy Lenga, told Panorama that she had been subjected to anti-Semitic abuse, daily, while working for the Labour Party. The documentary suggested that Corbyn activist were telling her “Hitler was right” or that “Hitler did not go far enough.” Peter Oborne reveals that Lenga had been subjected to anti-Semitic abuse but this was when she was a student at university in 2015. Research shows that she had been involved in getting a number of neo-Nazi posters taken down from around her campus, some of which had the words “Hitler was right” printed on them. As a result, Lenga also received some online abuse, however, none of the newspaper reporting on these incidents at the time were suggesting that the abuse was from Labour activists or the broader left. In fact, the papers were reporting that the abuse had emanated from “the fascist right.”
Immediately following the BBC Panorama documentary we saw a number of alarmist headlines in the right wing British press, all designed to frighten Jewish people into believing that Labour was harbouring a glut of virulent anti-Semites. Shortly after that, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced that they’d been asked to investigate the Labour Party over accusations of anti-Semitism made by JLM. However, just as with the Panorama team, the EHRC also focuses it’s investigation on the Labour leadership.
- The Labour files reveals that the EHRC wrote to the party to let them know they would be investigating the leader of the Labour party, along with 13 other MPs and close allies (including Ann Black, Shami Chakrabarti, Jennie Formby and Seamus Milne). Surprisingly, the list did not include anyone who was involved in the disciplinary process prior to Jennie Formby’s appointment, i.e. the very people it was expected that the EHRC would wish to interrogate.
- When the EHRC report is released it doesn’t contain any criticism of the staff undertaking the disciplinary work under Iain McNicol and just focuses on attacking the Corbyn leadership and accusing them of political interference in the complaints process. Ironically, the majority of interventions were made in order to speed up the disciplinary process. In other words, Corbyn is condemned by the EHRC for trying to speed up the process of dealing with claims of anti-Semitism within the party.
Marc Wadsworth’s case is finally heard by the Labour Party, after Jennie Formby becomes General Secretary. Marc had been accused of being anti-Semitic by Ruth Smeeth MP. The party did not find that Wadsworth had been anti-Semitic but they decided to expel him anyway on the grounds that he had brought the party into disrepute.
Halima Khan, an Investigations and Governance Officer who worked in the GLU during Formby’s tenure, describes how the team had been instructed to scour through peoples social media pages looking for anything that might be construed as anti-Semitic material. Apparently, this included searching for the word ‘Palestine’. The team were also instructed to prioritise “any enquiries that would come in from the Jewish Chronicle or Jewish News” and would sometimes be required to work late in order to “take action on those individuals”
- Labour’s anti-Semitism case log shows that 23% of all the claims logged during the Corbyn years were by 1 single complainant. A further 12% of complaints came from the campaign group ‘Labour Against Anti-Semitism’ (LAAS), who would frequently file complaints against Jewish members of the Labour Party.
Al Jazeera reveals that LAAS spokeman, Euan Phillips, isn’t even Jewish, however he frequently sends emails to Labour complaints team using the Jewish sounding pseudonym of ‘David Gordstein’. Jonathan Hoffman (fomer Vice Chair of the Zionist Federation) and a militant Zionist campaigner, is LAAS’ Jewish advisor. Hoffman has strong links with the English Defense League (EDL), a far-right, Islamophobic, English Nationalist organisation. The EDL are known to be right wing extremists and are openly racist. So, effectively, we had an EDL activist, empowered by Labour Party officials, who primarily targets Jewish and Muslim members of the Labour Party and anyone who dares to criticise Israel.
A tearful Halima Khan, describes her shock and disgust at the way GLU staff reacted to the death of one Labour Party member. Khan explains that she had to expel an elderly lady for anti-Semitism but that, shortly after her expulsion, the lady suffered a stroke and passed away. Some concerns were raised at the time that her expulsion may have brought on the stroke. The disciplinary team decided to hold a meeting to discuss what had happened but, at the meeting, a senior official laughingly remarked “look, we’re anti-Semite killers now.” Halima then describes how the entire room broke out in laughter in response to his remark. Halima tells us she suffered a breakdown as a result of what she’d witnessed at that meeting and she still blames herself for what happened.
Al Jazeera reveals that pro-Corbyn Jewish members received some particularly nasty treatment and threats from other members of the Labour party. Jenny Manson, Co-Chair of JVL, plays and answer phone message from a Jewish man in which he calls her a “fucking Nazi bitch.. fucking Nazi scum” and tells her “you should burn in a gas oven you dirty fucking bitch.” She describes how members of her local constituency, who she and her family had known for many many years, suddenly became utterly cruel and nasty toward her. Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, Media Officer for JVL, tells Al Jazeera how, on one occasion, she’d had received a phone call from a individual who told her that he was outside her door, that he knew where she lived and that he was going to put her in a wheel chair.
More broadly speaking, pro-Corbyn voices would rarely be given platform and would be shouted down at meetings, in public spaces and during interviews. You wouldn’t be allowed to talk about, for example, the more than 150 unarmed Palestinian civilians (including press officers and medics) who were shot and killed by Israeli snipers, over an 8 month period, during the 2018 Great March of Return in the Gaza strip. Speaking out could also potentially make you the target of an investigation and even result in your expulsion from the Labour Party so it became easier for people to say nothing about Israeli atrocities.
In the mean time, Zionist Labour MPs and activists launched a campaign to pressure the Labour Party into adopting a new definition of anti-Semitism – The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Anti-Semitism. The IHRA definition is recognised as pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian. It includes 11 examples of what it describes as anti-Semitism, 7 of which directly forbid criticism of Israel. Example number 7 states “Denying the Jewish people their right to self determination. e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” which essentially denies the Palestinian people their right to self determination. Geoffrey Bindman QC considers the IHRA definition to be “deeply flawed” because in conflates criticism of Israel, or of Zionism, with anti-Semitism. Never the less, the Labour Party adopted the IHRA definition and the media made sure it was impossible to make the political arguments for why it should not be adopted. Also, some on Labour’s NEC had wrongly assumed that passing the IHRA definition would stop the attacks on the Labour Party.
Following Labour’s 2019 General Election defeat, Corbyn is replaced by Keir Starmer a Labour leader. Halima Khan describes how the criteria for anti-Semitism suddenly changed, quite dramatically, after Starmer took over… “it was quite clear that anti-Semitism was going to be used as a tool under the new leadership to, essentially, strike out as many left wing members as possible.”
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, Media Officer for JVL, tells Al Jazeera that under Stamer’s leadership there’s been a significant up-tick in the number of Jewish members who have been targeted for investigation or expulsion. She is personally aware of at least 56 Jewish members who have either been investigated, suspended or expelled by the party. Jenny Manson, Co-Chair JVL, tells us that “Jewish members.. are 6.3 times more likely to be investigated by the Labour Party for allegations of anti-Semitism than non Jews.” It’s clear that there is real anger amongst some in the Jewish community, many of whom have relatives who were victims of the Holocaust and/or of Nazi pogroms, who are deeply upset that a political party (incidentally, a non-Jewish organisation), should be dictating to them what is or is not anti-Semitic and even challenging their perceptions of anti-Semitism.
- The leaked documents show that Starmer’s Labour Party then opted to settle the court case between Labour and the BBC Panorama journalist who presented the ‘Is Labour anti-Semitic’ documentary, as well as with the former Labour staffers who gave false testimonies in the documentary. Starmer did this despite the clear advice of Labour’s own legal team not to settle.
Peter Oborne believes that Starmer’s decicion to settle was not based on a legal stand point. He is of the opinion that this was an act of political expediency and that Starmer wanted to set himself apart from the Corbyn leadership and to demonstrate that he had renounced Corbyn and everything he stood for.
- Leaders of pro-Israel Jewish groups hold a zoom meeting with the Labour party’s spokesman on communities and local government, Steve Reed, in order to discuss plans on how to tackle anti-Semitism. However, during this meeting, they switch to discussing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). The Labour Files include the minutes of the meeting.
BDS is a pro-Palestinian campaign group that encourages consumers to boycott Israeli goods and encourages businesses to divest from Israel in order to pressure Israel into complying with international law and ending it’s occupation of Palestinian land. Israel has worked hard at trying to dis-credit the BDS movement and they’ve already managed to persuade the Tory government to introduce new legislation that would make it illegal for public bodies to boycott Israel.
- During the zoom meeting with Steve Reed, Amanda Bowman (Vice President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews) tells him that while she understands that Labour might be hesitant to support the new anti-BDS legislation being drafted by the Tory government, it would be “unwise” for them to try and oppose it and, in what appears to be, a further unveiled threat, adds.. “the BoD are keen to counter suppositions from Labour MPs that, because they are nominally committed to combatting anti-Semitism, that it gives them carte blanche to say what they like about Israel”
- Reed replies to Bowman, reassuring her that Labour would “never accepts attempts to exceptionalise and deligitimise Israel.”
It would appear then that at least a key concern of the British Board of Deputies was to serve the interests of the state of Israel and this meant that the Board of Deputies weren’t just interested tackling anti-Semitism within political parties, they also expected political parties to “counter any attempts to show solidarity and effective solidarity with the Palestinian people”
Al Jazeera points out that despite a 6yr long search for evidence of anti-Semitism, the Labour Party were only able to find sufficient information to justify investigating less than 0.5% of the party’s membership and amongst that number are a significant number of pro-Palestinian voices, including many prominent Jewish members. In other words, the evidence appears to show that the real aim of the so-called campaign against anti-Semitism was to de-platform and disempower pro-Palestinian voices.
Al Jazeera also points out that the Forde report, published earlier this year, concluded that there was no evidence that the leaders office was involved in any kind of systematic interference in the disciplinary process or that they had, in any way, attempted to undermine the party’s response to allegations of anti-Semitism. They also point out that the Forde report found “Panorama’s use of Labour Party internal emails as entirely misleading.”
In response to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment…
The Labour party refute all the claims laid out in this documentary and insists that there is an anti-Semitism problem in the party and that they are committed to “rooting out anti-Semitism.”
Iain McNicol responded to say that he “categorically denied every allegation made against him” and adds that he believes that “every allegations made against him… were an attempt to create a false narrative.”
Labour Against AntiSemitism have admitted to Al Jazeera that “Euan Phillips had used the name David Gordstein” but add that he “never claimed to be Jewish when doing so.” They also admit that they had used Jonathan Hoffman as an advisor but add that Hoffman was never a member of the LAAS and that they, as an organisation, “deplored public disorder and the racism of the EDL”
Hoffman also responded to Al Jazeera to deny that he had any historic links with the EDL but adds that he “did not protest at pro-Palestinian events but only at anti-Semitic discourse occurring on such occasions”
Dan Fox responded to say he only attended the meeting at Sharon Klaff’s home because he was under the impression it was a meeting of an Israel advocacy group and he was there “to counter Islamophobic comments previously made online about Sadiq Khan, by others, which is what he did… he was not aware of the identity or political affiliations of any of the other attendees.” He adds that “he had a historic connection to Ms Klaff but she was not a close friend and he did not know of her EDL connections or that she had far right views”
Sam Matthews responded on the finding of the Forde report in respect of the treatment of the Seamus Milne email, in which the report found that the treatment was entirely mis-leading, simply to say that he considered the findings of the Forde report to be mis-leading. He insists that “Milne was not responding to a request for his opinion made from within the disputes team and that the leader’s office was the driving force in overturning the suspension in question.” He further insists that the complaints backlog that developed was as a result of “the exponential volume of complaints that followed Mr Corbyn’s election as leader and the growth in membership that this triggered”
Louise Withers-Green, Dan Hogan and Martha Robinson all provided Al Jazeera with the same explanation for the backlog as Sam Matthews. Hogan also insisted that there had been interference by the Corbyn leadership and Robinson insisted that matters “did not improve when Mr Corbyn’s own team took control of the [disciplinary} process.”
BBC’s response in respect to the findings of the Forde report on the Panorama documentary ‘Is Labour anti-Semitic’ was to say “this was a serious piece of investigative journalism about a matter of high public interest. The issues raised were done so in context with due impartiality and accuracy and the Labour Party’s response was fairly and accurately represented prominently throughout the programme”
John Ware, the presenter of the Panorama documentary, simply stated that he did not accept the findings of the Forde report.
The Jewish Labour Movement offered a simple statement claiming that “anti-Semitism in the Labour party was real and devastating for those affected by it” and offered the EHRC and Forde reports, as well as the Panorama documentary as supporting evidence.
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