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Far from being impartial, Panorama was a partisan attack on Labour’s left

A screengrab from the BBC's Panorama programme broadcast on July 10, 2019
A screengrab from the BBC's Panorama programme broadcast on July 10, 2019

Right from the opening, there were glaring signs that Wednesday night’s “Panorama” would be anything but the impartial public broadcasting that the BBC claims to champion.

The hour-long special was supposed to prove that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has become a hive of anti-Semitism. In reality, it only proved the dishonesty of these claims, which have dogged the party for four years now.

I understand that, as I write on Friday, the Labour Party is about to lodge a formal complaint with the BBC. This could be the first step towards a complaint to Ofcom, the UK’s broadcasting regulator.

Labour has accused Panorama of deceptively editing emails leaked by its ex-staffers in order to invert their meanings. They have called the documentary “an overtly one-sided intervention” by the BBC in party politics.

Early on in the documentary, viewers were shown footage of a demonstration in Parliament Square, outside London’s Westminster. Over this footage John Ware, the infamously Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian journalist who presented the programme, intoned a grave warning.

“Many British Jews once saw the Labour Party as their natural political home,” he said. “No longer.”

The small protest was organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council in the spring of last year. The two pro-Israel lobbying organisations had organised the rally calling for Jeremy Corbyn – a veteran Palestine solidarity activist – to step down.

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The telling moment was this: at exactly the same moment that Ware was speaking of the disaffected Jews who no longer saw Labour as their “natural political home,” the camera turned to focus on two figures chanting against Labour.

But this pair – who can be seen in the screengrab above – were anything but disaffected Labour Party supporters. They were Jonathan Hoffman and Harry Saul Markham, two of the UK’s most notorious far-right anti-Palestinian activists.

Jonathan Hoffman has for years been one of the Zionist movement’s most notorious thugs. He regularly crashes Palestine solidarity events, attempting to derail them.

Last month he was fined and convicted of harassment and threatening behaviour, after he and another Zionist thug, Damon Lenszner, attacked a Palestinian woman at a protest in October last year.

Meanwhile Markham, a student, is a newer arrival on the article anti-Palestinian scene, but is even further to the right than Hoffman.

Different photos of the same protest show the t-shirt he was wearing that day. He was adorned with a portrait of Menachem Begin, leader of the Irgun terrorist group and later Israel’s first prime minister to be elected from the hard-right Likud party.

A screengrab of a Facebook post by Harry Saul Markham

A screengrab of a Facebook post by Harry Saul Markham

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On his Facebook page last year, Markham proudly posted a photo of him in Israel, posing with two veterans from Lehi, the most extreme of the pre-state Zionist terror organisations. Like the Irgun, Lehi attacked both Palestinian civilians and British soldiers.

Lehi was so far to the right that it even reached out to then German Chancellor Adoph Hitler’s Nazi regime, proposing “a state of the Jews to be established on nationalist and totalitarian foundations and tied to the German Reich”. The Nazis did not reply to these overtures.

Given this context, Hoffman and Markham cannot reasonably be considered to have ever thought of Labour as their “natural political home”.

This was emblematic of the deception prevalent in the rest of the documentary. Yes, it did contain interviews with former and current Labour members disaffected with the direction the party has taken under socialist veteran Jeremy Corbyn.

Yet Panorama consistently failed to disclose that these were overwhelmingly partisan fighters in Labour’s internal civil war between the ascendant left-wing and its vestigial right-wing – people who often still champion the war criminal Tony Blair, the former UK Prime Minister.

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This reality was exemplified above all by one of the main “whistleblowing” ex-members of Labour staff, Mike Creighton. As Labour’s former director of complaints, he appeared as one of the main figures in the programme.

However, unmentioned by Ware was the fact that Creighton is an embittered Blairite, who during his retirement speech complained that Labour was becoming “a party of protest” against things like the Iraq War.

Creighton has recently been quite frank on Twitter that he is “not interested in [Labour] winning government. I’m interested in winning the party” back.

Civil war indeed. Yet none of this was in Panorama’s documentary itself.

Such problems with lack of disclosure went further. A majority – possibly all – of the mostly-young Jewish party members and ex-members interviewed on camera who claimed to be revealing “the truth” about “Labour anti-Semitism” were in fact activists and executive committee members of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).

In contrast to left-wing, pro-Corbyn groups in the Labour Party such as Jewish Voice for Labour, the JLM is an explicitly Zionist organisation. It forms part of the Labour right and has been driving the false “Labour anti-Semitism crisis” narrative from the start. It has close ties to the Israeli embassy.

Yet not once did Panorama mention that any of the speakers belonged to JLM. Virtually none of them were even named.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

An “expert” on supposed “left-wing anti-Semitism” in facts works for BICOM, the UK’s main Israel lobby group – undisclosed. An unnamed young Jewish “whistle blower” in fact was an employee of Joan Ryan, a former Labour MP and the still current chair of Labour Friends of Israel. Both of them have a history of fabricating anti-Semitism – all of this was undisclosed.

The BBC urgently needs to review this programme, the factual details of which are increasingly being challenged. As it stands, it very much looks like the BBC is taking sides in Labour’s ongoing civil war.

Read: UK equality watchdog opens anti-Semitism probe into opposition Labour party

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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