It is vital that anti-Semitism is called out, wherever and whenever it occurs, regardless of which organisation, individual, political party, publication, broadcaster or other group is involved. What is equally important is not to use this duty - for duty is what it is - to spuriously, and indeed maliciously, smear individuals, groups or parties without grounds for doing so, merely because of animus or agenda.
The latter is what happened to a Labour Party member and blogger called Mike Sivier, who was disgracefully smeared by the Campaign Against Antisemitism in 2017, in an article which is still extant. The title - “Labour Council candidate Mike Sivier defends far-right anti-Semites and quotes far-right Holocaust denier” - had one clear intent, and that was to discredit, isolate and otherwise take out Sivier.
There was a further intention, left unspoken: the hope that more mainstream media outlets would take up the smear and reproduce it as if it were fact. This they did. In the fevered climate engendered by claims that Labour had somehow become riddled with anti-Semitism, right-leaning papers and their websites were all too happy to amplify what the CAA fed them. Several reproduced the story, apparently without researching further.
And one by one they all came unstuck: the difference with the press is that there is a press regulator, which does not apply to the CAA website. IPSO may be a next to useless press regulator, but the lack of evidence, and over-creative interpretation of what Sivier actually said, meant that not even it was prepared to defend the claims.
Typical of the judgments obtained by Sivier was that against the Jewish Chronicle, where Press Gazette later reported “A Labour member has won a complaint against the Jewish Chronicle after the newspaper ran an article that claimed he was a Holocaust denier, which he refuted”. The online version of the story had already been amended.
There was more. “The newspaper denied the article was inaccurate, saying its interpretation … was plausible … However, the Independent Press Standards Organisation upheld a breach of Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice”. Other papers later admitted they, too, got it wrong.
And now has come a climbdown from the Murdoch Sunday Times. As Sivier tells in his blog Vox Political, “It took nearly a year, but The Sunday Times has at last admitted that it was wrong to characterise me as an anti-Semite and a Holocaust denier in an article last February … The Mail, the Jewish Chronicle, The Express and The Sun have all admitted inaccuracies in their own versions of the story”. But not the CAA.
Why not? Sadly, Sivier’s only recourse would be to take the CAA to court, a potentially hugely expensive exercise. Only the well-off can afford to take such action. It is supremely ironic that Gideon Falter of the CAA is only too keen to threaten legal action against others, but hides behind the “sue if you think you’re hard enough” as he casually - and, indeed, deliberately - shits all over the little people who he knows can’t fight back.
But good to see the CAA’s reputation take another knock. After having to back down, our free and fearless press may think twice before trusting them in future. Good thing too.
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