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This BBC Interview Perfectly Illustrates Britain’s Left-Wing Anti-Semitism Problem

Famed filmmaker Ken Loach accused Jews of fabricating claims of anti-Semitism, then refused to condemn Holocaust denial

Yair Rosenberg
September 26, 2017
Javier Soriano/Getty Images
English film director Ken Loach poses before giving a conference in Madrid on February 3, 2017.Javier Soriano/Getty Images
Javier Soriano/Getty Images
English film director Ken Loach poses before giving a conference in Madrid on February 3, 2017.Javier Soriano/Getty Images

At the moment, the British Labour party is holding its annual conference, at which members have been tackling, among other concerns, internal hate speech guidelines. Such a reckoning became necessary because Labour has been dogged by incidents of anti-Semitism under the leadership of far-left MP Jeremy Corbyn. Party officials have been caught posting anti-Jewish conspiracy theories—from claims that Israel was behind the Sandy Hook massacre and ISIS, to memes asserting Jewish control of British banking—while Corbyn himself has come under fire for his own repeated dalliances with anti-Jewish bigots. Last May, just 13 percent of British Jews said they would vote for his party.

Today, BBC anchor Jo Coburn interviewed noted filmmaker and Corbyn backer Ken Loach about this state of affairs, and he proceeded to unintentionally demonstrate just how dire matters have become.

Loach began by forcefully denying the presence of anti-Semitism not just in the Labour party, but on the left in general. “I’ve been going to Labour party meeting for over 50 years,” Loach said. “I’ve gone to trade union meetings. I’ve gone to meetings of left groups and campaigns. I have never, in that whole time, heard a single anti-Semitic word or racist word. Now, I’m not saying it doesn’t exist in society.”

Awkwardly, Loach then followed up this assertion of anti-Semitic innocence by rattling off a series of extremely anti-Semitic claims. First, he declared that progressive Jews, including Labour members of parliament, were inventing anti-Semitic incidents for political purposes, to tarnish Jeremy Corbyn. “It’s funny these stories suddenly appeared when Jeremy Corbyn became leader, isn’t it?” he mused. His BBC interviewer Coburn countered, “Well, they would explain that perhaps Jeremy Corbyn has allowed the oxygen for those sort of views.”

In fact, multiple Jewish Labour MPs have been open about their experiences of prejudice and Corbyn’s failure to counter it. MP Ruth Smeeth famously lamented how the party under Corbyn was no longer “a safe space for Jews.” And among other Labour luminaries, London’s first Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan blamed “the leader of my party” for “failing” to call out anti-Semitism. To Loach, however, these are not honest accounts of bigotry, but a sinister anti-Corbyn conspiracy. “Their aim is to destabilize Jeremy’s leadership,” he insisted. “This story, there is no validity to it. In my experience, no validity whatsoever.”

But Loach’s ugly insinuation that Jews fabricate their own oppression for personal gain—a staple of anti-Semitic invective for centuries—was just the beginning. When asked by Coburn about a fringe session at the Labour conference where a panelist called for open “yes or no” discussion of the Holocaust, the filmmaker point-blank refused to condemn Holocaust denial, demurring that “history is for all of us to discuss” before going off on an unrelated rant about Israeli evil. Here’s the exchange:

COBURN: There was a fringe meeting yesterday that we talked about at the beginning of the show where there was a discussion about the Holocaust, did it happen or didn’t it… would you say that was unacceptable?

LOACH: I think history is for us all to discuss, wouldn’t you?

COBURN: Say that again, sorry, I missed that.

LOACH: History is for all of us to discuss. All history is our common heritage to discuss and analyze. 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.

Now, Loach is no fringe figure. His films have received numerous awards, including the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival twice. He personally filmed Jeremy Corbyn’s iconic ads for his election campaign, as well as an official documentary supporting the candidate. Loach is also one of Britain’s leading figures in the effort to blacklist and boycott all Israeli artists, as part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Needless to say, like so many in that movement, he has long insisted that he is merely anti-Zionist, not an anti-Semite.

Yet in the span of two minutes on public television, this leading leftist light managed to (a) deny clear and documented instances of anti-Jewish bigotry, (b) claim that Jews fabricate anti-Semitism to manipulate others, (c) refuse to condemn Holocaust denial, and (d) justify such bigotry against British Jews with wild hand-waving at completely different Jews in the Middle East.

Such extraordinary prejudice coupled to extraordinary lack of self-awareness perfectly encapsulates Britain’s left-wing anti-Semitism problem. After all, the first step to dealing with a problem is admitting it exists. But like Loach, too many on the U.K. far-left are not only unable to acknowledge anti-Semitism in their midst, but are actively complicit in it. Change will only come when such individuals accept Jews as authorities on their own experiences of prejudice, and start listening to Jewish accounts of anti-Semitism rather than dismissing them as bad faith fables.

Watch the lowlights of Loach’s interview below:

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.