On Tuesday night, the BBC's flagship program Newsnight devoted a large chunk of its airtime to the ongoing saga of the attack of the Daily Mail newspaper on Ralph Miliband, the deceased father of the Labour Party's leader, Ed Miliband, a Marxist academic who was described by the paper "The Man Who Hated Britain."
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In the studio to argue against and in favor of the Daily Mail's feature, written by Geoffrey Levy, were Alastair Campbell, the former communications chief for ex-prime minister Tony Blair who doesn't have an official role but is always ready to take up the cudgels on behalf of the party against the rightwing press and Jon Steafel, the deputy editor of the Daily Mail. Campbell lambasted Steafel not only for his paper's line but also for filling in for his boss, the most feared editor in Britain, Paul Dacre. Campbell said that Dacre didn’t turn up himself because he's a "coward." But that wasn't what some viewers were thinking.
"They put Steafel on because he's Jewish," said a veteran British-Jewish journalist who asked not to be named. "It was clear, just in the same way that they got a writer called Levy to write the piece." Other Jewish journalists said to me since Tuesday that it was also their impression.
The Jewish issue remained whispered on the sidelines of the Daily Mail/Miliband controversy during its first days. The paper hadn't made it in to an issue, though Ed Miliband in a wounded column he wrote in response emphasized that his father had arrived in Britain as a Jewish refugee from Nazi-occupied Belgium and that contrary to the Daily Mail's claim, he had always been grateful to Britain for providing him sanctuary while millions of other Jews were being murdered. But Miliband Junior did not accuse the paper of anti-Semitism and neither did any other of his party's senior members until Wednesday when John Mann, a Labour member of parliament and the chairman of the parliamentary committee against anti-Semitism tweeted that the Mail ran a “classical age-old anti-Semitic smear about disloyal Jews.”
The next morning the London Jewish Chronicle had Mann's accusation as its banner headline backed up inside by no less than four columns accusing the Daily Mail of embarking on a smear campaign designed to insinuate that Miliband is not to be trusted because of his Jewish immigrant background and that this was a slur on all British Jews. The paper's main op-ed went even further writing about "the whiff of anti-Semitism that surrounds both the original piece and the subsequent Mail editorial seeking to justify it." The paper quoted a couple of politicians who said they had not perceived any anti-Semitism but no columnist was willing to write a defense of the Daily Mail's piece.
Attacking the Daily Mail, a paper which is relatively pro-Israel and has a number of Jewish writers and columnists, over anti-Semitism, is no small matter. It's the second-most read paper in Britain and as the latest episode proves, hardly pulls it punches when it dislikes a public figure. Despite the outcry by Jewish journalists and writers, no representative body of British Jewry has commented on the affair.
Meanwhile the scandal isn't dying down and the Mail's Sunday paper was forced to issue an apology when it emerged that it had sent a reporter to a private family memorial service for Miliband's uncle, trying to elicit quotes from his relatives and leftwing activists launched a campaign calling upon advertisers to boycott the paper.