Campaign Against Antisemitism is calling for the BBC, Sky News and other channels to ban appearances of the public health expert John Ashton, after the JC published his tweets comparing Zionists to Nazis and appearing to minimise Jewish suffering in the Holocaust.
Prof. Ashton has become a regular fixture on national television, known for his criticism of the Government’s handling of COVID-19. He has also been irritated when his prior political affiliation to the Labour Party and his outspoken views on politics have been publicised.
But he will now be known for incendiary social media postings comparing Zionists to Nazis, seemingly minimising Jewish suffering in the Holocaust and criticising religious male circumcision.
In one tweet in 2012, Prof. Ashton, who was serving as President of the Faculty of Public Health at the time (a position he held from 2012 until 2018), reportedly said that it was “sickening to see Zionists behave like Nazis.” He also apparently said that “The Nazi thing was not a distraction to the Jews in Europe. The Zionist thing is not a distraction to the Palestinians.”
When Ed Miliband, as Leader of the Labour Party, suggested in 2013 that he might be a Zionist, Prof. Ashton is reported to have responded: “Is this true? If Miliband is a Zionist what are the humanistic internationalists to do? Is this Labour Party policy?”
At another point, he apparently suggested that the “way to get on in [the Labour] Party is to curry favour with Zionist donors.” Prof. Ashton was formerly a member of the Labour Party but has since, he says, resigned his membership.
In 2014, he reportedly made reference to the “Gaza Ghetto,” adding that it was “surely time for Jews to reflect.” He also wrote: “Is it [Israel] now satisfied about how many children it has murdered? What price the Holocaust?” He also apparently wrote: “It’s very sad how intransigence of the Zionists has sullied the universal empathy for the victims of the Holocaust.”
According to the International Definition of Antisemitism, “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” is an example of antisemitism, as is “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.”
Prof. Ashton is also accused of describing Dame Louise Ellman, a Jewish former Labour MP, of being a “vile Zionist”, and in 2012, when the Jewish then-Labour MP Luciana Berger raised the matter of food banks with the Government, he apparently wrote: “what about the Palestinians?”. In 2013 he reportedly said of Ms Berger: “She is from London and a Zionist. Full stop. Doesn’t fit with Liverpool’s universalism. End of.”
Various tweets have also appeared to minimise Jewish suffering in the Holocaust, which may also be a breach of the Definition. On Holocaust Memorial Day in 2017, he reportedly wrote: “It would be helpful if everybody remembered that the Holocaust was about Gays, Gypsies and the Disabled as well as Jews,” adding in that same year: “And homosexuals and people with learning disabilities. The Holocaust was not just one group.”
In 2018, he apparently wrote: “In Germany in the 1930s the Nazis blamed the Jews for everything. In the UK in 2018 the Tories blame Corbyn for everything,” while later that year, with the opening of a Holocaust exhibition in Liverpool, where he resides, Prof. Ashton is said to have tweeted: “And the Gay holocaust and the holocaust of those with learning difficulties?”
When the JC contacted Prof. Ashton, the newspaper reported that he said: “I think this is mischievous and I don’t recognise most of what you have just read to me. My position about antisemitism is very clear. I have always stood firm against antisemitism.” He added: “I really don’t know what you are about,” and “I have never compared Jews to Nazis. I would suggest in the interest of world peace to really try to make something out of this is really unhelpful. I am very strongly for interfaith understanding.”
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “It is unacceptable for the BBC, Sky News or other channels to be featuring Prof. Ashton in its programmes. In addition to the concerns raised by others, his history of incendiary social media posts, which include antisemitic comments, mean that he can have no place on our television screens. We will also be writing to his professional regulator.”