Panorama whistleblower: Labour ‘spitting’ on Jewish community with its response

Panorama whistleblower: Labour ‘spitting’ on Jewish community with its response

Former investigations officer Ben Westerman speaks out after featuring on distressing documentary last night.

Jack Mendel is the Online Editor at the Jewish News.

Ben Westerman, Investigations Officer 2016-2017 (Credit: BBC Panorama - Is Labour Anti-Semitic?)
Ben Westerman, Investigations Officer 2016-2017 (Credit: BBC Panorama - Is Labour Anti-Semitic?)

The only Jewish whistleblower in the BBC Panorama expose on Labour antisemitism has accused the party of “spitting” on the community with its derisory response to the documentary.

Ben Westerman, who was a party investigations officer from 2016 to 2017, detailed on camera the “devastating” toll of working for the party, saying he was routinely branded a Nazi.

A total of eight former Labour officials spoke to Panorama, including four who signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), according to the BBC.

They accused top Labour figures of interfering with the disciplinary process investigating claims of antisemitism, with communications chief Seumas Milne and general secretary Jennie Formby singled out.

Westerman, who did not sign an NDA, and accused the party of “hypocrisy” if its “response to people blowing the whistle on racism is to sue”.

Asked about the impact on him personally, he said it was “devastating” to have fight to protect that movement which to me was so important, from people flooding it with racism”.

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“Obviously there’s a slight personal thing for me too, because, you know, I was the only person in the team with any Jewish connection. I was an easy target to call all the nasty things you get called, like ‘Nazi.’”

He recalled speaking to a suspended Labour councillor, who hurled angry abuse from the start, saying: “I brought up the evidence and she had said something that was deeply antisemitic, and she told me that I was a Nazi.

“I said I’m going to inform you that, a great many of my family were murdered in concentration camps by the Nazis, so to say that to someone with my history, might you think that’s quite offensive?”

“She said, ‘no, your lot are just as bad as the Nazis’. And that was fairly commonplace.”

Westerman left the party in 2017, citing the suspension of Ken Livingstone for claiming Hitler had ‘supported Zionism’, as a “litmus test” for the party’s processes.

The whistleblower said he “never felt more connected to my Jewish heritage and also proud; than when you come under attack”.

“For all the horrible, horrible people, there are more people expressing support and solidarity in the Jewish community which is just wonderful and so it makes me very proud of that heritage it makes me acutely aware of the need to defend it”.

Calling the other seven whistleblowers “wonderful people” and “incredibly brave” he hit out at the party for its response to the documentary.

Labour accused the BBC of “pre-determining” the outcome of its investigation into Jew-hate, claiming Panorama “engaged in deliberate and malicious representations designed to mislead the public.”

The party also said some of the whistleblowers of being “disaffected former officials” who “have always opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, worked to actively undermine it, and have both personal and political axes to grind”.

During the documentary Sam Matthews, Labour’s former head of complaints, said he had been pushed to the brink of suicide, while, Kat Buckingham, Head of Disputes and Discipline 2015 – 2017, said she’d had a breakdown.

Kat Buckingham, Head of Disputes and Discipline 2015 – 2017 (Credit: BBC Panorama – Is Labour Anti-Semitic?)

Ben said the documentary would have been good opportunity for Labour “to show contrition, to show that they really do take this seriously” but said they yet again failed “with the Jewish community by, frankly, spitting on them, and saying that it’s all a lie”.

Insisting he “resigned my membership and I will not re-join the Labour Party while Jeremy Corbyn is leader” he said the issue of antisemitism “will never go away whilst Jeremy Corbyn’s leader of the party.”

I think he’s done more to create a space for Antisemitism in this country than anyone for many, many decades”.

Mike Creighton, Director of Audit and Risk 2009-2017 also appeared on the Panorama programme. He told Jewish News Labour might never get into government because “Corbyn has surrounded himself with a bunch of incompetents.”

Mike Creighton, Director of Audit and Risk 2009-2017 (Credit: BBC Panorama – Is Labour Anti-Semitic?)

He said antisemitism “cannot be allowed to continue”.

“I’s not a question of rule changes or procedural changes although that may help. It is a question of leadership to root out antisemitism from a party which is now under formal investigation by EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission.)”

That is the thing that needs to change, but part of the problem with the leadership at the moment, is that he is being drip-fed by people who have got a different world-view. Indeed he has a different world-view, which has allowed, undeniably has allowed antisemitism to fester within the party.”

Creighton however insisted Labour “must be” salvageable, adding it’s still a major political force.

“It’s not going to be easy, and particularly not when some of the people you’re up against don’t actually care about being in government, they just care about having the levers of power of a political party.

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