BY NORMAN THOMAS
A few days ago I went to see the first rehearsed reading of a brand new play in London.
It was a packed audience and they lapped it up.
The play is based on a one woman show which has been performed across Britain, in Europe and in the US.
A show which has been highly praised by a string of well known stars of the left including Ken Loach, Mark Thomas and Alexei Sayle.
A show which has now had a film made about it loudly extolled by ace directors Mike Leigh and Peter “Wolf Hall” Kosminsky.
Yet you will not see this play, or this film, reviewed or even discussed in your newspaper, on the television or the radio.
No, not in the Independent, not in the Guardian, not on Channel Four, not on Radio Four.
In the mainstream media — they are nowhere to be seen.
Because this play and this film is about a woman called Jackie Walker.
If you rely on the mainstream media for your knowledge of Walker all you’ll really know of her is that she was suspended from the Labour Party for posts she made on Facebook and comments she made in a video which were, allegedly, antisemitic.
Walker vehemently denies these allegations. And the play and the film about her provide a formidable body of evidence which, I think, comprehensively refutes these allegations.
I should declare an interest at this point.
I am a writer and I helped Jackie create the original one woman show which spawned the play and the film about her.
I first met Jackie during a grassroots campaign to stop Nigel Farage becoming MP for South Thanet in the poverty-stricken coastlands of east Kent.
As part of the campaign I hacked out a piece of no-budget, knockabout satire designed to make fun of Farage and, after losing a member of the cast, desperately asked Jackie, at short notice, to step in.
Ironically the character Jackie played was a woman who had lost her voice. Little did I know that in a couple of years time Jackie would — in the mainstream press at least —indeed become a woman without a voice.
Anyway, that was to come.
No sooner had we helped derail Farage’s attempt to become MP for the area, than the raggle-taggle forces of the left in Thanet found a new cause to fight for — the unlikely quest to get Jeremy Corbyn elected leader of the Labour Party.
Jackie, a long time supporter of Corbyn and John McDonnell, was, of course, in the vanguard of the campaign, and, after Corbyn won by a huge majority, she became vice chair of the new Corbyn supporting Momentum group.
But Jackie’s glory days fighting for a brave new Labour government were short lived. The allegations against her led to her being suspended — twice — and losing her position in Momentum.
The second suspension came about after she was filmed taking part in a training seminar at the 2016 Labour Party conference.
Carefully edited extracts were reported in the press and aired on Channel Four news and this, plus an extemely hostile interview by Cathy Newman, was, I believe, the killer blow for Jackie.
It was also the event which recruited me to her cause.
I was at that fateful training seminar. I heard what she said. I personally experienced the context her words were taken out of. So when I saw what the media made out of them I knew exactly what had happened — Jackie had been stitched up.
She had been made to look antisemitic by quoting comments she made without letting us know what she was commenting about or what she was responding to.
For example, it seemed like she was being disparaging about Holocaust Memorial Day when really she was making a plea for it being more inclusive.
For another example, it seemed like she was questioning the possibility of defining antisemitism when in reality she was questioning a definition that equated criticism of Israel with antisemitism.
And overall her edited words made it seem like she was a lone critical voice in this meeting, when really she was taking part in a fierce debate, with loud and angry voices on both sides of the argument.
But nothing she said then or at any other time that I’ve known Jackie could be said to show even the slightest hint of hatred of Jewish people.
She is simply someone who has been very deliberatedly smeared.
Why they did pick on her?
Because she’s black and Jewish, maybe? (Her mother was born in Jamaica, of Portuguese Jewish heritage, her father was a Jew whose family came to the US from Russia.)
Or was it more because she was a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and a leading member of Momentum?
Well, undoubtedly, because of all those things — but overarchingly, in my view, it was also because she was so vocal.
She was continually active on social media. She was speaking at meetings.
She was prepared to engage, even with the people most bitterly hostile to her. The best example of this was that Labour Party training seminar, run as it was by the strongly pro-Israel Jewish Labour Movement.
Many of her friends thought she was reckless, nuts, to go there.
Jackie was a big target.
Her growing profile on the left made her a valuable trophy to bring down, her outspoken nature all the easier to frame.
But the question remains: why, after reporting almost gleefully on her downfall, did the press, apparently collectively decide to declare Jackie an off limits topic?
The online media gave her some coverage, of course — the Electronic Intifada being one of the most authoritative. But without her own almost nonstop internet output and DIY media activities Jackie would have almost disappeared from public view for the last two years or so.
One reason for the media blackout is the repercussions which hard working journalists can do without.
If journalists write critical things about Israel, they and their editors get bombarded by people trying to undermine their credibility, often implying they are motivated by antisemitism, whether latent or blatant.
Though some will tell you off the record, few journalists will ever go public about this kind of thing.
A notable exception is Robert Fisk, the highly respected correspondent who has covered the conflict in the Middle East since 1976 for the Times and the Independent.
Fisk says he started getting accused of antisemitism when he began covering the activities of the Israeli army in Lebanon.
The Israeli side was simply not prepared to accept that their forces could be involved in the civilian attrocities which Fisk reported and so they branded him antisemitic.
He gives an instructive example of this in his hugely respected book about Lebanon “Pity The Nation”.
In 1982, Fisk writes, a woman from a British pro-Israel organisation asked him why the western press had “fabricated” reports of civilian casualties during the Israeli siege of Beirut.
Fisk replied they hadn’t and told her that “we could not ourselves falsify the number of casualties, making them lower than they actually were, just because the Israelis and their supporters might slander us with smears of antisemitism if we did not.”
This, of course, touches on what many people fear is going on now: that the many enemies of Jeremy Corbyn are using smears and threats of smears to undermine his leadership and attack his strongest supporters like Chris Williamson and Jackie Walker.
I should say some in the Labour Party have gone on the record to disagree with this analysis — most prominently shadow chancellor John McDonnell himself.
McDonnell has said there is no witch hunt going on, and that there is a real problem with antisemitism in the Labour Party — basically a product of the great increase in size of the party.
There’s a logic to this: since there is antisemitism in society as a whole, the bigger the party, the more you’re likely to get.
I’ve come across one example myself.
This was a local chap who genuinely believes in the Jewish conspiracy theory. You know the kind of thing — “they” own the banks, the media, run America, etc etc.
Basically, it’s same kind of thing the Nazis believed, except they preached that the Jews ran the unions and the communists, too.
Such people’s logic is fiendishly simple and dangerously foolish. Jewish people are rich, they say, rich people are capitalists, so Jewish people embody capitalism and need to be dealt with.
You may have come across people with this mindset shouting the odds as antisemitic online trolls — the strange and malignant people who spend their time on social media abusing people in the most disgusting terms for being Jewish.
Some of these trolls will be members of the Labour Party, too, but some will almost certainly be infiltrators, impostors, getting their kicks by being loudly and aggressively antisemitic, while, as they hope, shoving the blame on Labour.
But if they are card carrying members they should, of course, be kicked out with all speed. That would be a great achievement and would enable the Labour leadership to demonstrate that the party is at last dealing with its “antisemitism problem”.
Maybe so — but would it satisfy Corbyn’s enemies inside and outside the party?
Not for a second.
Remember — nobody has accused Jackie Walker or Chris Williamson of being antisemitic trolls or of believing that rich Jews are the root of evil capitalism or any of that disgusting nonsense. The voices calling for their public lynching are never going to be satisfied with a troll cull.
It’s worth pointing out, too, that malicious trolls are widespread on the internet and attack and bully a number of different targets — not just Jewish people. They go after all kinds of politicians, celebrities and almost anyone in the public eye, especially women, and most especially black women.
An Amnesty International study last year found that black women were 84% more likely than white women to be mentioned in abusive tweets. And a separate Amnesty study, published the year before, showed that Diane Abbott received almost half (45.14%) of all the abusive tweets sent to female MPs in the run-up to the 2017 general election.
It comes as no surprise, then, to find that Jackie Walker herself, as black and political as they come, has received a constant barrage of abuse from the day back in 2016 when she started campaigning against would-be MP Nigel Farage’s and Farage publicly denounced her.
We’ve heard much in the press about the abuse and bullying MP Luciana Berger has received, allegedly at the hands of members of the Labour Party.
Of the abuse and bullying Jackie has received there has not been one word.
Presumably for the same reason there has been a solid, enduring media blackout of Jackie’s extraordinary artistic attempts to vindicate herself.
And maybe the simple reason at the bottom of all this is that mainstream journalists are just too scared to touch the topic because of what people might say.
To be accused of being a racist is, of course, bad — but what with the Brexiteers and UKIP and the EDL and general anti-foreigner feeling there are far too many people we could maybe accuse of different shades of racism.
Commentators in the media can say the most outrageous things and claim that people who accuse them of being racist are just being “politically” correct.
But to be accused of antisemitism — itself identified historically with Germany, and more topically with France and parts of Eastern Europe — is different.
It means being associated with Holocaust denial, with the gas chambers with Hitler.
In our secular world, where few people worry about hell and the devil any more, these are most horrific things we can possibly imagine.
With this in mind, there is no motivation for a journalist to write about Walker at all — but there is a risk — the risk of being branded antisemitic.
So I believe John McDonnell is wrong.
There IS a witch hunt going on.
Walker and Williamson are only two victims of it. There are many others.
But the biggest victim, potentially, is the Labour Party itself.
Some members will fear to say what they think.
Some, following the classic witch hunt pattern. will actually use the climate of incrimination to try to “get one over” on their rivals.
Many more — demoralised and disillusioned — will leave.
Is there an alternative?
Yes — and it’s the only one — grassroots revolt.