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THE CANARY: WHAT IS IT AND WHAT IS WRONG WITH IT?

A Socialists Against Antisemitism assessment

Update Monday 19th July 2021: The analysis in this article remains entirely valid and was up to date at the time of publication. However, we have heard that Kerry-Anne Mendoza is leaving The Canary at the end of July. We will be keeping an eye on The Canary to see if their output improves on the matter of antisemitism.

The Canary is perhaps the best-known of the left websites and social media outlets that sprang up around the time that Jeremy Corbyn became Leader of the Labour Party in 2015; some predate this occasion. It was founded by Kerry-Anne Mendoza and her wife, Nancy, from whom the former takes her surname, in 2015.  She was the first Editor-in-Chief of The Canary and is their most prominent writer.

The Canary has generally supported Jeremy Corbyn and his allies politically. Its outlook is orthodox Labour left on some issues, although curiously Mendoza denies this, claiming that it is liberal and issue-driven. However, The Canary often embraces conspiracy theories that are not a part of orthodox left politics. 

Mendoza is a friend of David Icke, one of the world’s most prominent conspiracy theorists, and although The Canary does not embrace the totality of Icke’s views, some aspects of his thinking can be seen on the site and on its accompanying social media. She sometimes appears on the Richie Allen Show – Allen is a close associate of Icke, and he has frequently hosted Holocaust deniers on his show. 

Mendoza is no longer a member of the Labour Party, opting to resign after Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership came to an end in 2020 (it is not clear whether disciplinary action against her had either been carried out or threatened). However, that has not prevented her from appearing in Labour-associated settings, including Stand Up For Labour.

The Canary covers a wide variety of issues, generally from a Britain-based perspective. A number of its features have a viewpoint that most left-of-centre people would agree with. 

The problems often arise when it talks about Israel and Palestine, and also Syria. It is unashamedly hostile to Israel and supportive of the Palestinians; this in itself is not the problem, the problem instead being the manner in which it sometimes campaigns on these issues. In terms of Syria, it has a largely Assadist point of view; it tends to dismiss evidence of genocidal activities as American, British or otherwise Western misinformation, as we will see in later examples. This is a conspiracist attitude, and conspiracy theory is often at least hinted at, sometimes propagated, on the site. 

In terms of Israel and Palestine, the website hints at conspiracy theories of a sometimes antisemitic nature rather than explicitly state it. This is frequently taken up by readers on its social media, and comments ranging from conspiracy theory to actual Holocaust denial are generally allowed to go unmoderated, although The Canary itself has not directly indulged in Holocaust denial. Some of the examples we will give from the site have antisemitic content. The Canary hotly denies that it is antisemitic, and has even stated that it fights antisemitism, saying that it is merely anti-Zionist. We agree that there is a distinction to be made between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. However, it is clear that in many cases anti-Semites consciously hide behind anti-Zionism, and that in other cases anti-Zionists can lapse into antisemitic tropes, thoughts or expressions. Equally, however, we fully accept that it is totally possible to be anti-Zionist without being antisemitic.

The Canary has a number of different writers. This is similar to a number of other sites, such as Novara Media. However, while Novara’s writers occupy a relatively wide spectrum of left opinion, and can often differ in their political interpretation, The Canary has an identifiable “line” from which it does not generally depart. There is no evidence that other writers have any real differences from the line taken by Mendoza in her articles. Therefore, it is our submission that, although she has a very active social media in her own name, there is no significant divergence between the views expressed by her on her own social media and those expressed in The Canary, and we believe that it is reasonable to consider some of her own social media posts as well as those in The Canary itself.

Examples:

1.Chris Williamson has had two spells as an MP, preceded by his leadership of Derby Council (where he led a coalition with the local Conservatives). In his first spell as an MP, which ended with defeat in 2015, he was regarded as being on the right of the Labour Party. By the time he regained his seat only two years later in 2017, he repositioned himself on the left, having helped in the meantime to run the social media page Red Labour. He increasingly took up issues which caused real concern to campaigners against antisemitism, supporting Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker (both expelled from Labour for antisemitism-related offences), signing a petition in favour of Holocaust denier Gilad Atzmon, and expressing vocal support for, amongst others, antisemitic conspiracy theorist Cyril Chilson and Assadist campaigner Vanessa Beeley. Eventually, these activities earned him a suspension from the Labour Party, and then he resigned to stand against Labour rather than be expelled. He has totally embraced the conspiracy theories that the White Helmets are al-Qaeda-affiliated and that genocidal atrocities committed by Syria are a lie. These views, as well as his constant dalliance with antisemitic figures, mark him out as egregiously conspiracist and antisemitism-condoning (at least), and yet The Canary is very happy to promote him, as it has done on numerous occasions:

2.  The Jewish Labour Movement has been part of the Labour Party for over 100 years, and is the official representative of the Jewish community within the party. It has a record in recent years of strong opposition to many of the policies and actions of Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud-led government (as I write this, recently voted out of office by the Knesset). And yet Mendoza describes JLM as “white supremacists”: 

Canary editor Mendoza suspended from Twitter after ‘white supremacist’ JLM post – The Jewish Chronicle (thejc.com). 

https://www.thejc.com/news/uk/canary-editor-mendoza-suspended-from-twitter-after-white-supremacist-jlm-post-1.509193

This is obviously completely unjustifiable, unfair, and disdainful of the Jewish community and its representatives.

3.  It is not uncommon to see inappropriate comparisons between Israel and the Nazis, and The Canary frequently makes and justifies such comparisons. It is inappropriate for a number of reasons; the whole point of Nazi ideology was that the Jews were to blame for all that was ill with the world, including, intriguingly, both market capitalism and communism (Bolshevism was frequently used as a code word for Jews in Nazi Germany). Whatever Israel has done wrong, it does not endorse Nazi ideology. Although Israel can be said to have been responsible for the death of thousands and displacement of hundreds and thousands of Palestinian Arabs, there is simply no comparison with the industrial-style attempted annihilation by the mass murder of an entire people that the Nazis carried out. Although Jews were far from being their only victims, six million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis, a number that represents not far short of half the entire Jewish population of the world today – only about 15 million Jews live in the world. However, The Canary, and Mendoza, disregard this and continue to make  highly inappropriate comparisons between Israel and the Nazis :  Kerry-Anne Mendoza, disgraced editor of The Canary blog, appears to double down yet again on comparison of Israel to Nazis (antisemitism.org)  https://antisemitism.org/kerry-anne-mendoza-disgraced-editor-of-the-canary-blog-appears-to-double-down-yet-again-on-comparison-of-israel-to-nazis/

4. In recent months, another prominent figure has caused real pain to Jewish students at the University of Bristol (which happens to be Mendoza’s native city). This is Professor David Miller, who works increasingly with most of the figures mentioned above, and who has been suspended from the Labour Party (though not at the time of writing from his university post) for antisemitism. The Canary however supports him:  Public figures speak out to defend Bristol professor David Miller | The Canary https://www.thecanary.co/uk/news/2021/03/13/public-figures-speak-out-to-defend-bristol-professor-david-miller/

5. Although Mendoza has never explicitly denied the Holocaust as far as we are aware, she is perfectly capable of indulging in Holocaust minimisation, as she does here in her utterly inappropriate attack on Sir Keir Starmer :

6. Mendoza here also uses completely inappropriate Nazi language – “Arbeit Macht Frei” was the cynical and mendacious phrase which the Nazis used on a large sign at the Auschwitz extermination camp. Such language is a trivialisation of the Holocaust and we deplore it :

7. In this example, Mendoza appears to accuse Jewish members of the Labour Party en masse (except presumably the small minority who are members or supporters of JVL) as being racist against both Black and Palestinian people, without any evidence. It is always unfair and racist to apply collective guilt to an ethnic group. She appears to be advocating what amounts to lynching of Jewish people: https://www.facebook.com/socialistsagainstantisemitism/posts/681969955987332

8. Here she enthusiastically endorses and retweets an absurd antisemitic conspiracy theory, almost worthy of the Protocols of the Learner Elders of Zion : https://www.facebook.com/socialistsagainstantisemitism/posts/421429475374716

9. Here she dismisses the legitimate concerns of Jewish people about antisemitism peremptorily:  https://www.facebook.com/socialistsagainstantisemitism/posts/396738334510497

10. In this tweet, The Canary with no evidence whatsoever accuses former Young Labour Chair Miriam Mirwitch of being pro-Israel and of taking part in pile-ons. We are of the strong opinion that this has been done purely because she is Jewish:  https://www.facebook.com/socialistsagainstantisemitism/posts/519878542196475

In Summary

There are many other examples we could give but we hope that the ones we have provided give a strong picture of why we at Socialists Against Antisemitism find both The Canary and its editor-at-large Kerry-Anne Mendoza highly problematic. Although they have never explicitly denied the facts of the Holocaust, they have persistently, in a number of ways, given aid and comfort to those who do. They have persistently denied that there has been a serious problem with antisemitism in the Labour Party, despite clear evidence gathered by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission that that is indeed the case; and we submit that denialism of antisemitism is in itself a form of antisemitism. 

They use antisemitic tropes and references with some frequency, but also provide an environment where more direct and noxious forms of antisemitism are tolerated or even encouraged. As is commonplace amongst people with antisemitic attitudes, they attempt to hide behind the banner of anti-Zionism when what is actually taking place is various forms of antisemitism. 

Of course, the established press is not noted for its willingness to represent left-wing political views fairly, and thus there are some on the left who are reluctant to call out The Canary for its antisemitic discourse, its denialism regarding Syrian genocide, and a number of other things. We believe that to be a fundamental mistake. Socialism is not compatible with racism of any kind; once there is racism, it ceases to be true socialism. It is a site which could have a great deal to offer, but ruins its offer by insisting on what at least at times is an antisemitic analysis. 

We urge Labour MPs and other leading Labour figures not to lend them a respectability they do not possess by supporting them or being interviewed by them. The left will be much stronger if it understands, identifies and refuses to countenance antisemitism, as with all forms of racism.

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