Labour MP Louise Ellman has come under fire this evening for attacking Jeremy Corbyn on last night’s BBC Newsnight programme. Ellman claimed to have just found out about a 2010 event with Jewish Auschwitz survivor Hajo Meyer that Corbyn attended – and to be ‘absolutely appalled’ that Corbyn had been at the event because of Meyer’s views on Israel.
But Ellman had not only been at the same event – and stayed far longer than Corbyn, who introduced the seminar and then had to leave to attend to other responsibilities – but had witnessed an interruption by a rowdy pro-Israel protest while she was there, so it would have been memorable.
However, failing to mention the fact that she knew about the event eight years ago was not Ms Ellman’s only mishap.
Ellman told Newsnight viewers that she was appalled because Labour had ‘diluted‘ the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Association) ‘definition‘ (in fact ‘working definition’) of antisemitism by weakening its comments about comparing Israel and the nazis.
But this is untrue – and Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis was forced to publicly correct Ms Ellman’s comments at the end of the show after Labour pointed out the truth:
Ellman claimed that the Labour Code of Conduct ‘possibly’ allows such comparisons, while the IHRA definition bans them altogether. But this does not stand up to scrutiny.
Labour’s code says on the issue that the use of nazi comparison is extremely likely to be considered a breach:
In this sensitive area, such language carries a strong risk of being regarded as prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Party.
Labour’s general secretary Jennie Formby wrote to all Labour MPs three weeks before Ms Ellman’s appearance to make sure they understood what this meant:
Inflammatory and incendiary remarks based on Nazi comparisons fall well below the bar we have set in this Code of Conduct and will not be tolerated.
But the IHRA working definition itself merely that such comparisons might be antisemitic, by making it clear that judgment depends on context:
Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include… Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
The Labour code is, in fact, considerably stronger on the issue than the IHRA ‘working’ version. Labour enhanced and strengthened the definition for the party’s code of conduct, adapting it to work more effectively – which is what its creators intended when they called it a ‘working definition’.
Louise Ellman misled Newsnight and its viewers – a second time – but this time the misrepresentation was identified and acknowledged by the programme before the broadcast had finished.
Ms Ellman was contacted for comment but has not responded.
The inaccuracies identified raise serious questions. Will the mainstream media give those the same prominence they have given to the claims and criticisms?
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