Sanity, Shami Chakrabarti and the Ruth Smeeth Affair 273

At the launch of the Shami Chakrabarti report into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, black activist Marc Wadsworth said:

“I saw that the Telegraph handed a copy of a press release to Ruth Smeeth MP so you can see who is working hand in hand. If you look around this room, how many African Caribbean and Asian people are there? We need to get our house in order.”

You can see the video of him saying it on the Independent website here.

Sky News has been reporting this, I think gleefully is the word, in its headlines all afternoon as an “anti-Semitic attack” on Ms Smeeth. Sky have not however shown what he actually said, although they had cameras at the event, and their journalist who was present described the comments without qualification as anti-Semitic without saying what the comment actually was.

Mr Wadsworth denies knowing Ms Smeeth is Jewish. I have no idea if that is true; I didn’t know myself, nor care. But neither what Wadsworth actually said, not his denial that he knew she is Jewish, is being reported by the broadcast media. What is being reported very widely is Ms Smeeth’s subsequent statement:

“I was verbally attacked by a Momentum activist and Jeremy Corbyn supporter who used traditional anti-Semitic slurs to attack me for being part of a “media conspiracy”. It is beyond belief that someone could come to the launch of a report about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and espouse such vile conspiracy theories against Jewish people.”

Ms Smeeth’s statement contains one stark dishonesty. She puts “media conspiracy” in inverted commas, when Mr Wadsworth did not use the phrase, or even either of those two words separately. Ms Smeeth appears to have deliberately misrepresented what Mr Wadsworth said, which I presume she checked.

I do accept that there is a pernicious anti-semitic meme about Jewish control of the media (plus the banking system, TV and Hollywood, Bilderberg etc etc). And I do accept that these memes are offensive and should be countered, just as the Chakrabarti report states. But it seems to me an untenable interpretation of what Mr Wadsworth said to characterise it as an accusation that Jewish people control the media, as opposed to an observation about a particular action of a particular MP with a particular journalist.

This however is where I may lose some of you. It seems to me not unnatural that, as the Chakrabarti report was the subject of the meeting, the idea of anti-semitic memes was at the front of Ms Smeeth’s mind. It therefore seems to me quite probable that her reaction was genuine, and she read into the remark something not intended.

Nonetheless, I really cannot see any way that Mr Wadsworth’s statement could bear the interpretation that Ms Smeeth put on it. Unless we take the position that nobody can ever be accused of doing anything wrong, lest it further “traditional slurs” against the ethnic group to which they belong.

There is a further point to be made. Given this was an important media event, the organisers really did not ought to have allowed a loose cannon like Mr Wadsworth to get a microphone in his hands, interesting character though he evidently is.

On the Chakrabarti report itself, it seems to me a model of good sense. It is interesting to note that her recommendations on what areas (including holocaust denial and the Nazis) and what language to ban from discourse, end up very closely mirroring the same rules we have adopted over the years on this blog, effectively to bar anti-Semitism.

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273 thoughts on “Sanity, Shami Chakrabarti and the Ruth Smeeth Affair

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  • Neve Rendell

    I’m not sure any topic should be censored. Better to remove comments on an individual basis and only for extreme offensiveness than to ban words or phrases. Too Orwellian for me.

  • Neve Rendell

    From Off-Guardian’s “Crowd-funded Propaganda? Ummm.No Thanks”

    “…So, the proper way to reflect Corbyn’s speech on anti-semitism was to grossly misrepresent both the meaning and content? The proper way to reflect the coup against the Labour leadership was to give unlimited space to only one side of the debate? The proper pursuit of journalistic excellence lies in forming unholy alliances with unashamed propaganda outlets such as Interpreter Magazine and the CIA-created Radio Free Europe, and to run an endless and often ignorantly racist smear campaign against the Russian government and nation? The proper position for a serious news outlet is to publish fan write-ups and apologies for avowedly neo-nazi militias? To advocate for illegal wars, and solicit the opinions of a war criminal on the desirability of further war crimes?

  • Becky Cohen

    Admittedly, I don’t know the guy’s past history or, indeed, if there is any ‘bad blood’ between Wandsworth and Smeeth, but I can’t really see anything anti-Semitic there. It’s a denunciation sure, but this denouncing their comrades for this, that or the other has been going on ever since socialism began – reaching its apex during the Stalinist era, for instance. It’s what Reds do LOL:) But, yeah, there actually has been a media conspiracy against Jeremy Corbyn – the majority of British papers which are right-wing orientated have had it in for him since Day One. It’s also not a “Jewish conspiracy”, least all because of the fact that only one of the national newspapers in the UK happens to have a Jewish editor.

  • Cleve Tait

    If Ruth Smeeth is such a delicate flower maybe she’s chosen the wrong profession. Did the Telegraph hand a copy of a press release to her or not? If it did, is there any reason why Marc Wadsworth should not comment on it? I cannot see the relevance of Ms Smeeth’s religion/Jewishness to this story.
    I am prepared to accept Mr Wadsworth’s word that he did not know that she was Jewish. The implication here is that it would be OK for Mr Wadsworth to make the same remark about a Christian, Hindoo, Muslim, Zoroastrian or Rastafarian woman but not a Jew.

    Mr Wadsworth pointed out that there were not many African Caribbean or Asian people in the room and the Labour leader replied to his criticism. You, on the other hand see Mr Wadsworth as a ‘loose canon’ not to be placed in the vicinity of a microphone. So in your little world it is OK for Mr Wadsworth to attend such meetings so long as he keeps his mouth shut.
    If Marc Wadsworth is a loose canon British politics need many more like him to shake people like you out of your smug complacency.

    • Susan Stein

      That Jews control the media and are in vast conspiracies are classic tropes of antisemitism. That is why it was unacceptable, Corbyn laughed and joked with Wadsworth and didn’t say a thing. This shows me that Labour has not learned anything from the report. I though Smeeth’s response was mild.

      • John Spencer-Davis

        As far as can be publicly ascertained, Marc Wadsworth didn’t say anything about J*ws controlling the media and he didn’t say anything about a media conspiracy. It’s a lie that he did. Got it now?

      • Kelly, John

        Jews were never mentioned, i.e artificially inserted to smear someone. Who is in the right?

  • Craig Thomas

    Smeeth’s approach to the event & subsequent actions in attacking Jeremy Corbyn can be further contextualised by reference to Chakrabarti’s comments on the BBC Today programme where she stated the the Press Conference was in her control and if Mr. Wadsworth behaved badly, complaints should be made to her, not the leader of the Labour Party. It seems to me that Smeeth’s resignation from the Shadow Cabinet and rush to post anti-Corbyn views on her website suggests quite clearly that her word is not to be trusted on any of this.

    As a person who owes much to Jewish people – my father, a gentile, was raised up from poverty to a pleasant lifestyle for his kids by being nurtured as a worker in a Jewish-owed firm – I find the current climate re. the prevalence (or not) of anti-Semitism in Britain and, here, in the Labour Party. That Smeeth can immediately equate a link between herself & the Telegraph with an accusation of anti-Semitism seems utterly extraordinary. Have things travelled so far that, as you clearly suggest, freedom of speech on any matter even faintly related to anyone of the Jewish race or Israel or the Jewish Community is in dire jeopardy? All I can say to that is, ‘Dear God/Yahweh, is this what we have become?

    I suspect in this particular case, that Ms Smeeth is, along with a large number of her Parliamentary colleagues, has almost completely departed from ethical and moral behaviour with regard to their beliefs in the future direction of the Labour Party, with the result that various kinds of mayhem are organically spreading out and hurting many of us. Cue more wailing, sobbing and gnashing of teeth. What times we live in!

    Thanks very much for your article.

  • Lizzie Spring

    Questions were only allowed from the media. Wadsworth got a microphone by shouting out that Shami Chakrabarti, the Chair, was ignoring Black media people and when he was finally given the microphone he claimed to be an online editor. Then went into a rambling generic and boring rant; the bit I bothered to listen to was about “posh white boys” .The Ruth Smeeth bit was a casual aside within it all.
    It was just an eccentric, annoying man enjoying some attention without a thought to why we were all there – antisemitsm.
    The Chakrabarti report is a good very first small start. It does not address the role of antisemitism in European culture back to medieval times or how hard it will be to get people to understand and challenge their profound beliefs about Jews.
    I wish we could have a further deeper Inquiry to do so.

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