Pete Willsman and the Al Jazeera ‘documentary’ that he gets his information from – David Hirsh

From the Guardian:

Pete Willsman, an ally of Jeremy Corbyn, … said the Jewish state was behind some of the antisemitism allegations – which he described as “total lies” – that have engulfed the party.

In a recording first disclosed by the radio station LBC, Willsman said: “It’s almost certain who is behind all this antisemitism against Jeremy: almost certainly, it was the Israeli embassy.

“They caught somebody in the Labour party who it turns out is an agent in the embassy.”

Last year 68 rabbis from different religious and political traditions made a joint statement that they were worried about Labour’s antisemitism problem. Willsman responded furiously, in a speech to Labour’s National Executive Committee, in front of the leaders of the Party, including Jeremy Corbyn.

He demanded that the rabbis provide evidence, implying that there was no evidence of Labour antisemitism, and saying that he had never seen any. He then said that some of the people in the Jewish community who are concerned about antisemitism in Labour are ‘Trump fanatics’. And then he said: ‘I am not going to be lectured to by Trump fanatics making up duff information without any evidence at all.’

When Willsman slips these three claims slip into each other, you are left with the allegation that people within the Labour Party who are worried about antisemitism have no evidence, because there is no antisemitism, and they are only saying there is because they’re Trump fanatics.

This is classic Livingstone Formulation. People, mainly Jews, raise the issue of antisemitism as a dirty and dishonest way of trying to silence criticism of Israel and trying to smear the left because it criticises Israel.

That is how Labour Jews get drummed out of the Party, politically and then physically; they are accused of being hostile to the left and agents of the right and of Israel.

On 4 September 2018, when Willsman returned to Labour HQ from his token suspension, he was cheered into the building.

The source of his latest claims, that Labour people who worry about antisemitism are in fact doing the bidding of the Israeli embassy is an Al Jazeera documentary which was  called ‘The Lobby’.

This was my own account, written in January 2017, of being secretly spied on by the people making that Al Jazeera film.

The film is being relied on right across the Labour party today as justification for what Willsman said. It is being referred to in every Labour forum.

The Al Jazeera spy introduced himself to me as “Robin Harrow”. I met him in the House of Commons as I was leaving the Labour Friends of Israel event at which I had spoken, following the release of the Chakrabarti Inquiry, and on the same day as Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance at the Select Committee inquiry into antisemitism.

I was with my wife, who speaks German and who knows Germany. He said he had studied at the Freie Universitat Berlin. She asked if he’d known a friend of hers who had taken Jewish Studies there. He didn’t think so.

I sent him links to my work to read. He wrote back later saying he was particularly impressed by the “Livingstone Concept”. He wrote that it was an “eye opener”.

He asked if we could have dinner or lunch. I told him that I would be away most of the summer. He came back to me in September and asked for a meeting. I invited him to Goldsmiths. He said he wanted to talk about setting up a youth wing of Labour Friends of Israel.

In December, a friend of mine who works in one of the institutions of the Jewish community emailed me to tell me that “Harrow” was a spy. Initially I didn’t even remember who he was. I looked on my calendar and my email and vaguely remembered.

I hadn’t been alert, I hadn’t been suspicious. It isn’t unusual that somebody wants to meet me to talk about my work on antisemitism and its relationship to hostility to Israel.

I couldn’t remember what I had said to him. I remember asking him if he had come from an ‘anti-Deutsch’ political tradition – quite a few people I know who are serious about opposing contemporary antisemitism are German and come, broadly, from that kind of politics.

When I was told he was a spy, I couldn’t remember what I had said to him. I was anxious. When I write, I am careful to express myself precisely and unambiguously. When I am chatting with somebody I trust, over coffee, I’m likely to slip into shorthand, which is possible because there are shared understandings and shared meanings. I was trying to remember if I had been showing off, making bad jokes or using shorthand; if I had said anything which would look stupid or bad from the outside if it was taken out of context. I still don’t know. I’m glad I didn’t appear in the film. I was nervous about what might emerge. As it turned out, nearly everybody who was portrayed in the film had not done or said anything wrong at all. But there was still an attempt to make them look menacing.

He asked me about the connections between lobbying groups and Israel. I think, from memory, that I told him that Israel isn’t very good at fighting antisemitism in the diaspora; that it doesn’t prioritize it, that it isn’t good at understanding it and that what it does is largely counter productive; and that it ought to do much more to fight antisemitism and it ought to do it much better. Fighting antisemitism is one of the purposes for which Israel exists.

I think I told him that his project of setting up a youth LFI was a hugely difficult project – that we are anyway always accused of ‘lobbying for Israel’ – and that that accusation itself often constituted an antisemitic allegation of conspiracy. I told him that it would be difficult to attract young people to such a project.

I think I probably told him to find out if there was a danger of conflict between LFI and the Jewish Labour Movement – that he should talk to both. In any case, this would not have helped Al Jazeera to portray all the organisations as a single lobby organised by a foreign power.

I was interested in him, and how he had come to want to engage in this kind of politics. I told him about my mum, who had been born in Germany and had to leave in 1938. He told me about his English dad and his German mum – and how they had met, I can’t remember where, somewhere outside Germany.

So, I was left with fear. Perhaps I had said something stupid, something indiscreet, something which would make me look bad; perhaps it could cause me trouble in my job or perhaps it could harm my reputation. I don’t mean to suggest that I say or think something different in private from what I say in public. I don’t. But I think one may express oneself differently according to what one’s audience knows and understands.

The fear still lingers. Probably, I didn’t say anything stupid; because I’m not stupid; but I doubt myself. Compare with Donald Trump, who insisted that it is impossible for Putin to have anything compromising on him because he has never said or done anything compromising. My own response is to fear, and to doubt myself and to be anxious.

I am also angry. This man who posed as somebody who had read, understood and liked my work, this man who said he wanted to learn from me, at my university, was actually an antisemite who was hoping to portray me in an antisemitic way as part of an antisemtic project. Of course it is likely that he doesn’t understand himself as an antisemite at all. He understands himself as a hero of the Palestinian revolution. Or whatever. But he had read my work. He should know better.

He wanted to smoke after we had coffee, so we went to sit outside, at the front of the main building at Goldsmiths. Some of the covert photography in the film was done with a long lens from afar in public places. So this little antisemitic spy, or his collaborators, or his handlers, probably had a camera crew across the road or in a car with a lens pointed at me.

In the end, this guy was a very small guy and this project was a very small and ineffective project – and they did not get anything from me at all – so far as I know. Good. But the feeling of being lied to by an antisemite over coffee lingers.

And that he was German grates a little too. Perhaps it shouldn’t. But my family and my wife’s family – and pretty well every Jewish person I know’s family – has been profoundly impacted by German antisemites. As I said, a large proportion of the people who oppose contemporary antisemitsm are German – but this guy didn’t oppose it, he was part of it.

David Hirsh

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