Nick Cohen – a critique

JVL Introduction

On Sunday 8th July 2018 the Observer published an article by Nick Cohen entitled Why has Labour run the risk of alienating progressive Jews?

In this opinion piece, David Pavett dissects Cohen’s argument and shows it lacking in substance. It makes you wonder what the Observer/Guardian thought it was doing in publishing the piece…

Nick Cohen’s tour de force on Labour antisemitism

David Pavett writes:

On Sunday 8th July 2018 the Observer published an article by Nick Cohen entitled Why has Labour run the risk of alienating progressive Jews? The piece is a culmination of three years of constant repetition in the mainstream media of accusations of antisemitism against Corbyn supporters, the Labour Party and the left in general. This repetition has included the use of a tiny number of cases of alleged antisemitism some of which are factually incorrect. Once this type of evidence-lite commentary was established as a media norm some journalists felt emboldened to increase the scope of their exaggerations and the force of their vitriol against the Labour leadership. So it is with this article by Nick Cohen.

David Pavett’s critique of Nick Cohen [see text below] can be downloaded as a PDF which will be easier to read.

Since Cohen’s article purports to be a critique of the new NEC code of conduct on antisemitism, you might also like to consult that document here.


David is a retired teacher having taught mathematics, physics, philosophy and computing science in Further Education and to secondary school sixth formers. He is an active member of the Brentford and Isleworth Constituency Labour Party. He has a particular interest in how Labour Party policy. Last year he organised a widely circulated collection of reviews of the policy statements produced by the National Policy Forum. He is currently doing the same for the current policy review drafts.

Comments (19)

  • John says:

    The Guardian historically has always been a zionist mouthpiece and Nick Cohen has always been their main choice of in-house mouthpiece.
    I not only lack all respect for The Guardian – I also lack all respect for Cohen too.
    I would not read his trash nor would I read any of the other trash that masquerades as so-called “progressive” commentrary from The Guardian.
    Remember GIGO = Garbage In, Garbage Out.
    The Guardian = The Garbage.

  • Justin Schlosberg says:

    Thank you, David, for this essential fact checking exercise

  • Mike Scott says:

    I’ve already rubbished this article to despairing local Labour members, but not as well as this! This sort of easily disproved nonsense must be challenged and i do think JVL should take it up with both the Observer and the Guardian. It’s one thing giving space to disparate views and quite another to print dangerous and inflammatory lies.

  • Stephen Law says:

    Thanks David – nice job.

  • Any discussion about Nick Cohen is not complete without a reference to this sage’s article:

    ‘Don’t tell me you weren’t warned about Corbyn’

    In this article, written shortly b4 last year’s General Election, Nick gave us the benefit of his advice. Advice which we ignored at our peril:

    On current polling, Labour will get around a quarter of the vote. ….The Tories have gone easy on Corbyn and his comrades to date for the transparently obvious reason that they want to keep them in charge of Labour.

    In an election, they would tear them to pieces. They will expose the far left’s record of excusing the imperialism of Vladimir Putin’s gangster state , the oppressors of women and murderers of gays in Iran, the IRA, and every variety of inquisitorial and homicidal Islamist movement, … Will there be 150, 125, 100 Labour MPs by the end of the flaying? My advice is to think of a number then halve it.’

    Those of you who are not completely blinkered will now understand why the Guardian employs this very considerable talent!!

    I realise that Dave is simply concerned to reject Cohen’s ill informed diatribe but he is too defensive. It does need to be stated that the WHOLE of the IHRA is wrong and that includes the opening introduction which is deliberately vague and ill-defined, which as Stephen Sedley says, renders it absurd as a definition.

    Other things are equally problematic. Accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel than their own state. As someone who has no loyalty to any state I doubt this is true on an individual level. Some Jews do identify with Israel more than the countries they live in are born in. What is more worrying is that Israel and the Zionist movement positively demand this. A few years ago the US Embassy put out a questionnaire asking what would people do in the event of a crisis in relations between Israel and the USA.

    I, like many others, have often been accused of being a ‘traitor’. What else is this if not a demand that Jews should be loyal to Israel/Zionism?

    And if ‘holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel is antisemitic’ which it is, then stating that Israel is the fulfilment of Jewish national self determination is also anti-Semitic!

    E.g. it is quite acceptable to say that the British people bear a responsibility for Britain’s crimes in Ireland because they are carried out in their name and allegedly on their behalf. If the Jewish relationship to Israel is indeed a similar one of British people to the British state then they do indeed bear collective responsibility for what is carried out in their name.

  • Stephen Bellamy says:

    I wonder if Cohen thinks this right to define is a universal principle in which case it would extend to Palestine Arabs. This would of course confirm Israel as a racist state.

  • John Lipetz says:

    I agree with Mike Scott’s comment. JVL should write to the Guardian and Observer. I read the article and found it disgraceful.

  • Jaye says:

    Nick Cohen has stretched the truth in many of his comments, not always, but every word has been carefully picked over in this JVL article.

    Contrast this with no scrutiny whatsoever, ever, applied in JVL articles that talk of apartheid, massacres, atrocities, colonialism, stolen land – only with respect to one entity of course – and nary a word about fact-checking or any questioning of such absurd generalities and blood libels against fellow Jews.

    Lastly, fact-checking shows time and again, that Corbyn and his core admirers disdain Israel as an entity and despise mainstream Jews, and that my friends is antisemitism.

  • David Pavett says:

    Thank you to those who have made kind comments on my piece.

    There are many different ways to criticise articles like the one by Nick Cohen that I commented on. I chose to keep things completely focused on what he wrote. The problem with bringing loads of other points is that discussion immediately explodes with more and more side-taking on those points and less and less listening. No one with a sense of journalistic integrity could have written what Nick Cohen wrote in that article. I felt that it was enough to establish that clearly in this one case without referring to all the other terrible stuff he has written. It was a response to his article and not a piece about Nick Cohen.

    I agree that the whole IHRA document should be questioned starting with its very poor definition of antisemitism. I would have preferred that the Labour Party did not feel itself to be on the defensive under the media onslaught. I would have preferred too that the combined brain power of the NEC could have come up with something better without measuring itself against the IHRA.

    The pity is though, that the general level of discussion in the LP about issues like this is not strong so the NEC guidelines are probably the best we can expect for the time being. In the right hands it can help to deal with the tiny number of cases of antisemitism in the Party in an appropriate manner (which could range from explanation and education to disciplinary action up to and including expulsion) while avoiding collateral damage.

    If the LP ever gets round to learning how to organise informed debate for the whole membership then the guidelines will need to be revisited. But until that happy day my feeling is that this is the best we are going to get. It has avoided the damaging consequences of taking the advice of people like Nick Cohen and those who argue like him.

  • I would just like to say thank you for allowing us to comment – the other articles I have accessed on this subject, recently, from Adam Langleben’s Twitter feed, such as the Jewish Chronicle and Sky News, have not.

  • Dave says:

    Surely this part that accuses us of baiting Jews for Islamic votes – which other writers have said in papers like the Times – is something the Guardian must apologise for.

    “From Labour’s point of view, the toleration of antisemitism is in its interests. Just as Viktor Orbán can target Muslim refugees as there are hardly any Muslims in Hungary, so Labour faces few electoral costs from baiting Britain’s tiny Jewish minority. Labour now needs the Muslim vote, and antisemitic prejudice is higher among Muslims than the general population. Although it is false to say all Muslims are antisemites, it is true to point out that antisemitism is endemic among the political Islamists who back Corbyn.”

  • Robert Brady says:

    Ive sent the following email to the Editor of the Observer:
    Nick Cohen’s 7th July article (the Labour Party’s decision to ignore a widely accepted definition of anti-semitism simply beggars belief) claims that the “IHRA working definition is accepted by thousands of public bodies.” This is Nick at his most disingenuous. He knows full well this definition has been the subject of much criticism over the years despite uncritical acceptance by some public bodies.
    Stephen Sedley – renowned international juror and high court judge – has noted that this definition, adopted the IHRA in May 2016 was the same as the one presented by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, in 2005. This definition was followed by a series of 11 examples of what might constitute anti-semitism.
    In 2013 both the definition and the illustrations were dropped by the Fundamental Rights Agency, the body with overall authority in Europe.
    The 2016 IHRA composite text was commented on by Sedley in the London Review of Books 4th May 2017 because the “definition seemed clumsy, open ended and slanted… conflating criticism of Israel with anti-semitism.”
    The Labour Party has rightly rejected the illustrations as too subjective; inclusion would clearly disqualify the text as a definition.

  • Jaye says:

    Dave, what is untrue about this statement?
    “Although it is false to say all Muslims are antisemites, it is true to point out that antisemitism is endemic among the political Islamists who back Corbyn.” Maybe fact-check it and apologise to the Guardian.

    The Labour Party needs a respectable leader to regain power and Corbyn reeks of everything that will ensure the Tories stay in power despite their desire to self-destruct. He’s a frightening prospect not only to most Jews but to most Jewish Labour voters like myself.

  • David Pavett says:

    @Jaye. (1) The quotation you give was not used in my piece. So asking about something I did not comment on rather that responding to the things I did comment on amounts to saying ‘yeah, yeah, he said all those untrue things” but didn’t he say something else that is true?’. If one is accused of making false statements it is not a defence to argue that one once said something that is true.

    (2) On consideration Nick Cohen’s claim even on this turns out to be more of his bombast. The political islamists that I have come across, or read about, are not interested in open democratic politics. Most of them reject the very idea. So who are “the political islamists who back Corbyn”? Are they members of the Labour Party? Do they exist in significant numbers? I have no information on any of this. Perhaps you could provide us with some.

  • Jaye says:

    David, I was responding to Dave’s comment above.

    With regard to your critique itself I commented earlier, above, that while you have scrutinised and found some Cohen comments inaccurate no such scrutiny is ever applied to JVL articles which contain outrageous unsupported accusations and blood libels against fellow Jews. Hate speech towards Israel and Israeli Jews always gets a pass despite JVL declaring that it stands for “Justice for Jews” everywhere. Where is the evidence of that if we’re into fact-checking?

    • Mike Cushman says:

      If you can show us a blood libel on our site we will deal with it prompt;y.

  • Dave says:

    David, it was me she was replying to.

    And I would make the same point as you – who are “the political islamists who back Corbyn”? I think we should be told. I would welcome any insight into whether they are in say my constituency Labour membership (Hackney).

  • Jaye says:

    Blood libels on JVL Mike? OK, here’s one for starters and I didn’t have to look far, it’s a JVL lead article.

    Article Headline 31 March:
    “JVL statement on the massacre in Gaza” .. not very subtle but JVL couldn’t wait to declare the action of Israeli Jews a massacre (= blood libel)
    Article Content 31 March:
    “We support the UN Secretary-General’s calls for an independent and transparent investigation into these incidents. We stand for justice for all (sic).”

  • frank says:

    When unarmed people are shot by heavily armed people, it is usually called a massacre.

Comments are now closed.