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We all deserve an investigation into BBC Panorama’s propaganda 

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses delegates and members during his keynote speech at the annual party conference on September 28, 2016 in Liverpool, England
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses delegates and members during his keynote speech at the annual party conference on 28 September 2016 in Liverpool, England

The British public were subjected to an hour of anti-Palestine propaganda by the BBC last week when it aired a Panorama programme on the “anti-Semitism” row within the Labour Party. The public service broadcaster appeared to be doing very little public service when it unleased what was, by any reasonable assessment, a media broadside taken straight from the disinformation rule book.

Received by the mainstream media as though it were the final say on the anti-Semitism row that has rocked the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015, the public have been duped into submitting to the dominant narrative. The political party that was born out of a desire to fight inequality and headed now by a leader whose record of fighting for social justice and equality is second to none is, we are led to believe, institutionally anti-Semitic.

The main characters used to “prove” this thesis in Panorama dominate the who’s who of people in the anti-Palestine lobby groups in Britain. Such basic information was omitted because it did not serve the presenter’s agenda. By failing to disclose the clearly relevant affiliations of the individuals involved in the programme, including the fabricated claims of anti-Semitism by one of the so called whistle-blowers, the BBC has basically admitted that their connections to the Israeli Embassy in London and anti-Palestine lobby groups like BICOM and Labour Friends of Israel completely discredits the “evidence” put forward.

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The BBC producers also ignored the fact that there are dozens of Jewish Labour members and Jewish groups that totally reject allegations of the kind made in the programme. None were interviewed by Panorama veteran John Ware, who is developing a track record of being anti-Palestine and very pro-Israel; hardly the neutral journalism that one would expect from the BBC. Nor did Ware point out that there are Jews among the Labour Party members suspended or expelled for alleged anti-Semitism.

It has been claimed that the programme had such disregard for the truth that it resorted to doctoring quotes in an attempt to drive its point home. It presented an email by Labour’s director of communications Seumas Milne, for example, which gave the impression that senior Labour officials were interfering in the party’s disciplinary process. The BBC version of Milne’s email was, “Something’s going wrong, and we’re muddling up political disputes with racism… I think going forward we need to review where and how we’re drawing the line.” The Labour Party has released the full email, which shows that Milne was responding to a request from a former Labour staff member for a view on a complaint. He was talking specifically about Jewish people being accused of anti-Semitism and the unedited text of his email is this: “Having identified the subject of the complaint as a ‘Jewish activist, the son of a Holocaust survivor’… if we’re more than very occasionally using disciplinary action against Jewish members for anti-Semitism, something’s going wrong and we’re muddling up political disputes with racism.” This gives a very different meaning to the one put out on Panorama.

One has to wonder if the BBC, like the members of the Jewish Labour Movement interviewed in the programme as “whistle-blowers”, thinks that Jews supportive of Labour and refuting allegations of anti-Semitism are “the wrong type of Jew”. Is it just a coincidence that members of the Jewish community ignored by the BBC are very critical of Israel and its brutal occupation of Palestine and those given a voice by the public broadcaster are strongly anti-Palestinian?

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Perhaps the BBC’s most glaring omission and disservice to the viewing public was its abject failure to give any background to the “whistle-blowers” who also featured prominently in the 2017 Al Jazeera documentary on the pro-Israel lobby. The two hour documentary detailed how the Israeli Embassy provided covert assistance to supposedly independent groups within the Labour Party; how jobs at the embassy were being offered to groom young Labour activists; and how concerned the embassy was with removing not just Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan, but also Crispin Blunt MP, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (both of whom are Conservative MPs), as well as Labour leader Corbyn.

Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan Sir  (Front) in New York, US on 26 January 2019 [Atılgan Özdil/Anadolu Agency]

Anti-Palestinian activists were captured on camera boasting about “taking down” British ministers; how easy it is to get most Conservative MPs to do the bidding of pro-Israel activists; and giving details of how they would write prepared questions for MPs to ask the Prime Minister in parliament. “If you do everything for them,” they explained, “it’s harder for them to say, ‘I don’t have the time, I won’t do it’.”

The four-part Al Jazeera documentary along with its US version marked a watershed moment in exposing the workings of the anti-Palestinian lobbies on both sides of the Atlantic. The Lobby – USA was made by Al Jazeera’s investigations unit, but ironically it was never broadcast by the Qatari channel, after a massive censorship push by the anti-Palestine lobby.

Unsurprisingly, despite their questionable activities being exposed on camera, anti-Palestinian groups cried foul by accusing Al Jazeera of anti-Semitism. Their complaint was investigated by Britain’s media regulator, Ofcom. In its lengthy ruling, Ofcom noted that the complaints received “raised a range of issues about the programme including that they were anti-Semitic and were not duly impartial.” Other complaints “considered that the programme was materially misleading.”

The latter allegation was dismissed by Ofcom without further investigation, following information received from Al Jazeera. With respect to the other complaints, it found that Al Jazeera was not in breach of the obligation to have “due impartiality”, and similarly rejected claims of anti-Semitism. A second attack on the programme was inevitable, and it seems that Panorama’s “shock and awe” tactic has provided such an opportunity, generating the kind of social panic required to silence legitimate opinions and dismiss counter-narratives as anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories.

READ: Guardian rejects Jewish group’s criticism of its coverage of ‘Labour anti-Semitism’

The Jewish Chronicle was attuned to the public paralysis and did exactly that, launching into a full-on attack on Al Jazeera’s documentary by labelling anyone who defended Labour using facts uncovered in the programme as “conspiracy theorists” which, let’s admit it, is another way of saying that they are anti-Semitic. Panorama’s broadcast was timed perfectly for the community newspaper which, along with anti-Palestinian groups, has been waiting for the opportunity to discredit The Lobby. If the sort of revelations contained therein were made by anyone connected to Russia, or any other state for that matter, there would be calls for investigations into such open foreign interference in Britain’s democracy. It is significant that no such calls have ever been made in political circles for any investigations into Israel’s efforts — captured on camera, remember — to disrupt the British democratic process.

Why did John Ware and Panorama ignore the findings of the Al Jazeera documentary, especially given that it was vindicated by Ofcom? That’s a mystery. Viewers should have been told about the “whistle-blowers” and their backgrounds as well as their connections to the State of Israel and the anti-Palestine lobby. And that the allegations made against them by Al Jazeera were noted by the media regulator not to have been “made on the grounds that any of the particular individuals concerned were Jewish” and that “no claims were made relating to their faith”. Ofcom went on to say that it did not “consider that the [Al Jazeera] programme portrayed any negative stereotypes of Jewish people as controlling or seeking to control the media or governments.”

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Ofcom concluded further: “Rather, it was our view that these individuals featured in the [Al Jazeera] programme in the context of its investigation into the alleged activities of a foreign state [the State of Israel acting through its UK Embassy] and their association with it.”

One is not a “conspiracy theorist” for citing evidence from a serious documentary vindicated by the media regulator to expose falsehoods in a BBC programme that one suspects would not survive the level of scrutiny placed on non-mainstream media organisations, including Al Jazeera. At the very least, the British public whose licence fees pay for the BBC — including up to 600,000 Labour Party members —have a right to know if the Corporation is indeed serving the public or simply peddling propaganda in the best interests of a foreign state rather than impartial journalism.

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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