Dead Men Left

Monday, April 18, 2005

Nick Cohen: telling lies about Bethnal Green

Nick Cohen, seemingly lying through his teeth in yesterday's Observer:

To add to the foul atmosphere, there's a whiff of old hatreds in the air. Oona King, the Labour candidate, is getting fed up with Respect supporters bringing up her Jewish mother, although she says it makes a change from the British National Party bringing up her black father. Last week, King and a group of mainly Jewish pensioners gathered for a 60th anniversary memorial service for the 132 people who died in the last V2 rocket attack on London in 1945. Muslim youths spat and threw eggs at the mourners and shouted: 'You fucking Jews.'

The first untruth is Oona King's: Respect campaigners have categorically not been "bringing up her Jewish mother" when canvassing. There is no truth to this claim and King is playing very dirty politics to pretend there is. Cohen, a deeply credulous individual (the British army is "the armed wing of Amnesty International"?), is not wholly responsible for this smear - though minor details, like the fact Respect had not started canvassing when King made her claim, perhaps ought to have troubled whatever journalistic sense he has left.

The only party vile enough to make an appeal to antisemitism in Bethnal Green in recent years are the Tories, who ran a particularly filthy campaign in 2001. It did them no good: on a reduced turnout, King recorded a 4.2% swing towards Labour. For King to be now claiming that Respect is pandering to antisemitism in her constituency is a gross slander against not just Respect, but against her own constituents. She is unfit to be an MP.

The second untruth is all Cohen's own work. Jonanthan Freedland was at the memorial service Cohen refers to. He witnessed the horrid egging incident, and recorded his account in the Observer's sister paper, the Guardian. He is quite clear that no slogans or chants were heard. Cohen, not present at the event, and providing no source, claims that racist abuse was hurled. This gives every appearance of being pure invention.

There is, however, a moment of truth in Cohen's farrago of insinuations and smears, and it appears in his conclusion:

I went to speak at a King rally on the strange histories of the far left and far right. I expected it to be like most meetings I address: all but empty.

(See also Lenin.)