Robert Peston: I feel I have to say I'm Jewish when covering toxic Labour antisemitism

The ITV political editor reveals Corbyn adviser Seumas Milne accused him of being 'not remotely fair or balanced'


Journalist Robert Peston has said the issue of Labour antisemitism has become so "toxic" he feels he has to identify himself as Jewish when reporting on it.

“In the current febrile political climate, it matters – and I say this with regret – that I am Jewish,” he said as he gave the annual Cudlipp Lecture on Friday, referring to the "toxic question of antisemitism in the Labour Party”.

He said Jeremy Corbyn's communications chief Seamus Milne had cited his interview with the Chief Rabbi - who had made a rare public intervention to condemn Labour's Jew-hate - as a reason to bar ITV News from interviewing the Labour leader.

Mr Peston added: “I feel I have to say [that I am Jewish] – because although I strive to be as impartial in covering this issue as I would a general election, or reporting on a corporate takeover.

"I cannot shed my Jewish identity in the way that I can cease to be a member of a political party or can dispose of shares in a company.”

Mr Peston, who describes himself as secular, was previously Business Editor and Economics Editor at the BBC between 2006 to 2015.

“There is an argument, that because antisemitism is a personal issue for me, I should not report on it,” he said, “as someone who believes in the importance of impartial journalism”.

Mr Peston said, when he asked during last year’s general election campaign Mr Milne why Mr Corbyn had refused to be interviewed, Mr Milne texted to say his reporting had “not been remotely fair or balanced and included a high degree of slanted editorialising".

He said this had reached "a low point" when Mr Peston interviewed Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis on November 26, after his unprecedented decision to author an editorial in The Times that questioned if Corbyn was fit for office given his failure to properly tackle antisemitism.

“I reviewed that two-way,” Mr Peston said, “it was impartial”.

In the interview, which was broadcast on ITV’s nightly news bulletin, Mr Peston said it was “shocking” that Chief Rabbi Mirvis had felt “obliged” to speak out and that he was "moved to do so by the deep hurt and fear felt by many of his congregation”.

“This alienation of an important part of a British community could not be ignored, which is why I was surprised – to put it mildly – that Milne cited it when disqualifying me as a suitable interviewer of his boss," Mr Peston said.

“Would Milne or any of us have qualms about a woman journalist reporting on gender pay inequality or a gay journalist covering gay marriage in the church? I doubt it. In a way it is extraordinary any of this needs saying.”

Though he is the son of a late Labour Peer, Mr Peston said he had not been a member of any party since he was 24. He chaired the Jewish Labour Movement's leadership hustings last month.

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