The Independent Revises Articles on Rebecca Long-Bailey and Maxine Peake

From the Independent, version 1:

Keir Starmer asks Rebecca Long-Bailey to step down after sharing article containing antisemitic conspiracy theory

In a dramatic move, Sir Keir Starmer asked his former leadership rival to step down as shadow education secretary for retweeting an interview with the actress Maxine Peake, in which the actress claimed US police responsible for the death of George Floyd had learned their tactics from seminars with Israeli forces.

The Labour frontbencher shared The Independent article, describing the 45-year-old actress, who was a vocal supporter of Jeremy Corbyn during his leadership of the Labour Party, as an “absolute diamond”.

From the Independent, version 2:

Starmer sacks Long-Bailey in row over left-wing actor’s ‘antisemitic’ comments

Labour leader Keir Starmer has sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey from his shadow cabinet, in a move that risks igniting civil war within the party.

Ms Long-Bailey described Maxine Peake as a “diamond” on Twitter and shared an interview with The Independent that revealed the left-wing actor’s “antisemitic” view relating to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, stating that the US police responsible had learned their tactics from Israeli forces.

The original headline referring to Long-Bailey – and similar headlines currently ricocheting around social media – gives the impression that she had promoted some crank screed about “Rothschild Zionists” or such rather than Tweeted about a celebrity interview published in a mainstream newspaper’s arts & entertainment section. The interview is 1,500 words long, and is mostly about Peake’s Labour politics and acting career. The reference to Israel is a passing comment that appears in the second half of paragraph five:

“Systemic racism is a global issue,” she adds. “The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”

The Independent apparently foresaw that this comment might be controversial, and so the paper sourced a response from an Israeli police spokesperson that was placed in brackets after Peake’s comment. This also went through two iterations.

Version 1:

(Though a spokesperson for the Israeli police has denied this, a 2016 Amnesty International report said that hundreds of law enforcement officials had travelled to Israel for training.)

Version 2:

(A spokesperson for the Israeli police has denied this, stating that “there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway”.)

This amendment is acknowledged in an update at the end of the article:

UPDATE (25.06.20): This article has been amended to further clarify that the allegation that US police were taught tactics of “neck kneeling” by Israeli secret services is unfounded. The original version did carry a denial from Israeli police, however we are happy to further clarify the matter.

The problem here though is that although version 1 referred to the denial it was not in fact carried. The implication of version 1 was that Israeli police deny such training, but that this is disputed by Amnesty International. Why was the direct quote not used in version 1?

The 2016 Amnesty “report” – actually a polemical blog post by a member rather than a formal study – can be seen here. It notes that “Baltimore law enforcement officials, along with hundreds of others from Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Georgia, Washington state as well as the DC Capitol police have all traveled to Israel for training. Thousands of others have received training from Israeli officials here in the U.S.”

The article links this in particular with “widespread constitutional violations, discriminatory enforcement, and culture of retaliation” within the Baltimore Police Department. This conclusion is inferred in a general and impressionistic way from the fact of such training alongside anecdotal claims about abuses in Israel, rather than established by detailed documentation or robust correlations.

The notion that “Israel” has hidden explanatory relevance for police brutality in the USA is unduly conspiratorial. Further, Amnesty has now issued a statement clarifying that

its report does not show any evidence of “neck kneeling” as a technique taught by the Israeli secret services, nor evidence that the Minnesota police force received training from the Israeli secret services.

This is reported in the New Statesman, which also states that Peake has retracted the claim.