A review of the new film WitchHunt (Jon Pullman, 2019, 62 mins) by Dave Kellaway
The Rio cinema in Hackney was nearly completely full for the premiere of the new film WitchHunt by Jon Pullman which deals with the way accusations of antisemitism have been used inside the Labour Party to attack Jeremy Corbyn and the anti-zionist left in particular. The ongoing case of Jackie Walker, a longstanding anti-racist militant who is black and Jewish, who is appealing against the draconian disciplinary action against her, is taken up in some detail.
Jewish Voice for Labour has done a great job in ensuring that all voices from the Jewish community get a hearing inside Labour and not just the Labour Friends of Israel or the Jewish Labour movement. It organised the simultaneous premiere last Sunday, 10 February, in London, Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool and Cambridge. A live question and answer session was streamed after the screening with writer and comedian Alexei Sayle, Jon Pullman, media analyst Justin Schlosberg and Jackie Walker (and can still be seen here). The keen interest in the discussion and solidarity expressed by the many people who wanted to speak shows the campaign is alive and kicking. Jackie is not taking this quietly. (see here for more information about Jackie’s hearing)
I had heard of Jackie’s artistic response to the often libellous attacks on her integrity but had not been able to seen them before the film. We were able to see extracts of her theatrical show The Lynching that talks about her background and links to the civil rights struggle in the United States and the importance of her mother. It even reminded me of Michele Obama’s response to the Trump bigots – they aim low, we aim high. Jackie placed her particular case within the broader issue of racism and resistance. Using culture in this way has enabled her campaign to be broader.
The film correctly focuses on the Walker case but contextualises it within the history of the establishment of Israel and its removal of the Palestinians. Given the number of new younger members inside Labour today this is very important. It shows how not all Jewish people agreed with the formation of a Zionist state when it described the Bund movement. The whole question of the internationally agreed definition of antisemitism is carefully dissected. Even the person who drafted it originally does not agree with how the pro-Israeli state examples were added to it.
One of the most worrying ways in which people are accused of antisemitism is the way statements, often from rambling social media threads, are lifted out of context and contentious interpretations are deduced. The notorious example of Jackie talking about the role of Jewish traders in financing the slave trade is examined in the film. In no way did she intend to imply that the whole slave trade was financed just by Jewish merchants but you can prove anything if you chop and edit people’s texts.
If a person openly defends the Israeli state which destroyed the rights of the Palestinian people then he or she can be politically and logically defined as a Zionist. However it is now considered to be antisemitic by the JLM and others leading the campaign against the left and Corbyn to define that position as Zionist in a political debate. Obviously those MPs who want to close down discussions about the Palestinians right to return or to have a state are happy with this state of affairs.
The film also shows how the Israeli state uses its diplomats and other state agencies to provide information and resources to carry on attacks on pro-Palestinian Labour members. Extracts from the Al-Jazeera undercover film showing one of these agents operating is included in the film.
Although the efforts of the JVL have meant there is resistance and some gains made against Margaret Hodge and her friends it must be recognised that they have made progress too in getting the leadership of Momentum, particularly Jon Lansman to fall in behind her understanding of the antisemitism issue inside Labour.
Continually conceding to the JLM and their supporters has not helped the issue to go away. However much the Labour leadership thinks this is the best tactic, it does not work. The antisemitism issue is still used to fuel campaigns against the Corbyn leadership by a big layer of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Solidarity with the Palestinian people was demonstrated strongly at Annual Conference but practical steps that a Labour government could take to implement solidarity will come up against the well organised MPs currently leading the attacks.
Consequently this film and the campaign around it can help to deepen the debate and educate people about the real issues. It could be used to preface a discussion in ward, trade union or other meeting Information about using the film is available on the JVL website. Ken Loach is right:
“The case of Jackie Walker is important. This film asks whether her lengthy suspension from the Labour Party and attempts to expel her are fair, or an injustice which should be challenged. She is not the only one in this position. See the film and make up your own mind.”
14 Feb 2019