The Big Questions, BBC1, 28 January 2018: Antisemitism and the left

Watch Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi of JVL and others debate the issue of “antisemitism and the left”

Posted 29 January 2018 at 12:57. Updated with a note from Noami Wimborne-idrissi at 14:47

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi writes:

Former MP Chris Mullin, author of 1980s novel A Very British Coup, which imagined the establishment reaction in the event of election of leftwing government, argued alongside me  that rightwingers have picked up allegations of left antisemitism as a convenient stick with which to beat the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.

On the other side of the argument, Anna Turley, a Labour Friends of Israel MP who backed the 2016 vote of no confidence in Corbyn, bemoaned the rampant antisemitism which she alleges is driving Jews away from Labour. Saul Freeman representing Labour Against Antisemitism (although he is not a party member) was invited to kick off the discussion citing anonymous tweets – which were clearly antisemitic in the classic sense of the word – alleging they were the work of an associate of mine.

He is welcome to send the evidence for checking, but it’s unfortunate that I had no opportunity on air to challenge Freeman, who was allowed to have the final word.

I would like to have explained to viewers about his group, which does not deserve its name. It exists solely to harass critics of Israel.

In December LAA wrote to every MP trying to get SNP’s Tommy Sheppard disciplined for hosting a meeting in Westminster, chaired by me and with three prominent Jewish speakers, on the subject of antisemitism and freedom of speech. It went ahead but was invaded by about 20 self-proclaimed “friends of Israel” intent on disruption. We were only able to go ahead because we had been forewarned, so police searched everyone entering and we had the sergeant at arms and several uniformed officials waiting outside. A full report is available here.

Freeman himself contributes to scurrilous anti-Corbyn, anti-Palestinian outlets such as Harry’s Place, where he has insisted on using the terms antisemitism and antizionism interchangeably and accused Corbyn of supporting violent, jihadi Palestinian movements.



Comments (11)

  • Ivan Wels says:

    Wow! Again what a star! Into the lions’ den and coming out looking immaculate, Naomi scored a lot of winning, memorable points despite the heckling. I thought that Chris Mullin made some thoughtful points as well. Let’s hope it all transfers into support for the Palestinians who need it so much at the moment.

  • Mike Hart says:

    In the programme ‘Saul’ read out some obviously antisemitic posts from people purporting to be supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. In the heat of the discussion this was not challenged, but I am sure that the people making these posts are not socialists, after all anyone can join a facebook page.
    I think that there are racists who use (often legitimate) criticism of Israel to try to legitimise a broader racist stereotyping of the Jewish people. I have to say that when I’ve challenged this kind of behaviour on facebook, I have not been strongly supported. I’m not sure that any other type of racism would be as tolerated.
    The picture is further muddied by the right’s attempt to smear the left. I think we have to make great efforts to challenge right wing smears, but I think there is also room to put our own house in order.

  • Alan Hearn says:

    I was impressed by Naomi’s answer to Nicky Campbell’s question on whether saying “I do not think the state of Israel should exist as it currently exists” is anti-semitic/racist, to which she replied “you can only racist against an individual”; where was Naomi (not to mention as much common sense) during The Donald’s “shitholes” debacle?

  • Alan Hearn says:

    And obviously I meant to say “you can only BE racist against an individual (and believe it or not I read it through twice before posting it – sorry).

  • Saul Freeman says:

    I’ve just seen this post.
    It’s a less than devastating attack.
    But worth pointing out the stupidity of the comments.

    Firstly, Naomi says that i cited anonymous tweets – i did no such thing. Every tweet/FB post has a screenshot of the name of the Labour Party member/activist/officer or Free Speech on Israel member.

    Second, i didn’t allege they were from an “associate” of hers – i very plainly said that some were from members of her own group (Free Speech on Israel).

    Third, she suggests i can send her the evidence for “checking”. I spent no more than 1 hour gathering evidence of antisemitism from members of her own private & moderated group. If she gave a damn she could spend 1 hour of her own time and find the same evidence. Instead i’m gong to take the time to post a thread with screenshots of the antisemitism of her own members, this weekend if i get the chance.

    Fourthly, she posts a link to a piece i wrote for Harry’s Place (which she erroneously describes as anti-Palestinian) as evidence that i use the terms antisemitism & antizionism interchangably. In fact, the piece she links to does no such thing and describes how an article using antisemitic tropes and quoting from the Holocaust denying Journal of Historical Review was published by the LSE Centre for Human Rights in 2015…/whispering-in-the-lift-on…/

    Lastly, she then links to another piece i wrote about the personal experience of being on the end of leftist antisemitism and she says i accused Corbyn of supporting “violent jihadi Palestinian movements”. The piece was not about Corbyn, but of course – he has done exactly that and anybody who chooses to deny that is simply not engaging with the facts.

  • admin says:

    Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi replies:

    Saul Freeman alleged on The Big Questions that members of Free Speech on Israel have made antisemitic comments on social media. Since I’m a member of FSOI, such people would be my associates. So far I’ve seen no evidence to bear out his allegation. By the way, most of the thousands of people who post to FSOI are not members. If any member turned out to hold genuinely antisemitic views, ie hostility, discrimination or prejudice against Jews because they are Jews, they would rapidly cease to be members.

    Freeman says he has screenshots showing the names of these alleged antisemites, but he doesn’t provide them. We are far too busy working our socks off to build a united, anti-racist Labour Party to trawl through his twitter feed to find them. FSOI monitors its social media as best it can to remove any abusive content, so if the alleged comments were ever on FSOI social media, they’re unlikely to be there now. Repeat offenders are banned from further posting.

    Freeman berates me for the points I’ve cited from his contributions on Harry’s Place. Both of my comments are borne out by the blog posts I refer to. Indeed, he does not deny what I say about his allegations against Corbyn.

    His other complaint is difficult to fathom. He is upset that I cite one of his blogs as evidence that he equates antisemitism and antiZionism. No, his whole modus operandi is evidence of that. What I was pointing out was his explicit determination to do so. If you check the references in my original post, you’ll see him talking about what he calls “student-Left obsessive anti-Semitism”. Freeman adds in parentheses “I publicly refuse from hereon in to toe the line and refer to it as “anti-Zionism”.”

    Finally, Freeman pointedly ignores my reference to his organisation’s role in trying to suppress pro-Palestinian discourse. No amount of posing as a disappointed former Labour supporter can disguise the fact that Labour Against Antisemitism, like its twin Campaign Against Antisemitism, were formed and exist solely to defend Israel – a state currently close friends with rightwing white supremacists in the White House and around the world.

  • Ricardo says:

    Anna Turley is a Labour MP, not a Labour Friends of Israel MP.

  • Saul Freeman says:

    Just in case you haven’t seen it, you may now want to check the evidence I have posted.

    Not because you asked me to & not because i want to help you clear out the filth from under your own bed. That’s your job. I posted it so others can see who and what you and your groups actually are.


    • Mike Cushman says:

      You did post this and as we pointed out you are totally wrong. The offending post came from someone called Matt Wright and we responded to you:
      “That’s interesting I’ve just checked and Matt Wright is not and, as far as I can determine, never has been a member of the FSOI facebook group.”

  • Mike Cushman says:

    It is striking that in all the screenshots Freeman posts there is no reference to the ‘Holohoax’ that he claimed, on the TV programme to have seen.

    Freeman is deliberately confusing ‘members’ of a facebook group with members of an organisation. Like many people, I am a ‘member’ of many facebook groups that I am not sympathetic to because I wish to get notifications of what is posted there. I would not expect my posts on a totally different group to be interpreted as belonging in any sense to a random group I am a ‘member’ of.

    As an admin of the Free Speech on Israel facebook group I play my part in reviewing all requests to join the group. This is a tedious job and is necessarily, as any admin of any busy group will tell you, necessarily light touch. I, and my fellow admins, will decline the request of any person who seems to have antisemitic, islamaphobic, misogynistic or other discriminatory posts in their stream (where they are visible).

    More systematically we keep an eye on what is posted on our page and delete inappropriate content and block members who breach our rules. Most often we delete pro-actively; sometimes reactively when a post we have missed is pointed out to us.

    It is notable that Freeman cites nothing from our own facebook page.

    His whole approach is smear and guilt by association. If he had any damning evidence of antisemitism from the real members of FSOI I am sure he would broadcast it loud and long. His failure to provide any such evidence is the proof of his malicious intent and political agenda.

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