Is Tom Watson paid by wealthy Zionists to ‘represent a foreign power’?

This meme attacking Tom Watson has been doing the rounds on social media lately. Frankly, it is depressing that anyone on the left can think it’s appropriate to promote such conspiracist drivel. For crying out loud: “My Israeli handler Mark Regev”! What goes through people’s minds when they post this crap?

Whoever compiled the £100,000 figure for political donations to Watson that features in the meme was being highly selective. They obviously scrolled through the Electoral Commission database and picked out two particular donors, while ignoring others, in order to accuse Watson of being in the pocket of pro-Israel Jewish multimillionaires. (There is nothing new in this claim — George McManus was suspended from the Labour Party last year after making the same allegation.)

If you check the Electoral Commission records you’ll find that since 2015 Watson has indeed received substantial donations from Trevor Chinn and David Garrard—a total of £90,000 altogether, comprising £50,000 from Chinn and £40,000 from Garrard. But Chinn and Garrard’s individual contributions have been considerably less than those of another multimillionaire, Derek Webb, who has donated £97,000 to Watson over the same period.

And the generosity of Chinn, Garrard and Webb pales into insignificance beside that of Max Mosley. In addition to donations of £40,000 to Watson himself, Mosley provided financial support to the Deputy Leader’s office via the Labour Party to the tune of an eye-watering £500,000. (Following revelations last year about Mosley’s earlier active support for his father Oswald’s fascist movement, the party announced that it would accept no further financial assistance from him.)

As for Labour Friends of Israel, Watson did declare a single relatively modest donation of £4,500, but that was the estimated cost of a November 2016 visit to Israel for Watson and two assistants. He also declared a donation of £8,800 from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Qatar, which was the cost of a visit to that country in February last year. I assume nobody is arguing that Watson has now fallen under the control of the House of Thani and reports directly to his masters in the Qatari embassy.

So Watson has certainly received large-scale financial support from a number of wealthy donors. Why did they give him the money? The answer is that Watson supports the same causes that they do, and as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport he is able to exercise political influence in support of those causes.

Max Mosley donated to Watson because he has campaigned along with Mosley for full implementation of the Leveson proposals for press regulation. Derek Webb donated because of Watson’s opposition to fixed-odds betting terminals, a policy promoted by Webb’s Campaign for Fairer Gambling. Chinn and Garrard no doubt donated mainly because they think Watson’s aggressively pro-Israel stance serves as a counterweight to the pro-Palestinian politics of Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters within the Labour Party.

But the suggestion that these donations prove that Watson has been bribed into taking the positions he does is nonsense. He isn’t a fervent Zionist because he’s paid to be so by Chinn and Garrard, any more than he advocates improved regulation of the press and opposes fixed-odds betting terminals because Mosley and Webb have paid him to do that.

Watson in fact has a long history of support for Israel. He has stated that he first visited the country back in 1992 in his capacity as chair of the National Organisation of Labour Students. In 2002, the year after his election to parliament, he put himself forward for the position of chair of Labour Friends of Israel. At the time of his election as Deputy Leader he was vice-chair of Trade Union Friends of Israel and “robustly” anti-BDS, as the Jewish Chronicle noted approvingly, before adding:

“His stance was shaped by both his background in campus politics — Labour Students, in which he was a key player in the early 1990s, has long allied with the Union of Jewish Students — and his political apprenticeship at the hands of Ken Jackson, pro-Israel leader of the old AEEU union, and John Spellar, the West Midlands MP who leads Labour’s right-wing traditionalists.”

In other words Watson’s support for Zionism and hostility towards the pro-Palestinian left were well established before he received a penny from Trevor Chinn or David Garrard.

As was demonstrated by the Al Jazeera documentary The Lobby, which exposed the Israeli embassy’s secret efforts to undermine British politicians it regarded as too sympathetic to the Palestinian people, Zionist conspiracies are not always a paranoid antisemitic fantasy. However, to show a conspiracy exists you need concrete evidence. The unsubstantiated accusation in the above meme — that donations from Chinn, Garrard and LFI prove that Watson is the paid agent of a foreign power, acting under the direct instructions of Israeli ambassador Regev — verges on the deranged.

There are numerous reasons to oppose Watson’s politics. These do include his continued acceptance of donations from David Garrard, who makes no secret of his hatred for the present-day Labour Party (which he complains has been “hijacked by an ultra-Left cabal” whose intention is to “turn our nation into a socialist republic”) or of his role in providing financial backing for the launch of the anti-Labour “centrist” group Change UK. But the promotion of crackpot conspiracy theories doesn’t help at all. It just provides ammunition for Watson and the rest of the Labour right to use in their attacks on the left.

This article was first published on Medium in July 2019