Ofcom dismisses claims of antisemitism against Al Jazeera

Mike Cushman

Predictably, when Al Jazeera broadcast The Lobby in January detailing Israeli subversion of British politics, the Zionist attack machine was fired up. They submitted five separate complaints to the media watchdog, Ofcom, alleging antisemitism, bias and invasion of privacy.

Cover of Ofcom report on 'The Lobby'
Cover of Ofcom report on ‘The Lobby’

Ofcom undertook a detailed examination of the claims and published their 60 page findings on 9 October. On every aspect of each claim they found that Al Jazeera had conducted themselves with professional rigour and had breached neither broadcasting rules nor the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism. Each and every item of the lengthy allegations was rejected.

Broadcast Standards case

For the first time, the IHRA definition has been tested by a British quasi-judicial tribunal: it determined not to classify criticism of Israeli activity as antisemitic.

The guidance published with the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism includes the following as a contemporary example (amongst others) of what could constitute anti- Semitism in public life and the media, taking into account the overall context: “Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions”.

The guidance also suggests that manifestations of anti-Semitism might include the targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collective. There was therefore the possibility that a programme, such as The Lobby, which focused on the actions of the State of Israel and alleged that individuals associated with it were attempting to inappropriately influence British democracy, may be considered by some to be anti-Semitic.

Importantly however, the IHRA guidance makes clear that criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.

We considered that the allegations in the programme were not made on the grounds that any of the particular individuals concerned were Jewish and noted that no claims were made relating to their faith. We did not consider that the programme portrayed any negative stereotypes of Jewish people as controlling or seeking to control the media or governments. Rather, it was our view that these individuals featured in the 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. We also noted that a number of the organisations featured in the programme, such as Labour Friends of Israel and Conservative Friends of Israel, are not defined by any adherence to Judaism or having a predominantly Jewish membership.

As per the IHRA guidance, Ofcom did not consider that such a critical analysis of the actions of a foreign state constituted anti-Semitism, particularly as the overall focus of the programme was to examine whether the State of Israel was acting in a manner that would be expected of other democratic nations.

For these reasons, our Decision is that there was no breach of Rule 2.3.  [This requires that material which may cause offence must be justified by the context. Under “meaning of context” the Code lists a number of factors including the editorial content of the programme and the service on which it was broadcast.]

This attempt to extend antisemitism to cover criticism of the actions of the Israeli Government failed miserably, to the chagrin of the self-described Campaign Against Antisemitism. This failure echoes the failure of the Fraser case against the University and College Union to similarly extend the meaning of antisemitism.

Shai Masot & Jeremy Newmark with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev speaking at an event at Labour party conference in 2016 (Al Jazeera)
Shai Masot and JLC Chair Jeremy Newmark with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev speaking at an event at Labour party conference in 2016 (Al Jazeera)

This second failure does not mean that we can relax about the threat posed by the IHRA definition. Israel’s apologists will continue to try to use it to suppress exposure of Israel’s actions until we can persuade this Government, or a future Labour Government, to accept that the eleven exemplars do not help in any way to identify antisemitic incidents. By sowing confusion, they obscure real antisemitic threats.

Fairness and Privacy cases

  • ‘Ofcom has not upheld this complaint made by Ms Ella Rose of unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy’.
  • ‘Ofcom has not upheld this complaint of unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy made by Kingsley Napley LLP (“Kingsley Napley”) on behalf of Mr Russell Langer.’
  • ‘Ofcom has not upheld this complaint of unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy made by Kingsley Napley LLP (“Kingsley Napley”) on behalf of Mr Luke Akehurst.’
JLM Director Ella Rose boasts how she can 'take' Jackie Walker
JLM Director Ella Rose boasts how she can ‘take’ Jackie Walker

The report goes into considerable detail about Ella Rose’s complaint but it can be summarised as saying she was very upset about being found out. She believes that her abuse of Jackie Walker and her smooth translation from Israeli Embassy employee to Director of the Jewish Labour Movement were of no public interest. The report states, ‘Ms Rose said that her personal religious faith which involves attachment to Israel should not make her “a target for infringement of privacy”’. This claim of impunity on the basis that Israel is part of her religion is radical restatement of the repeated assertion that any critique of Zionism is antisemitic. At no point does Ella Rose claim she was misrepresented, her distress is that she was represented all too accurately. She seems to believe that she has the right to stay in the shadows despite taking on the role of Director of an organisation seeking to influence Labour Party policy and therefore British political life.

Russell Langer is former Campaigns Director at the Union of Jewish Students and the current Public Affairs Manager with the Jewish Leadership Council. As well as working with Israeli Embassy operative Shai Masot, Mr Langer seems to have had an irony bypass. Part of his complaint was that he was surreptitiously filmed preparing to surreptitiously film a meeting of Labour Friends of Palestine.

The report shows considerable scepticism of the veracity of at least parts of Russell Langer’s claim and gives details of the content of some unused footage which shows his involvement with Masot which he tried to deny. The footage showed that:

Mr Langer had complained about the excessive involvement of the Israeli Embassy in events organised by British Jewish organisations. Mr Langer also confirmed that he has relations with the Israeli Government.

Langer’s lawyers claimed that ‘contrary to the impression created in the programme, Mr Langer hardly knew Mr Masot and had only ever been introduced to him, but had never worked with him.’ But Ofcom found, ‘Mr Masot had some sort of relationship with the JLC and that he knew Mr Langer’

Luke Akehurst, a former Labour Councillor and Director of We Believe in Israel, is a well-known and vocal pro-Israel activist. Again, he was upset that his views had been all too accurately reported. He claimed that:

the footage of Mr Masot speaking with the undercover reporter had been “heavily edited” so it would have been unclear to viewers what the undercover reporter should liaise with Mr Akehurst about.

But on the contrary Ofcom found:

From reviewing the unedited footage, it appeared to Ofcom that the conversation between Mr Masot and the undercover reporter had been edited in the programme as broadcast. However, it was our view that the extent of the editing was very limited and the conversation included in the programme was an accurate reflection of what was said about Mr Akehurst and the manner in which it was said in the unedited footage. Further, it was our view that the programme as broadcast would have made clear to viewers that Mr Masot wanted the undercover reporter to set up the youth wing of the LFI and that to do so, he should liaise with heads of other pro-Israel movements, such as Mr Akehurst. Therefore, we considered that the conversation had not been heavily or unfairly edited.

It was Al Jazeera’s scrupulous accuracy that was so upsetting to Israel’s friends in this aspect as in many others.

Claims of bias, unfairness and antisemitism made repeatedly against Israel’s critics are usually bounced around an echo chamber of like-minded groups. They gain a claimed authority with each repetition and endorsement. The lesson from this report is that when these claims are subjected to scrutiny they fall apart. We must insist that judgements of claims are made by panels that are not dominated by people who have already declared they see antisemitism everywhere and in every defence of Palestinian rights. Neither should they be judged by partisans for Palestine, as a finding of innocence would not be convincing to outside observers. They must be judged in impartial forums, when they are, in this case just as in Fraser v UCU, the claims of antisemitism are demonstrated to be protection of Israel not defence of Jews.

Manchester University caves in to Israeli Embassy pressure

Mike Cushman

University of Manchester logo

Marika Sherwood
Marika Sherwood

Holocaust survivor Marika Sherwood was due to give a talk at the University of Manchester during Israel Apartheid Week 2017 with the title ‘A Holocaust survivor’s story and the Balfour declaration: You’re doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to me’. The University insisted the subtitle be removed and attendance limited to university students and staff only.

The University was reluctant to disclose what led up to this interference with free expression until the Information Commissioner’s Office forced the University to reveal the relevant correspondence. As the Guardian reported on 29 September, the documents revealed that Israeli Embassy pressured the University to insist on the change, alleging that antisemitism lay behind the Holocaust survivor’s choice of title.

I have written to Nancy Rothwell, the University Vice-Chancellor deploring the University’s action and calling for an apology to Ms Sherwood and the students who invited her for disparaging them as antisemites.

I received a totally inadequate standard response from the university and have replied accordingly

The response to my second letter still failed to explain or apologise, so I have tried again

Continue reading “Manchester University caves in to Israeli Embassy pressure”

What is the Jewish Labour Movement?

In early 2016, an intense media offensive was launched claiming that the Labour Party was rife with antisemitism. Since then, after a wave of summary suspensions, costly investigations and many successful appeals, it is clear that the vast majority of the members disciplined were on the Left of the Party and were opponents of Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights who had no hostility to Jews as Jews.

Even after Corbyn’s transformatory 2017 general election campaign the offensive, led by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), Labour Friends of Israel and other pro-Israel lobby groups has not abated. Some of the groups receive direct finance from Israel, as revealed in the Al Jazeera investigation The Lobby, televised in January 2017. It made clear the hostility of Labour’s pro-Israel Right to the left-wing leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a known supporter of Palestinian rights.

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Why JLM is a problem

Continue reading “What is the Jewish Labour Movement?”

Antisemites endorse call to MPs to support Israel

American Christian Zionist evangelist John Hagee’s organisation, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), was quick to applaud We Believe in Israel’s call to all general election candidates asking them to support Israel and oppose antisemitism. In the event, the call attracted little support from among the 3000 plus candidates.

There are many problems with this initiative which seeks to anathematise defence of Palestinian rights. Many are obvious but the support it has gained from CUFI and not renounced by the pledge organisers is the most egregious. Hagee has a well documented history as an antisemite. His willingness to condemn all Jews to eternal damnation has not prevented Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders warmly welcoming him; nor, it seems, extreme enough for Luke Akehurst to want to distance himself from them. Luke Akehurst, the prime mover behind We Believe in Israel, is not a lone wolf: he is well connected to the Zionist establishment and was appointed by BICOM, which is close to the Israeli Embassy, to lead this project.

CUFI leader John Hagee speaks to Israel supporters at a rally at the Jerusalem convention centre in 2008
CUFI leader John Hagee speaks to Israel supporters at a rally at the Jerusalem convention centre in 2008

Free Speech on Israel has written to Labour candidates who were misled into signing the pledge asking them to reconsider their endorsement. You can see a list of all signatories to the pledge on the CUFI website We encourage you to write to any of your local candidates who signed Continue reading “Antisemites endorse call to MPs to support Israel”

The Israel Lobby vs Democracy

Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s Inquiry into the UK’s policy towards the Middle East Peace Process

Submission from Free Speech on Israel

This evidence, prepared by Jonathan Rosenhead, was submitted to the select committee enquiry which was halted owing to the announcement of the General Election. As it is not clear when or whether the enquiry will resume in the new Parliament we are publishing our evidence now. This evidence was submitted on 30 March 2017.

Who we are

  1. Free Speech on Israel is a Jewish-led group formed in April 2016 out of concerns that the surge in accusations of antisemitism in British public life, and especially within the Labour Party, in no way reflects the reality that we live in. This concern now extends both to the unbalanced media coverage of this issue, and to the Government’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of antisemitism, which we find to be deeply flawed. See in particular the recently released legal Opinion on this subject.
  2. Our submission to your Inquiry focusses entirely on point 7: how UK policy is influenced by other states and interested parties. In particular we will address the extent to which the state of Israel has been exerting undue influence on the UK’s policy in respect of that country’s violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people.  We start from the evidence revealed in the Al-Jazeera series of investigative reports The Lobby, transmitted in January 2017.

Background to our concern

  1. Recent events have demonstrated that some national governments have an appetite to intervene in the political processes of other countries. The ability to do so will depend on the resources they can muster – such as electronic capabilities, finances devoted to that purpose, and well-disposed individuals in the target country.
  2. We further take the view that the formation of foreign policy in the UK (as in other countries) is not conducted only within political parties but involves a wider swathe of think tanks, academic researchers, businesses with spanning interests, influential organisations and individuals, media commentators and so on. Our comments will address that broader matrix.

Continue reading “The Israel Lobby vs Democracy”

FSOI statement – London Assembly antisemitism vote a “charter for censors”

Free Speech on Israel, a Jewish-led organisation, condemns the decision of the London Assembly on Feb 8 to adopt a position on antisemitism that is a charter for censors. It threatens to make effective campaigning for justice for Palestinians impossible.

Antisemitism is an age-old visceral hatred of Jews simply because they are Jews. It must be vigorously fought against, along with all forms of bigotry. To confuse it with opposition to a state which calls itself Jewish, or to the founding ideology of that state, Zionism, is to obscure the real meaning of the term antisemitism and make combatting it more difficult. This is exactly what the motion passed by the Assembly does.

Continue reading “FSOI statement – London Assembly antisemitism vote a “charter for censors””

End Israeli state interference in British political parties

There can now be no doubt: Pro-Israel advocates in the UK have been working with representatives of the Israeli state to undermine their political opponents.

Free Speech on Israel statement on the hidden relationship between the Israeli government and British politicians

Shai Masot (2nd left) & Jeremy Newmark with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev speaking at an event at Labour party conference in 2016 (Al Jazeera)

News of covert meetings between an Israeli diplomat and Tory and Labour politicians is evidence of a concerted campaign to undermine pro-Palestinian currents in both parties. These latest revelations vindicate the case that Free Speech on Israel has been making for many months. There can now be no doubt: Pro-Israel advocates in the UK have been working with representatives of the Israeli state to undermine their political opponents. The Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a strong supporter of Palestinian rights, has been a particular target.

Evidence exposed by Al-Jazeera shows that the Israeli government has ‘infiltrated’ both the Conservative and Labour parties via its embassy in the UK, using secret cash and covert support.

Film footage shows intelligence expert Shai Masot joking with senior Labour MP Joan Ryan about having obtained ‘more than £1 million’ to pay for sympathetic Labour MPs to visit Israel. He was also filmed discussing with Maria Strizzolo, senior aide to Conservative Education Minister Robert Halfon, how to “take down” Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan, a supporter of a Palestinian state.

Halfon and Ryan are leading members of their parties’ respective ‘Friends of Israel’ lobby groups.

Strizzolo has since resigned, Masot is reportedly to be relieved of his Embassy job, Israeli ambassador Mark Regev has apologised and the UK Foreign Office has stated: “The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”

This is a blatant attempt to close down the affair. But a scandal of this magnitude needs to be exposed to full public scrutiny. The whole story of the dubious relationship between the Israeli government and British politicians must come out into the open. And Ambassador Regev, who has presided over this infiltration policy, needs to be told that he is no longer welcome.

Al Jazeera’s revelations throw new light on Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s extraordinary public contradiction last week of US Secretary of State John Kerry speech criticising expansion of Israel’s settlements; extraordinary because Kerry’s position coincides precisely with that of the British government. This reads like UK policy being distorted in the Israeli interest.

We also note that Shai Masot accompanied ambassador Regev and Jeremy Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, at meetings during the 2016 Labour Party conference. Newmark’s JLM has been instrumental in promoting allegations of rampant antisemitism on the Labour Left, through which supporters of Palestine have been systematically targeted.

We urge grassroots members of the Labour Party, trade unions, Momentum and other progressive, antiracist organisations to insist that their leaders dissociate themselves from pro-Israel lobbyists and defend those victimised without due cause.

Free Speech on Israel supports the call by Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry for a government inquiry into “improper interference in our democratic politics”.

However certain other actions are needed. FSOI calls upon:

  • the UK government to withdraw the accreditation of the Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev who has presided over this grave intrusion in the country’s democratic processes
  • MPs Robert Halfon, Joan Ryan and any others whose names emerge from this Al-Jazeera investigation to give a full public explanation of their relations with Israeli state representatives
  • Friends of Israel organisations in British political parties, and the Jewish Labour Movement, to account for their relationship with the Israeli Embassy and other state institutions, including all financial transactions
  • the Labour Party leadership to sever links with groups where evidence emerges that they have placed support for the interests of the state of Israel above democracy in the party

Note (updated 10.2.17): Al Jazeera Investigative Unit’s series “The Lobby” can be viewed in four episodes at 10.30 pm on Wednesday January 11, Thursday January 12, Friday January 13 and Saturday January 14. The series will also be available online . These broadcast times are several days earlier than originally scheduled.