Ken Loach wins major victory over smear campaign against him

Ken Loach at the BAFTAs
Ed Sykes

Right-wingers recently sought to smear award-winning film director Ken Loach in order to force a charity to disown him. But Loach has just won a big victory, with the charity openly defending him.

A big defeat for cynical smears

As Artists for Palestine UK reported on 5 March:

Well-known and widely-respected anti-racism charity Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC) has upheld its invitation to filmmaker Ken Loach to judge the charity’s 2020 School Competition. The competition (to be judged jointly with author and former children’s laureate Michael Rosen) is a major anti-racist fixture.

This followed an attempt to push SRtRC to cancel Loach’s participation. As journalist Asa Winstanley explained:

The announcement was immediately condemned by leading pro-Israel lobby group the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which called Loach a “poor choice” to judge the competition.

The Board wrote to the charity soon after, with a misleading series of decontextualized quotations it attributed to Loach. The quotations condemned Israel and its official ideology Zionism.

In a statement, SRtRC made it clear that “we condemn antisemitism and racism in all its forms” and that “with hate crime on the rise – and the Jewish community increasingly a target – our anti-racism work is more vital now than ever”. It continued:

Many prominent figures in academia, the arts, education, law, media, politics, science and sport have contacted us to endorse our decision to work with Ken and Michael, and to refute the allegations made against them. We are grateful for their support, as well as for the kind messages we have received from the public. We have taken time to reflect and listen, and we stand by our decision to work with Ken and Michael, who are both long-standing supporters of our charity.

“These smears are very distressing”

Following the charity’s decision, Loach stated:

It is a great shame that Show Racism the Red Card has had to deal with baseless claims of this sort. They are a distraction from the vital work of anti-racist education, which is needed now more than ever. These smears are very distressing to me and my family, but I have been overwhelmed by the support of so many artists, academics, lawyers, footballers, trade unionists – people with a lifetime’s experience of committed work in their fields. I am honoured to be judging the competition, and I look forward to engaging with the work of so many thousands of young people.

Fellow judge Rosen, who has also been smeared with antisemitism accusations commented:

All my life I have campaigned against antisemitic hate, joining demonstrations against the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and writing extensively on important areas of Jewish interest. As an author, my books include a celebration of Emile Zola’s defence of Alfred Dreyfus; my recent book for young people on the fate of my relatives in the Holocaust reflects many years involvement in Holocaust Education.

I am beginning to wonder how the word “antisemitism” is being used. As a child my parents told me of their fight against antisemitism in the East End of London in the 1930s. I am worried and saddened that our fight against antisemitism, as I have always understood it to mean, is being undermined.

Support

Over 200 high-profile figures had urged SRtRC not to give in to the smears against Loach. These included musicians, actors, lawyers, academics, trade unionists, football legends, and politicians.

Multi-award-winning actor Mark Rylance accused Loach’s critics of “slander”, while fellow acting star Steve Coogan stressed that Loach’s:

entire career has been to shine a light on the plight of the dispossessed and the disenfranchised

Many prominent people welcomed SRtRC’s decision. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell stated:

I am pleased that Ken Loach is now able to fully participate in this initiative.There should have been no questioning of his ability to do so. Ken is an outstanding, dedicated campaigner against racism in all its forms.

Meanwhile, film director Mike Leigh insisted:

The charity has unquestionably made the right moral decision. It is preposterous to call Ken an antisemite.   Ridiculous, in fact.

Compassion

SRtRC ended its statement by highlighting the compassion Loach and Rosen have shown in their work:

As award-winning icons in their respective fields, it is very exciting for us that Ken and Michael have agreed to be judges.  But equally important is the compassion we have seen them show to people – of all races and religions – who our charity is here to help.

Featured image via screengrab

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