Scottish Labour candidate in row over message about journalist’s Jewish heritage

Jean Anne Mitchell doubts whether BBC’s Nick Robinson can be unbiased; denying wrongdoing, she says she has ‘so many Jewish friends’

Jean Anne Mitchell, Scottish Labour candidate for West Dunbartonshire, in video from December 5, 2019 (Screen grab via Twitter)
Jean Anne Mitchell, Scottish Labour candidate for West Dunbartonshire, in video from December 5, 2019 (Screen grab via Twitter)

A Scottish Labour candidate on Monday was revealed to have highlighted a journalist’s Jewish heritage in a message she sent after a televised debate between party leaders ahead of Thursday’s UK general election.

Jean Anne Mitchell, who hopes to be elected as the Scottish Labour MP for West Dunbartonshire, sent the messages in a WhatsApp group for candidates, the Daily Record reported.

The debate was hosted by Nick Robinson, a BBC journalist who has described himself as “a Jew by birth, was raised C of E, married a committed Catholic and is now an agnostic.”

According to the report, Mitchell shared comments with the group that had been sent to her by unnamed friends.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, left, shakes hands with Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, center, with debate moderator TV presenter Nick Robinson, right, during a head to head live Election Debate at the BBC TV studios in Maidstone, England, December 6, 2019 ( Jeff Overs/BBC via AP)

“We watched the BBC Leadership Debate chaired by Nick Robinson. Throughout the debate we felt that Robinson gave [Prime Minister Boris] Johnson an easy time, allowing him to avoid answering the audience’s questions and instead giving him free reign to attack [Labour leader Jeremy] Corbyn. We thought he was biased. And then we Googled him,” the message said.

The message included the results of an online search about Robinson stating “his mother was born in Shanghai, where her German-Jewish parents fled during the 1930s,” before continuing, “that makes him Jewish.” The messages also noted that Robinson had been a member of the Young Conservatives, the youth wing of the Labour party’s election rivals.

When asked by the Scottish newspaper for comment on the messages, Mitchell said she had shared them “for information purposes, nothing more” and it was “absolutely” not an endorsement, before adding that she had not read properly the message about Robinson’s Jewish heritage.

“I’ve got so many Jewish friends and I would never, ever, ever do anything that was in any way anti-Semitic,” said Mitchell.

Scottish Labour is the division of the UK Labour party that sits in the Scottish parliament. Last month the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Labour party each suspended one of their candidates in the coming UK general election over past social media posts that were allegedly anti-Semitic.

Amid pervasive, ongoing concerns of anti-Semitism rocking Labour, a top leader in the party apologized on Sunday for “the suffering we’ve inflicted” on the British Jewish community and admitted that the scandal could affect Labour’s prospects in the country’s December 12 general elections.

“We’re doing everything possible and we are going to learn more lessons and we want to be the shining example of anti-racism that the Labour party should be,” John McDonnell, a close ally of Labour’s far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn and his effective number 2, said in a BBC interview on Sunday.

Labour MP John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, speaks ahead of the Grenfell fire one-year anniversary solidarity march organized by Justice4Grenfell and the Fire Brigade’s Union, in Westminster in London, June 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Jewish groups and others have accused Corbyn of allowing a massive rise in anti-Semitism within the ranks of the party, and of being anti-Semitic himself. Corbyn and his supporters have rejected the charges, claiming Labour had made an effort to clamp down on anti-Semitic members.

But documents leaked from the party’s internal disciplinary department and publicized on Sunday showed over 130 cases of party members expressing virulently anti-Semitic views, including calls for the extermination of Jews, and being allowed to remain in the party for months and even years after complaints against them were filed.

The cases that reportedly went unpunished included members denying and distorting the Holocaust, sharing news stories about “a Jewish agenda to obtain the conquest of the gentile world,” and saying it is justified to have a “dim view of the Jews.”

A dossier from the Jewish Labour Movement released last week accused Corbyn of personally engaging in anti-Semitism in nine cases.

Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks on stage at a rally as he campaigns for the general election in Swansea, south Wales on December 7, 2019 (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

The accusation was featured in a damning 53-page report filed to a body tasked with probing anti-Semitism within the UK’s main opposition party.

Thousands of cases of alleged hate speech against Jews have been recorded within Labour since 2015, when Corbyn was elected to lead it. The party is currently being formally investigated by the UK’s anti-racism watchdog.

Corbyn has insisted that he is not anti-Semitic and his party has dealt with the problem. Last week, he said he was “sorry for everything that has happened” regarding the ongoing tensions between his Labour Party and the British Jewish community, after earlier refusing to say so when repeatedly asked by the BBC’s Andrew Neil.

Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the snap election — the third in Britain in nearly five years — last month to try to get a parliamentary majority which would enable him to secure backing for his Brexit deal.

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