A film director’s tunnel vision

This “anti-colonial” and “anti-imperial” tribunal will inspire anti-Jewish prejudice


There is something distinctly menacing about the speech made by film director Ken Loach at the launch, in Brussels earlier this month, of the so-called Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

The Russell Tribunal was established in the late 1960s by the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Its aim was to investigate war crimes alleged to have been committed by the Americans in Vietnam. It was asked to widen its inquiries to cover war crimes allegedly committed by the Communist regime of North Vietnam and by that regime’s client army that operated in South Vietnam. It refused to do so.

Composed largely of left-wing intellectuals, it took the view that any so-called crimes committed by Communist operatives (for instance, their well-documented persecution of Christians) were merely part of the supremely important struggle against imperialism and colonialism and thus required no investigation.

In due course, the tribunal dutifully delivered guilty verdicts against America and its allies. Of course, since the tribunal had no legal standing none of these verdicts could be enforced; the same was true of subsequent Russell Tribunals convened, with the same left-wing agenda, to investigate allegations of war crimes in Africa and South America. Each one of these investigations was little more than a kangaroo court. There was no serious attempt to present balanced arguments. The “verdicts”, pure theatre, were delivered in a blaze of publicity; then they were forgotten.

The announcement by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation that it was going to establish something called a “Russell Tribunal on Palestine” certainly caused me no surprise. Russell himself had initially supported the right of the Jews to have (as he wrote in 1943) “some country which is theirs.” But he gradually replaced this idealism with a visceral hostility to the state of Israel once established. Indeed, his very last public statement, made just a few days before his death in 1970, was devoted entirely to a condemnation of the Jewish state.

Little wonder, therefore, that his political heirs have called into being a tribunal that I can promise you now will be quite unremitting in its denigration and defamation of Israel, of the USA and perhaps even of the UK and other countries for supporting Israel’s right to exist. I very much doubt that there will even be so much as a passing reference to Islamic-inspired anti-Jewish prejudice or to Arab aggression against Israel — and, if there is, the excuse will be offered that they are mere concomitants of the supremely important struggle against colonialism and imperialism.

But, even as I resigned myself to the inevitable, I must confess to being gobsmacked by the remarks made by Ken Loach when this latest Russell Tribunal was launched on March 4.

Granted, Loach is well known as an opponent of Israel. A member of Respect (whose only MP is George Galloway), Loach is on record as supporting a political and cultural boycott of Israel and last year was a signatory of an open letter condemning the celebration of Israel’s 60th birthday as “tantamount to dancing on Palestinian graves.”

But what he said in Brussels went way beyond such melodramatic idiom. What he said was that “nothing has been a greater instigator of antisemitism than the self-proclaimed Jewish state itself... Until we deal with that, until that is acknowledged, then racism, I’m afraid, will be with us.”

In the first place, this statement does not accord with the facts. Report after report has shown that the rise in Judeophobia in recent years — and especially in recent months — has been triggered by Islamist rhetoric aimed as much against Jews as against Zionists – if not more so.

I can well understand Ken Loach’s annoyance that these facts do not support his theory. Anyone with an ounce of moral integrity would, in this circumstance, abandon the theory, not ignore the facts. But Loach is clearly not going to abandon the theory. To add spurious authenticity to it he made, in Brussels, this further breathtaking statement: “If there has been a rise [in antisemitism in Europe] I am not surprised. In fact, it is perfectly understandable because Israel feeds feelings of antisemitism.”

In speaking thus, Ken Loach, the much-acclaimed purveyor of “social realism” in the cinema, provided a bogus justification for physical attacks against Jewish property and Jewish persons. It was all very well for him to have added that “no one can condone violence.” What he has presented to Jew-haters everywhere is the very excuse they have been waiting for.

Last updated: 12:58pm, March 26 2009