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.