Threats and bullying lead to Ken Loach’s withdrawal as anti-racism competition judge

This is a statement from supporters of film director Ken Loach following his withdrawal from the role of judge in the annual School Competition run by Show Racism the Red Card.


Show Racism the Red Card and Ken Loach – a statement from his supporters

  • Threats and bullying lead to Ken Loach’s withdrawal as competition judge
  • Anti-racism charity’s funding put at risk by unfounded allegations

Film director Ken Loach has withdrawn as a judge in the 2020 School Competition run by respected anti-racism charity Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC).

The charity announced on February 4 that Ken Loach and author and former children’s laureate Michael Rosen were to judge this year’s competition, which involves thousands of schoolchildren in hundreds of schools producing poetry, drama, films and other forms of creative work on combating racism. Loach, Rosen and SRtRC were then subjected to an aggressive and abusive campaign both on-line and in print media, making baseless accusations of antisemitism against Ken Loach in particular.

In response to these allegations actor and comedian Steve Coogan said: “His entire career has been to shine a light on the plight of the dispossessed and the disenfranchised.  His films have given a voice to the voiceless.….Ken Loach’s legacy will remain long after his critics have gone.”

Ken Loach’s work as a campaigning film director has, over decades, consistently exposed inhumanity, inequality and injustice, from Cathy Come Home (1966) and Kes (1969), to I, Daniel Blake (2016). The vitriolic attacks mounted against him treated his contribution to combating social injustice with complete contempt.

More insidiously the attacks on Ken Loach and Michael Rosen were complemented by pressure behind the scenes on the charity itself, including from Government; pressure on football clubs who partner with SRtRC; and threats to jeopardise SRtRC’s charitable status.

As pressure on SRtRC mounted Ken Loach received overwhelming support from more than 200 eminent public figures, including Eric Cantona, Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Mark Rylance, John McDonnell MP, Dame Marina Warner, fellow filmmaker Mike Leigh, ex-minister for education Baroness Blackstone, Kenny MacAskill, former justice minister of Scotland, and over 30 national executive members of the National Education Union.

In letters sent to the charity’s Trustees they said: “In our fractious and still deeply racist society, their work [Ken Loach and Michael Rosen] promotes decency, understanding and kindness.”

The signatories said that the calls, made by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, for Ken Loach’s removal as a competition judge “clearly reflect political differences, including over Israel-Palestine”. “Legitimate political differences” they said “must not be allowed to undermine unity against a common threat from the far right and racists.”

On March 4th SRtRC’s Trustees reaffirmed the choice of judges, and endorsed the earlier statement by chief executive Ged Grebby that Rosen and Loach were both ideally qualified  to choose the competition winners. However, the charity was then subjected to further intense behind-the-scenes pressure, which threatened to wreck not only the competition and Ken Loach’s reputation, but the charity’s very existence.

In discussions between Ken Loach and SRtRC, it became clear that the charity has been the subject of an aggressive campaign to persuade trade unions, government departments, football clubs and politicians to cease funding or otherwise supporting the charity and its work (for example, training teachers to deal with racism in the classroom; and working with football clubs around the country to involve more young Asian men and women in the game). Threats were also made to its charitable status. The priorities of those involved in this campaign – which threatened to destroy an important and admirable anti-racist charity – deserve critical scrutiny.

It also got personal. Members of the charity’s staff were insulted and threatened, and 83-year-old Ken Loach and members of his family were subjected to personal abuse online. This is the background to the statement today announcing his withdrawal as a competition judge. SRTRC paid tribute to the work Loach has done over many years in combating racism, which has led to him being a member of their Hall of Fame.

The allegations made against Ken Loach lean heavily on a deeply controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance document that attempts to redefine antisemitism so as to conflate it with criticism of Zionism and of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Ken Loach has publicly supported pro-Palestinian Labour Party members who have been accused of antisemitism for such criticisms.

In recent weeks, there has been a further wave of pressure on Show Racism the Red Card to break its links with Ken Loach, based on a response he had made in February 2019 to a request for support from Peter Gregson, a member of the GMB union. Gregson claimed that the GMB was victimising him for his opposition to the IHRA version of antisemitism, and he asked Ken Loach’s advice on a video he had made in support of his appeal against expulsion from the union. Loach responded briefly by email, commenting on the video’s technical short-comings and affirming that its political case was sound. Ken Loach was unaware at that time of some disturbing behaviour and other comments attributed to Peter Gregson that were antisemitic.

Loach said: “I find Peter Gregson’s views and behaviour utterly reprehensible and I unequivocally reject his antisemitism.  His misogynistic bullying of a young Jewish woman in the GMB union was also appalling. Had I been aware of these views and behaviour when he approached me, I categorically would not have engaged with him. I entirely support the GMB’s decision in expelling Peter Gregson.”

Ken Loach explained that his film company, Sixteen Films, has a small staff of five people who are frequently overwhelmed by requests for support from a range of campaigns and worthy causes. “Our day job is making films,” Loach said. “We try to help and respond to people in good faith. This leaves us vulnerable to giving support to those to whom it should be denied. This has clearly happened in this case. An error on my part, for which I have apologised.”

SRTRC has made clear that they do not believe that Ken Loach is an antisemite, nor that he supports antisemitic views.

The campaign of vilification against Ken Loach, Show Racism the Red Card and those who supported them, has involved damaging and distressing online abuse that should have no place in anti-racism work.  It is completely unacceptable that Ken and members of his family, and Michael Rosen too, have been subject to abuse.

SRtRC is a small organisation with an unparalleled record of promoting anti-racism within schools and football clubs. It has reached tens of thousands of young people around the country, every year for the past 25 years.  This educational work is more vital than ever in face of the threat posed by the growth of far-right movements in the UK and internationally. The attacks reveal the priorities of those willing to put all this at risk.

These attacks on SRtRC and Ken Loach are dangerously divisive. They carry the danger of pitting minorities and their diverse community organisations against one another. This cannot be afforded and should not be tolerated at a time when society stands in urgent need of unity in fighting all forms of racism, discrimination and bigotry, together, wherever they occur.


Comments (55)

  • David Roger says:

    Absolutely shocked that everyone has given in . Giving in looks like guilt and it will come back to haunt us all

  • Edward Hill says:

    Take pride in the heroic concerted stance of the Loach defence, in resisting for a while the relentless, merciless attack of a side that has been carrying all before it since 2015; such a shame that the match was lost in the end through an ‘own goal’ under the ‘guilt-by-association’ rule.

  • Alison hall says:

    This is totally outrageous!!! How come a small group of people who purport to speak for the whole of the Jewish community but in fact speak only for a minority can wield so much power. How is this being allowed to happen. All those that disagree with the Board of Deputies description of Ken Loach and his work as anti-semitic should be shouting from the rooftops that they do not support this kind of bullying from a small minority of power hungry people. Criticising the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians is NOT anti-semitic. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise! We all have the right to express our feelings on behaviour we find abhorrent yet we are being shut down because a small group of people don’t like what is being said. Do not let them take your voice away.

  • Total support for Loach and Rosen. Freedom of speech?

  • Jenny Kassman says:

    I totally agree with Alison. I’m disgusted at what has happened to Ken Loach & have nothing but contempt for the BoD & its cronies, both here in the U.K. & in Israel. As Alison noted, the power these people have is alarming as well as damaging to all people & institutions that oppose racism in all its forms. I really don’t know how, but we at JVL need to up our game & make our voice heard far more widely – and not just to Guardian readers.

  • TM says:

    This bullying behaviour is so shameful. What a terrible message it gives to young people that anti-racists, as indeed Ken Loach and Michael Rosen are,
    can be so vilified. To my mind, these bullies are doing the job that the Far Right would love to do which is to attack anyone who stands firm with the Oppressed. We must find ways to combat this atrocious behaviour. What are the prospective Labour Leaders saying? So far, only Burgon and Butler have resisted the BoD demands. And what of the Guardian? I can see nothing from them online. Disgraceful. But like all bullies in history they will fly too near the sun.

  • Ray Aplin says:

    Ken Loach is a beacon of inspiration in his unrelenting support for the oppressed and victimised in communities around the world.

  • Chris Owen says:

    When organisations behave as tyrants, even when they are supported by the whole of the media, their credibility slowly declines across the society. It takes time but eventually even the establishment recognised they can no longer support them. I said ten years ago thT the Palestinians had won their cause because the intelligentsia had turned against them. That opposition grows every day and every week. It just takes a long time

  • Paul says:

    Very shocking that these bullies should have won after the relief I felt when so many good people had rallied to Ken and Michael’s defence and apparently had been successful.

    The Labour leadership contenders have all ignored my questions to them about the Board of Deputies.
    It all starts to make the common trope about unduly powerful partisan influence behind the scenes appear to deserve more credence than one wants to believe.

  • prof Ellie Palmer says:

    Hopefully, before too long, the voices of truth and reason will come back to bite Keir Starmer’s shameful uncritical subservience to the demands of the Board of Deputies

  • Joe Kilker says:

    ‘The priorities of those involved in this campaign – which threatened to destroy an important and admirable anti-racist charity – deserve critical scrutiny.’

    Loach’s withdrawal implies that that won’t happen.

  • John C says:

    This is just crazy.

  • Trevor Hoyle says:

    Addressed to Ken Loach: Please reconsider your decision, Ken. I know it’s difficult and you are under immense personal and professional pressure from these bullies, but they will count this as a victory and it will spur them on to continue their disgraceful campaign of vilification against all those who support Palestinian rights. You have the full support of hundreds of thousands of people in this country.

    • Mike Cushman says:

      It was not Ken’s decision. He worked hard to stop SRtRC giving in to the extraordinary pressure they were put under but in the end they gave way

  • Marge Berer says:

    Can I suggest two things: 1) Send this disheartening report to all the leadership and deputy leadership candidates right away and ask them to make public statements on where they stand on it, and to share their statements with all members of the Labour Party, to help us decide who to vote for. 2) Start a petition using this report as the text, in coalition with other like-minded groups, asking people to sign in support of Ken Loach and the charity and asking people to share it with all their friends and colleagues and then send the signatures in a press release to all the media to report. I’m happy to help with that from home. (Probably use a petition website.) Is this virus not enough to make these hate campaigns disappear? If not now, when?

  • Alan Marsden says:

    The persecution of Ken Loach and Michael Rosen brings the latter clauses in the IHRA definition of Anti-Semitism into further disrepute. They are inimical to Free Speech on Israel/Palestine and Zionism. They have recently been rejected by Four major Canadian Cities. Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and Calgary. Those municipal authorities, political parties and others who have supported this deeply flawed document must reconsider their position.

  • Charlotte Moore says:

    The Board Of Deputies should be utterly ashamed of themselves they are a disgusting right wing organisation. The children have lost a great judge and mentor for film making and as a person who has fought social injustice and racism throughout his adult life.

  • Jim Smith says:

    Would like to see this story given the same prominence on the BBC as was given to so many spurious tales of anti Semitic bullying by Labour Party members. Sadly,if it is mentioned at all,will probably be Nick Robinson interviewing Ian Austin who will be allowed a lengthy insult strewn diatribe without challenge.

  • Trevor Hoyle says:

    In reply to Mike Cushman: the headline speaks of Ken’s “withdrawal” which to me means it was his decision to withdraw. Otherwise the headline is misleading. So did he withdraw of his own accord or was he forced to withdraw? These details matter, so we can fully understand the process of his standing down.

  • John Spencer says:

    Solidarity with Ken Loach. The filthy campaign against him by the Board of Deputies of British Jews exposes their hatred of any consistent struggle against racism. We should be hearing from the Labour leadership and deputy leadership candidates who have fallen in with the list of demands brazenly advanced by the BoD with the aim of silencing supporters of Palestinian rights.

  • Mary Dwyer says:

    Another compassionate and decent man bullied by individuals and groups. A tragic state of affairs.

  • Gail says:

    I support Loach and Rosen more than ever. BOD do not support democracy, human rights, equality or free speech, that has always been clear.

  • Graham lewinton says:

    These bullying lobbies are the biggest danger to our democracy ever ,and should be closed down and removed ,

  • Andrew Nichols says:

    When will someone stand up and take the bullies to court and sue the f..k out of them?

  • Lynn says:

    They did the same to Jeremy Corbyn. Disgraceful

  • Bramble says:

    Sadly, it seems that those who support the repression of the Palestinians do not care a fig about racism, only about protecting Israel from just criticism.

  • Wolfy Nader says:

    This is manipulation by a foreign government and should be stopped. They should sue..

  • Sandra Hague says:

    I am appalled by the treatment of Ken Loach and Michael Rosen ,two people who have spent their lives opposing injustice in all forms.This is totally unacceptable and it is high time the state intervened and made it clear such bullying behaviour on behalf of powerful vested interest will no longer be tolerated

  • RH says:

    Beyond the individual, the very real danger is that the disgusting behaviour of the right-wing Israel Lobby, represented by the BoD, will transmute into wider antagonism towards the wider Jewish community – i.e real antisemitism. by association. There is no doubt that fanatical Zionism has now become a major threat to that community.

  • Miriam Yagud says:

    The bullying that has happened here is dreadful and it’s clear that Ken Loach has withdrawn to protect STtRC.
    What is needed for people to understand why this has happened, is to expose the organisations, trade unions and charity commission who have put the squeeze on the charity that has forced Ken Loach to withdraw. What is concerning is the blatant attack on an antiracist organisation that can only lead to the weakening of the campaign to eradicate it.
    The history of the Board of Deputies is littered with such behaviour. It’s their modus operandi.

  • This breaks my heart. Ken Loach is a hero who has spent his life fighting injustice.
    Meanwhile, the silence of the Labour leadership candidates is deafening. What is so hard about saying that Israel is a state like any other, and its government’s policies are open to criticism like any others?

  • Tony Piper says:

    Ken Loach is a National Treasure. His detractors are obviously in favour of the social injustices, including racism, which Ken’s life’s work is dedicated to exposing.

  • Amanda Knopp says:

    How disgusting.
    Imho, Ken Loach is a shining star, speaking out for the dispose.
    It seems, as with Mr Corbyn, that does not count for anything, in this warped, paranoid world we inhabit.

  • Richard Kuper says:

    Great tweet from Yanis Varoufakis: “This is a terrible, sad scandal. Our loud condemnation should not be allowed to be drowned by our, legitimate, Covid-19 concerns. We must stand up for one of the most decent human beings alive today: Ken Loach.”

  • Gavin says:

    The Board of Deputies (BoD) have done their despicable work. The postwar history of Black Minority Ethnic activism has been anti-racist concerns for equal opportunity, fair distribution of wealth and freedom from police/juridical persecution. The entire postwar activism of the BoD has not been concerned with these issues of Britishness but to defend foreign Israeli Apartheid domination. We now have a situation where LGBTQ people can be warned of the dangers of North Carolina but Black Britons can’t be warned of the racist dangers of parts of Apartheid Israel. And genuine friends of minority Britons – Loach, Corbyn, Livingstone – are treated as pariahs, while the bigots of the BoD are treated as acceptable.
    If a foreign Apartheid country is now beyond criticism for racism, how long before the right to criticise the racism of our own police, education system and government is taken away from us?

  • Shame on anyone who criticises Ken Loach, his works are his word, fantastic example IMO for Stand up to Racism.

  • Ian Ampleford says:

    It’s unfortunate that the Board Of Deputies and their cohorts have succeeded, once again, to hound and troll an ethical anti-racist along with his friends and family. They are a reprehensible group that must be sidelined and ignored. They do not speak for or represent all UK Jews. To claim this is anti-semitic.

  • Anthony evans says:

    British board of deputies again! When are people going to realise they are a Tory front . They have no interest in anti racism or they would condemn the racist actions of Israel!

  • Ian says:

    Betting we’ll hear nothing from the “free speech activists” on this

  • Brian Murray says:

    In response to these allegations actor and comedian Steve Coogan said: “His entire career has been to shine a light on the plight of the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. His films have given a voice to the voiceless.….Ken Loach’s legacy will remain long after his critics have gone.”

  • Paul Smith says:

    ‘ it became clear that the charity has been the subject of an aggressive campaign’. Can we have individual names please?

  • Alison says:

    How disgraceful. I’m afraid it is absolutely not okay to call people, like me, who have concerns about some of the political choices made by the Israeli Government, racist. Many Jewish people share my concerns and many Jewish people did not vote for the current Israeli government. Are they also anti Semitic?

  • Catherine Glynn says:

    I am desperately sad to read this,KL and MR are is happening to our world when people like these are demonised?We must stand together and shout for our beliefs. We are all human..we all count equally(or we should)

  • Trevor Bending says:

    Why are there so many Jewish organisations, like JVL, in America, Britain and Israel, who stand up for Palestinian rights?
    What price peace in Israel now?
    Coronavirus is hitting Israel hard and the death toll in Gaza could be horrendous- which will suit Netanyahu and his cronies and the BoD in Britain just fine. Very sad.

  • Patrick Conway says:

    Ken Loach is a hero! He gives a voice to those who would otherwise not be heard. He is neither racist or antisemitic. SRTRC, a well meaning organisation, have miserably failed to call out ante Irish racism and ante Catholicism, here in Scotland, from one club in particular. They have a long way to go in Scotland unless this serious fault is remedied.

  • shoada patrick says:

    This is absolutely ridiculous… Ken Loach has dedicated his life to social justice… On a global level…The perpetrators of bullying are damaging any sympathy for the Antisemitic cause…

  • I did not know what means antisemitism. When Corbyn was heavily criticised as antisemitism, I could not get it. So, I went around the conferences which explained about. I understood more than before. There must be many people who do not understand what it means of ANTISEMITISM, we need an education for it and proper discussion for it as well. I have been suffering from insidious racism and intentional harassment and bullied from all sort of levels of people in society. Yet, my discrimination never ever be recognised and become a topic. And offenders have never been criticised or prosecuted. Some very unreasonable and unfairness in the society, is so obvious. Like, racism is no longer the colour of skin but who is in the power, sometime those people abuse the system and exploit.

  • Tim Towers says:

    The attacks on public figures who criticise Israel’s apartheid policies are all too familiar, and, unfortunately, successful. These attacks are relentless, well organised and have support from key political and media organisations. It is utterly depressing to see all three potential Labour leaders supinely accepting the decrees of the Board of Deputies whilst simultaneously showing an extraordinary degree of ignorance of the nature of Zionism and its inevitable consequence, the destruction of Palestinian culture, history and any hope of the restitution of their homeland. This is sometimes described as genocide. The Labour Party badly needs a formal Palestine Solidarity group within its structure. Not the ineffectual parliamentary Labour Friends of Palestine, but a pressure group operating in all CLP’s ready to challenge the lies and distortions or simple ignorance so often displayed even by Labour activists. This would be an extension of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign as a formal Labour Party campaigning pressure group. I feel sure all CLP’s will have people willing to take on such a role (Momentum would be a useful template) and they could make sure that the cause of the Palestinian people will be a focus for party action and policy.
    Many thanks to the principled and courageous Ken Loach and Michael Rosen.

  • Paddy O'Keeffe says:

    The Board of Deputies of British Jews have behaved in a disgraceful and dangerous manner. They have threatened the very existence of the anti-racist charity SRtRC and smeared the good name and reputation of Ken Loach.
    I had the honour of serving alongside Ken for a number of years on the national executive of RESPECT and know him to be a thoroughly decent and honourable man, an outstanding campaigner for justice and human rights and a courageous supporter of the Palestinian people.
    When will the Labour Party leadership and the contenders for the leadership end their shameful silence on this matter and stand up to the dangerously irresponsible bullying of decent anti-racist charities and individuals by the BoD?

  • PADDY CREAN says:

    The Board of Deputies does appear to be a far-right organisation. Israel is a rogue State in contravention of UN resolutions and will get its comeuppance when America no longer needs a base in Arabia. Condemnation of Israel’s behaviour has absolutely nothing to do with anti-semitism

  • Aneil Rallin says:

    Absolutely disgraceful for Ken Loach, who has spent a lifetime drawing our attention to social injustice, to be treated in this way.

  • Tony Dennis says:

    If anything shows up the real role and motives of organisations like the Board of Deputies and their allies, this episode does. I feel we’ve entered a sinister looking-class world when life-long anti-racists like Ken Loach and Michael Rosen can be abused, threatened and embargoed by those who claim to be opposed to racism, and especially when pressure can apparently be exerted from behind the scenes on organisations like SRTRC without any public scrutiny, or even awareness that it’s happening. It’s significant, and telling, that not a word of these events seem to have appeared in the mainstream media.

  • Tony walsh says:

    This is crazy, attacking those who are working against racism of any description. The guns should be turned on the *real* racists and anti-semites, not on those who have a history of promoting anti-racism. The Board of Deputies of British Jews only shows it’s right-wing tendencies by launching these attacks.

  • Christina Evans says:

    I am a labour member and have been a Jeremy Corbyn supporter. When Starmer was announced as the new labour leader I recieved no email. I suspect there is going to be a purge or am I paranoid? I feel Ken Loach has actively helped people like myself. With his film dramas. I feel like JLM and affiliated others do not want people like me a disabled person unable to work anymore to be a labour member. IS Keir Starmer leader of the the labour party in agreement with an organization that bullies and demeans a person who speakS out against poverty and injustice? . People like Ken Loach who identify what is happening to people in this country

  • Alanna Hornby says:

    Why do bad things keep happening to good people?
    I fully support ken Loach and Jeremy Corbyn

Comments are now closed.