The Canary and Skwawkbox, two of the websites most closely linked to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, have been found to promote “heavily negative coverage of Jewish issues” to audiences that are “associated with antisemitism”, a damning new government report has found.
An analysis of content published online by the websites revealed alarming parallels between editorial lines taken by the two sites and that of the extreme far-right online outlet Radio Albion, when it came to the reporting of stories involving Jews.
The new study, carried out by King’s College London for the Government’s Independent Adviser on Antisemitism Lord John Mann, concluded that “despite the huge differences in the beliefs that are most foundational to their ideologies, articles published on all three sites share an opposition to capitalism, globalisation, and liberalism, adopt similar positions on many questions of foreign policy, and fulminate against a supposed adversary whose Jewishness is extensively highlighted (even if in different ways).
“But much of the framing is similar: in articles published on all three platforms, the enemy is a wealthy, conspiratorial, corrupting, and unambiguously Jewish force with which no compromise can be made.”
Ahead of publication of the report, Lord Mann said: “Whilst not all such sites promote anti-Jewish racism, it is increasingly clear that some of them have content which is used as part of the reservoir of such hatred and the conspiracy theories that drive forward antisemitism.
“I am sending this report across government and Parliament in an attempt to influence the forthcoming online harms legislation.
“There needs to be parity between regulation of the media and newspapers and our failure to democratise the online space and ensure that alternative platforms do not act as echo chambers for hate, fuelling racism and inspiring real-world harm.
“Those on the receiving end of the vitriol generated by the bias that some of these sites are riddled with should have a clear right of recourse to defend themselves and at a minimum a parity with newspapers and broadcast media.
“There must be a clearly defined and fair remedy for those impacted by content on these sites, with regulation underpinned by statutory enforcement powers and sufficiently strong sanctions. Our democracy requires Jewish citizens and all others impacted to have the right to seek redress to defend their human rights through an empowered regulatory system.”
The report concluded that TR News, the official website of far-right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, popularly known as Tommy Robinson, has intentionally attempted to take the side of Jews and Israel, with its portrayal of them as being overwhelming white and pro-Western in outlook — in stark contrast to its negative portrayal of most Muslims.
But it concluded that in the same way that TR News has resorted to defending those Muslims who were seen to embrace pro-Western right-wing ideology, the two left-wing websites sought to declare allegiance with the minority of Jews who supported their own viewpoint.
The 77-page document, Antisemitism and the alternative media, which will be sent to government ministers next week, set out to explore four online websites – two that have been associated with the Labour left and two with far-right associations — in unprecedented depth in order to better understand the ideologies they promote and the audiences they were reaching.
Radio Albion, whose contributors include Jeremy Bedford-Turner, jailed in 2018 for inciting racial hatred after calling for England to be “freed from Jewish control”, and TR News, the official news site of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, popularly known as Tommy Robinson, can be placed firmly outside mainstream right-wing politics in this country.
But both The Canary website, which broadcast an interview with Mr Corbyn earlier this month, and Skwawkbox, a Liverpool-based blog that is openly praised by Unite union leader Len McCluskey and former Labour chief of staff Karie Murphy, have retained close links with many on the left of Sir Keir Starmer’s party today.
Earlier this month Mr McCluskey praised both Skwawkbox and The Canary.
He told the launch of Mr Corbyn’s Peace and Justice Project: “Certainly in my union we would be looking to try and financially support those sort of alternative media outlets.”
The union chief added these were “blogs that speak truth to power.”
Last weekend, in an interview with Mr Walker on the ‘Socialist Telly’ video site, Karie Murphy, former Executive Director of the Labour Party’s Leader’s Office, urged viewers to “look beyond the BBC — look at Skwawkbox… the Canary.”
The research, carried out by Daniel Allington, Senior Lecturer in Social and Cultural Artificial Intelligence at King’s College London, and the independent scholar Tanvi Joshi, selected the 20 most recent articles on each site that featured the words ‘Jew’ or ‘Zionist’ for analysis.
The study said the “greatest unifier” among the themes found on the four websites relating to Jews was the allegation that accusations of antisemitism are made falsely.
It said accusations of wrongdoing against major American or UK Jewish organisations were most frequent on Skwawkbox and The Canary, but only a little less frequent on Radio Albion.
Such allegations were completely absent from TR News, where Jewish communal organisations were criticised for being unrepresentative and for rejecting radical right-wing politics, but not accused of actual wrongdoing.
The report noted that “the theme of an opposition between righteous Jews and powerful Jews occurred on every site, although it was least common on Radio Albion.
It said that articles published by Skwawkbox and The Canary, “the Jews presented as powerful but unrighteous were either Israeli or associated with Jewish communal organisations such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews.”
The report added: “These Jews were attacked for racism or Zionism, for being ‘right-wing’, or for ‘smearing’ people on the left, such as Jeremy Corbyn. Against them, The Canary typically pitted ‘left wing’ or ‘non-Zionist’ Jews, while in Skwawkbox articles, this role was also played by ultra-Orthodox or Charedi Jews, who were stated or implied to support Jeremy Corbyn.”
TR News is also said to have painted a picture of “righteous Orthodox Jews pitted against an unrighteous Board of Deputies, but this time with the claim that the former were supporters of ‘Tommy Robinson’.”
The image of righteous Jews pitted against powerful Jews was evidently more of a ‘left-wing’ than a ‘right-wing’ theme, occurring in half The Canary articles and nearly four in ten of the Skwawkbox articles identified using the search term ‘Jew’, the report said.
Noting that Skwawkbox “primarily acts to promote a particular faction within the UK Labour Party”, the study said that many of its articles concentrated on the “need to defend members of its preferred faction against allegations of antisemitism”.
But it added that “this does not mean that the texts published on the site do not imply a particular ideological view of Jews.
“For example, making throwaway references to ‘a former Chief Rabbi with a history of supporting racism’ could contribute to the creation of an impression of Jewishness as inherently suspect.”
The report gives further detail on the way it believes Skwawkbox, which is edited by hard-left activist Steven Walker, has promoted the viewpoint that British Jews who support the state of Israel — along with members of organisations such the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) and Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) — are a corrupting influence on politics in this country.
It says the blog’s “treatment of Jewish issues” was epitomised by an article it ran attacking members of JLM, LFI and other Jewish groups in the wake of the screening of the controversial Al Jazeera documentary The Lobby.
The study parallels this with reporting about Jewish power on the far-right website Radio Albion. The report suggests: “In the diatribes of Radio Albion, the argument is that Jews are a corrupting influence and must be expelled from ‘white’ nations such as Britain.
“In Skwawkbox articles such as the above, the argument is that the world’s only Jewish state is a corrupting influence, and those who have been tainted by it must be excluded from British political institutions.”
Alarmingly, the report concludes that the readers’ comment section on Skwawkbox is an outlet for the expression of even more extreme attacks on British Jews.
“Reader comments on Skwawkbox articles take this further, seeking to eliminate not only the influence of the Jewish state, but also the presence of Jewish communal organisations,” the report says.
It adds: “Allegations of treachery, conspiratorial control, and parasitism, along with calls for disaffiliation and expulsion, closely parallel the language used on Radio Albion.”
The report also reveals how the pro-Corbyn blog has repeatedly attempted to defend the former Labour leader and other allies from claims of antisemitism by making its own allegations of Jew hatred, which were often false.
In particular, it noted Skwawkbox’s coverage of Mr Corbyn’s support for the Tower Hamlets street artist who painted an antisemitic mural depicting bankers, some of them antisemitic caricatures, playing Monopoly on the backs of figures representing the oppressed people of the world. The painting was so clearly antisemitic, the report says, that it was used as an illustration for a Radio Albion podcast in which presenters praised Hitler for, amongst other things, “sort[ing] the banks out”.
But rather than condemning Mr Corbyn’s failure to apologise for his suport for the artist behind the mural, Skwawkbox’s response, says the report, “was to argue that the BBC was an tisemitic for pointing out the artist’s use of antisemitic caricatures – and to back this up by contacting and citing the artist himself as an authority on the interpretation of his own work.”
It added that “if the intention was simply to muddy the waters by confusing the blog’s readers as to what constitutes antisemitism, and to create an illusory equivalence between those expressing antisemitic ideas and those recognising them to have done so, then it seems possible that it may have succeeded.”
Assessing the output of The Canary, whose editor in chief is Kerry-Anne Mendoza, the study says that “accusations of antisemitism have circulated” around the website “for some time.”
The report also noted that Steve Topple, a journalist working for The Canary, had apologised for previously making the suggestion that “most Jews peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing Zionist cancer they must be held responsible.” He also once tweeted that Christine Lagarde, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was a “puppet” of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the Rothschild family.
The report notes that in 2016, The Canary defended Mr Topple “for the ‘Zionist cancer’ remark, although it involves essentially the same metaphor that was elaborated at such length by (presenters) Matthew Heimbach and ‘Sven Longshanks’ on Radio Albion.”
The Canary’s “extremely selective history” in articles published about Israel and the Middle East is also heavily criticised by the report.
It includes an article written by Ms Mendoza which the report says ends up “characterising Israel as a European settler state and suggesting that practically every aspect of Israel is racist.”
The report concludes: “The notion that Gaza is fenced off both from Israel and from Egypt solely because its inhabitants ‘are brown’ cannot be taken seriously.
“And there is no mention of the estimated 820,000 Jews who were made refugees by other states in the Middle East and North Africa from 1948 onwards, the majority of whom relocated to Israel.”
It also highlights how the editor of The Canary has argued it is “wholly legitimate, and indeed urgent” to make comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, “also providing a model for such comparisons in her own statement that ‘Gaza is a modern day version of the Warsaw Ghetto’.”
The report also notes how Canary readers “respond to articles on Labour Party issues by equating Zionism with racial supremacism, by complaining that the Labour Party is under ‘Zionist control’ or that its policies are dictated by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and by alleging that Zionists create antisemitism where it does not exist and that they make allegations of antisemitism in bad faith.”
Lord Mann says that under current legislation, websites, unlike newspapers, are able to walk out of the regulatory body Impress if it begins to investigate them in advance of possible sanctions.
Dr Allington, the report’s author, added: “Government and civil society must encourage use of high quality, reputable sources of information at the expense of low-quality fringe sources,” it said. “We need not be helpless in the face of hatred.”
The JC approached the four websites for comment.