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Artillery Row

Why is Ken Loach judging an anti-racism competition?

His dismissal of anti-Semitism within Labour is hardly a role model for children

Last month the filmmaker Ken Loach was selected to judge a schools’ anti-racism competition by an organisation which describes itself as “The UK’s leading anti-racist charity.”

“We’re really excited to have …Ken Loach… on board as judges for our School Competition this year!” tweeted “Show Racism The Red Card” (SRtRC). 

“This has got to be a wind-up” was one of several bewildered responses to his appointment.

Why? At 83, Loach has a long and distinguished talent for teasing out the gritty reality of life in this country for the poor and dispossessed. For their part, SRtRC do good works trying to inoculate the country, especially school children, against racism. 

The problem is that whilst Loach may be well qualified to pass judgement on a piece of creative writing, music or film carrying an inspirational theme against racism, he seems to have a blind spot on the oldest of all forms of racism: anti-Semitism.

“There is no validity to it” he declaimed in September 2017 referring to mounting complaints of anti-Semitic remarks by members of the Labour party. “In my experience no validity whatsoever.”

Even when eight former Labour party staffers who had investigated the complaints, attested on Panorama last July to the anti-Semitism virus having got a grip within sections of the Left, Loach – who, in his younger days, was close to the Trotskyist Left – was having none of it. The Panorama was, he said “probably the most disgusting programme I’ve ever seen on the BBC.”

To Loach, the allegations of anti-Semitism within Labour have been an invention to undermine Jeremy Corbyn

I researched and reported the programme, so I declare an interest in defending its integrity.

So vexed by my journalism was Loach, that, according to a colleague at his Bath Constituency party, he proposed the following motion which was passed: “This was a dishonest hatchet job with potentially undemocratic consequences. It disgraced the name of Panorama and exposed the bias endemic within the BBC.”

The Broadcasting regulator OFCOM has found otherwise, adjudging the programme to have been “duly impartial” having “included Labour Party response prominently throughout including an interview with the shadow communities secretary.”

But to Loach, the allegations of anti-Semitism within Labour have been an invention to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. “It’s funny these stories suddenly appeared when Jeremy Corbyn became leader, isn’t it?” he said in his 2017 interview. 

Judging by his reaction to Panorama, his view seems little changed, even though a key Corbyn aide’s briefing as to how “outriders” and “socialist social media activists” should respond to the programme, admitted that anti-Semitism within Labour “is a real and present problem.” 

What other conclusion could one draw from such references as Auschwitz being a “cash cow”; “Zio” as the neo-Nazi term for Zionist; claims that Israel has colluded with ISIS to generate anti-Semitism in order to stifle criticism of Israel; Jews having “big noses”; Jews having “declared war on Germany in 1933”; Hitler as “the greatest man in history”; Holocaust minimisation; analogies of Israeli’s prime minister Netanyahu to Hitler and a vampire (i.e. blood sucking); Jews who aim at “conquest of the gentile world”; Jews who are “rich” and want to “control others”; multiple references to the Rothschilds being permanently engaged in one conspiracy or another; Jews being “high and mighty”; Britain being run “at the highest level by Jews”….etc etc etc. 

The documentary evidence in my own files, let alone those that have streamed into the Inbox of the Labour Party’s Complaints Team, would fill many pages.

Indeed, ever since 2017, the argument, even within the Corbyn Labour leadership has not been whether anti-Semitism exists within the party, but over its scale. 

More recently, Loach, has acknowledged “there will be anti-Semitism in the Labour party as there is in society”. But he has also said a growth in anti-Semitism is “perfectly understandable because Israel feeds feelings of anti-Semitism.”

The entire purpose of anti-racist campaigns like the one that SRtRC has invited Loach to judge is that racism is never excusable, howsoever it may have been provoked.

The particular virus that is anti-Semitism – which has, as its constant, the Jew as intrinsically evil– is nonetheless constantly evolving, so that today all the classic old anti-Semitic tropes have been templated on to the contemporary Israel-Palestine conflict. Loach seems not to understand this, whereas even Jeremy Corbyn, a personal friend of Loach, now admits that he does, the very same Corbyn against whom Loach says all this has been got up to smear!

Ten days after Panorama, the Labour party distributed a pamphlet to its 520,000 members entitled “No Place for anti-Semitism” which, for the first time, addressed in clear terms the nuances of contemporary anti-Semitism and acknowledged that “Most British Jews feel connected to some extent to Israel and many have friends and family there… The concepts of Israel, Zion and Jerusalem run deeply in Jewish religion, identity and culture, and for many are symbolic of a homeland, refuge, or place of safety. The sensitivities around these concepts should be considered before using them.”

The Labour party pamphlet ends with this admission from Corbyn himself. “I have learned so much.” he wrote, commending it to Labour’s 520,000 members.

Loach, however, appears to have learned nothing and seems to have had no qualms about offending Jewish sensibilities. When asked by the BBC in 2017 if he considered as “acceptable” a discussion about whether the Holocaust actually occurred, Loach replied: “I think history is for all of us to discuss. Wouldn’t you?”

When Loach’s apparent insouciance at Holocaust denial was reported in the New York Times, he complained in a letter to the paper: “My words were twisted to give a meaning contrary to that intended. The Holocaust is as real a historical event as World War II itself and not to be challenged.”

Loach’s words had not been twisted. Indeed, in his BBC interview he was given a second opportunity to clarify them. 

BBC: “Say that again, sorry I missed that?”

Back came the same casual response:

LOACH: “History is for all of us to discuss, all history is our common heritage to discuss and analyse. The founding of the state of Israel, for example based on ethnic cleansing is there for us all to discuss. The role of Israel now is there for us to discuss. So, don’t try to subvert that by false stories of anti-Semitism.”

In 2018, prior to Loach being presented with an honorary degree by the Free University of Brussels, the then Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel (now President of the European Council) attempted to stop it. Referring to Loach’s comments about Israel, Michel, who graduated with a law degree from the university, said: “No accommodation with antisemitism can be tolerated, whatever its form. And that also goes for my own alma mater.”

Loach has a tendency to strike back with rhetorical questions and a quizzical look that suggest only a fool would disagree with him: “Is the law so badly taught here? Or did he not pass his exam?” he asked a press conference an hour before he was due to receive the award. “A good lawyer must examine the evidence before coming to a conclusion. Mr Michel, look at the evidence.”

Ken Loach would do well to take his own advice before having anything else to say about Labour’s anti-Semitism problem. Meanwhile, SRtRC say they’re taking “seriously” concerns about their appointment of Loach as a judge for their schools’ anti-racist competition. Let’s hope so. His contemptuous dismissal of anti-Semitism within Labour is hardly a role model for children.

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