In what looks like the next chapter in the ongoing row over alleged antisemitism within the Labour Party, a British Jewish organisation critical of Israel has been forced to cancel the screening of a controversial documentary in the House of Commons. The film explores the background to the allegations and was due to be screened next month.
Labour MP Chris Williamson booked a room in parliament to screen the film about the suspended Jewish Labour activist Jackie Walker, although the screening was organised by Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), a network for Jewish members of the Labour Party. The group has backed party leader Jeremy Corbyn during the row over antisemitism, which started on his election as leader in 2015.
“A documentary film exploring the background to accusations of antisemitism in the Labour Party, due to be screened in the House of Commons on Monday March 4, has been cancelled after an outcry from people who have not seen it,” explained JVL. The group revealed that Neve Gordon, Professor of International Law at Queen Mary University of London, was due to take part in a panel discussion after the screening. “This is outrageous,” Gordon apparently told JVL. “It certainly confirms the significance of the movie.”
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“WitchHunt” follows the story of the eponymous Labour activist who was suspended from the party in 2016 over allegations of antisemitism. The date for the tribunal of the Black, Jewish anti-racist Walker has been set for 26 March when she will answer charges before a panel of the National Constitutional Committee (NCC), Labour’s disciplinary body.
“I’m so pleased to have a date for my hearing,” said Walker “Whatever the outcome, it’s been amazing to be part of an anti-racist, anti-Zionist left that has refused to be silenced by what has been the worst political witch hunt of our generation.”
The documentary itself has been acclaimed by leading filmmakers Mike Leigh and Peter Kosminsky, both of whom are Jewish, as well as by Israeli historian Professor Avi Shlaim. “Anyone who speaks or writes in the public domain about antisemitism and the current state of the Labour Party has a duty to see this film and address the issues it raises,” said Professor Shlaim.
JVL revealed that within hours of an invitation being sent to Labour MPs and journalists, the Jewish News reported calls being made for the expulsion of Williamson from the Labour Party for booking the room for the screening. The group said that the outspoken MP had no other role in organising the event.
The film’s director, Jon Pullman, hinted at the irony of demanding the cancellation of a documentary about a witch hunt: “We hope that people concerned with the struggle against racism and antisemitism take the time to see the film, and then make their own mind up. To have it publicly denounced as ‘offensive’ by people who have not seen it raises question about what is happening to democracy in this country.”
Supporters of Labour leader Corbyn, including dozens of Jewish groups, admit that allegations of antisemitism are a serious concern, but insist that he is being attacked unfairly because of his progressive position on Palestine. According to Chief Editor of the Middle East Eye, David Hearst, “The debate about antisemitism in the Labour Party is all about Israel, and whether indeed anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic.” There are many British Jews who support Corbyn, who do not feel threatened by Corbyn’s pro-Palestinian stance and wrote of their support in a letter to the Guardian, explained the descendant of Holocaust survivors. “The problem lies with the Board of Deputies [of British Jews] which claims to speak for all Jews in Britain. These are the leaders who have appointed themselves judge, jury and hangman in each and every allegation of antisemitism.”
Hearst added that antisemitism claims made by the Board of Deputies are “fatally flawed” and pointed to their failure to “bring themselves to condemn Benjamin Netanyahu for making a political alliance with the devotees of the late Meir Kahane.” The Kach Party founded the extremist rabbi was outlawed in Israel after supporter Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians at prayer in February 1994 at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.
Hearst called out the Board of Deputies over their silence on the Likud leader who pushed successfully for the merger of Jewish Home and extreme right-wing Jewish Power, whose leadership includes supporters of the notorious Kahane. He denounced the Board’s stance as “moral cowardice and hypocrisy of the highest order” which he said was “at the very heart of the struggle that is tearing not only the Labour Party apart but the British Jewish community as well.”