Friday, 12 July 2019

Sticky Fingers: JLM's Panorama Playbook?

JLM leaders Jeremy Newmark and Ella Rose posing with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev in October 2016.
Any number of dirty tricks have been deployed in the campaign to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. In the Panorama documentary broadcast on 10th July, which the Labour Party has rightly condemned as a stitch-up, a series of anonymous "talking heads" recounted their awful personal experiences of antisemitism in the Party. They oozed sincerity and emotional trauma. Whatever the truth about their claims, which at times sounded fanciful to anyone who knows the Party from the inside, only a hard-hearted individual could fail to be moved.

Fortunately there are some eagle-eyed comrades out there, who happened to notice that many of these anonymous "witnesses" appear to be members or supporters of the JLM, the Jewish Labour Movement - an organisation notoriously hostile to Corbyn and the Labour leadership. Asa Winstanley, on the excellent Electronic Intifada website, was the first to break the news, and other comrades (notably Bob Pitt) have added their observations. A provisional list of JLM people who "gave witness" anonymously in the Panorama show reads as follows (click here to see the full list of JLM officers):

Stephane Savary (JLM joint National Vice-Chair)
Joe Goldberg (JLM joint National Vice-Chair) 
Izzy Lenga (JLM International Officer)
Alex Richardson (JLM Membership Officer)
Adam Langleben (ex JLM Campaigns Officer)
Ella Rose (JLM Equalities Officer, former National Director)
Rebecca Filer (JLM Political Education Officer)
Joshua Garfield (JLM Local Government Officer)

It is extremely worrying that most of the people interviewed as direct witnesses to antisemitic incidents by the program makers appear to be members of a single political lobby group, and in most cases current or recent Executive members at that. This was not mentioned at any point in the show, either during the program itself or in the credits at the end.

It is worth noting that you don't have to be Jewish, or even a paid-up member of the Labour Party, in order to join JLM. According to JLM's rule book, you merely have to be eligible to join the UK Labour Party in order to sign up. You do, however, also have to support the state of Israel. The rule book lists the following organisational aims and objects:
  • To maintain and promote Labour or Socialist Zionism [..]
  • To promote the centrality of Israel in Jewish life [..]
In the light of JLM's ambiguous status and its openly declared loyalty to Israel, it is unfortunate that the group is often credited, quite erroneously, with speaking for Labour's Jewish members (many of whom do not share their values). In the wake of the Panorama program, for instance, deputy Labour leader Tom Watson tweeted that anyone upset by the show's revelations should sign up as supporters of JLM and make a donation!

This is probably not the place to promote the virtues of Labour's other Jewish organisation, JVL (Jewish Voice for Labour), although it is worth noting that JVL does require its full (voting) members to be both Jewish and actual members of the Labour Party. Nor does JVL require prospective members to hold any particular position on the question of Israel/Palestine (though its membership tends on the whole to be critical of Israel's excesses).

Turning once more to JLM, it is fair to say that their involvement in the Panorama documentary raises a number of serious questions:

  1. How did the BBC fail so badly to conduct due diligence around the selection of interviewees for the program? Was their failure a matter of negligence or of policy?
  2. Was John Ware, the sometime Sun journalist responsible for the show, aware of the political affiliations of his "witnesses"? If so, was there direct collusion with them in order to ensure that the program delivered a single monolithic message?
  3. Given the heavy involvement of JLM in this virulent attack on the Labour Party, isn't it time that the Party conducted a serious investigation into the JLM's activities?

We are entitled to ask whether the BBC effectively colluded with journalist John Ware and leading members of the JLM to produce a crude smear job against our Party and its leader. Only an independent inquiry into the BBC's conduct can provide an answer.