Of late, the anti-Semitism scandals surrounding Jeremy Corbyn have proliferated to the point that it has become difficult to keep track of them, let alone verify them. Among other exploits, the British Labour Party leader stands accused of declaring that many lifelong British Jews are essentially still cultural foreigners who “don’t understand English irony” (true); of having been an active member of an anti-Semitic Facebook group where he never rebuked any of the anti-Semites (true); of laying a wreath at a ceremony honoring, among others, the terrorist mastermind of the torture and murder of Israel’s athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics (true); and of defending an anti-Semitic mural that depicted predatory Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of naked workers (true). And that’s just for starters.
All of these incidents have come to light thanks to dogged reporting, and those efforts to hold the powerful accountable deserve commendation. But one of the unfortunate side effects of a compelling media narrative is that once it gets set, it can overtake the facts, and shoehorn in people and events that don’t belong. When you’re a hammer, everything can start looking like a nail, especially when there are so many real nails out there. This is how Husam Zomlot, the current head of the Palestinian delegation in Washington, came to be cast as a Holocaust denier.
Back in 2010, Corbyn spoke at Zomlot’s wedding, where photos captured him celebrating with the bride and groom. In the past, Corbyn has praised, defended, and shared platforms with bigots who claim Jews bake Passover matzo with the blood of gentile children and that the Mossad did 9/11. So, unsurprisingly, journalists began digging into Zomlot to see if he fit the pattern. The resulting headline? “The day Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech at wedding of a Holocaust ‘denying’ PLO man.”
The only problem with this narrative-affirming story is that it’s not true. The basis for the claim is a 2014 interview Zomlot gave to the BBC, where he appeared to suggest that both the Holocaust and the ISIS murder of journalist James Foley were “fabricated” by Israel. But a closer listen to the exchange reveals that Zomlot’s real offense was not atrocity denial, but his poor English. Here’s the relevant audio, with a transcript of the relevant portion:
ZOMLOT: … They are fabricating all these stories about beheading journalists somewhere in Iraq about Palestine …
BBC’S JAMES POLLY: Hang on, that’s not fabricated, that just happened.
ZOMLOT: It happened somewhere else in Iraq, as if they are fabricating also the story of the Holocaust, that it happened in Europe—not the story itself, but the reason why they are doing this.
It’s a train wreck of an interview, no doubt. But as Zomlot has since clarified, he did not mean to suggest that either the ISIS killing or the Holocaust never transpired. Rather, he was trying to argue in broken English that Israel misappropriates atrocities that take place elsewhere (the Holocaust, ISIS) to justify its treatment of the Palestinian people. (It’s a common pro-Palestinian talking point.) Earlier in the segment, as can be heard above, Israeli minister Naftali Bennett had raised Foley’s murder at the hands of ISIS, which prompted Zomlot’s rambling response.
Unfortunate and incoherent, yes. Holocaust denial, no.
Ironically, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas—Zomlot’s boss—literally wrote his Ph.D. denying the Holocaust, and continues to proudly display the work on his official website. But there is no evidence that Zomlot shares this view.
Corbyn should be held accountable for the many anti-Semitic characters he has supported, shared platforms with, or otherwise helped to mainstream. The Labour leadership should be held accountable for doctoring the internationally accepted definition of anti-Semitism to shield its own extremists from scrutiny. But media outlets and others should be wary of allowing this preponderance of damning evidence to damn those it should not, like Husam Zomlot. Such mistaken implications harm not only the innocent, but also the guilty, who can use the erroneous claims to deflect from their genuine malfeasance.
The stakes are too high for such mistakes.