Spectator corrects on the nationality of a major Jewish donor

We sent a polite tweet to the journalist pointing out our concerns.  To his credit, he thanked us for pointing it out and agreed to amend the online version of the print article.

An essay in the Spectator by Dominic Green (Allegations of anti-Semitism are damaging to Labour, but not toxic, Nov. 28) is interesting, nuanced, in some ways counter-intuitive, and, almost entirely unproblematic.

However, we flagged a highly misleading – and potentially loaded – word choice in one of the paragraphs, in the context of Green’s broader argument that “calling Jeremy Corbyn and his followers anti-Semitic might not improve [the Tories’] chances, and might even make things worse for Boris Johnson.”

Here’s the paragraph in question:

Once, a credible accusation of anti-Semitism would be enough to put a party leader beyond the pale. But times change. The Corbynites oppose big banks and transnational finance in general, and London’s legal-financial-media nexus in particular. That position is popular. They challenge the existence of the state of Israel and portray Palestinians as victims of a racist aggressor. That isn’t exactly going against the grain. When the Conservatives — the party of business and banks, with an Israeli co-treasurer — call Labour anti-Semitic, they’re giving Corbyn and his followers a perverse endorsement.

Before getting to the significance of the writer’s claim that the Tories have an Israeli co-treasurer, we should point out that, based on our reading of the article, it’s clear he’s not suggesting that people are justified in viewing charges of antisemitism against Corbyn as an “endorsement” of the Labour leader, only that it may have that impact.

Nonetheless, Green does seem to impute some significance to the alleged Israeli nationality of the Tory co-treasurer – as confirming Labour stereotypes about the Conservative Party, and their motivation for accusing Corbyn of antisemitism.  So, we researched the matter, and found out that though the co-treasurer, Ehud Sheleg, a big Tory donor, was born in Israel, he lives in the UK and is a full British citizen.  (His father was British, and in fact served in the RAF during World War 2).

This distinction matters.

First, because non-citizens aren’t permitted to make party contributions. But, more importantly, because media outlets would, in most contexts, avoid referring to immigrants by noting merely their country of origin, especially if it’s in the pejorative.  For instance, Labour’s Shadow Immigration Minister, Afzal Khan, was born in Pakistan and came to the UK aged 11.  His ethnic/national identity, if mentioned at all, would likely be referred to as a “British-Pakistani” or “Pakistani-Briton”.

So, with regard to Sheleg, to refer to him as merely “Israeli” is not only misleading and inconsistent with normal journalistic standards, but potentially prejudicial in light of conspiracy theories about Zionist control of the Tory party, and Israel’s alleged ‘role’ in ‘orchestrating’ the Labour antisemitism scandal. 

We’re not at all accusing Mr. Green of intentionally evoking such toxic narratives, just that the characterisation of Sheleg is inaccurate and could easily have this impact.

So, we sent a polite tweet to Green pointing out our concerns.  To his credit, he thanked us for pointing it out and agreed to amend the online version of the print article.  Though we still aren’t sure why Sheleg’s nation of birth is relevant in any sense, it at least now accurately refers to Sheleg as merely “Israeli-born”.

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