On Sunday 22nd Sept, I, a Labour Party member since 1986, had my banner taken down from outside Conference. Why? The police agreed it was not anti-Semitic. When Zionists first started complaining about it, the police photographed it and referred it to their superiors. Not a problem, they said. The banner could stay.
But the Zionists, from the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) and the Sussex Friends of Israel (FoI) were incandescent with rage. Repeatedly they complained and when the police refused to act, they took the law into their own hands.
Cllr Joshua Garfield from Newham Council rushed past me at the banner and slashed it in two. The police apprehended him and removed the large sharp scissors he had used and took his details. (Later Garfield boasted about it on twitter.)
The Secretary from Labour Against the Witch-hunt and I repaired it. Yet again it was attacked, ripped in half again by another Zionist. We repaired it again.
At this point local hoodlum Simon Cobbs (Founder of Sussex Friends of Israel and ex-resident of HMP Exeter) stood spread-eagled before it and refused to move. After an hour of this he moved away, whereupon another extremist rushed the banner and this time ripped it in several places.
On each occasion we repaired the banner, and on each occasion the police caught the assailant and took their details.
The police asked me if I would consider taking down the banner; I said I would not do this- I explained this was a matter of freedom of speech; I was in a public space, the banner was not anti-Semitic.
Eventually, a group of Zionists stood before the banner and created a scene, arguing and shouting with a group of us who defended the banner, supporters of free speech. At a certain point the police made the decision that a possible public order offence had been committed. They removed the banner and took it away.
The police explained that it was now evidence in a potential public order charge….AGAINST me!
It would appear the police had been bullied into making a decision into taking my banner on the grounds that I had committed a public order offence, rather than those who had been harassing and attacking me, calling me an anti-Semite. Readers can see the slashed banner here.
Later that day, Jeremy Corbyn waded in. He tweeted:
I’m disgusted that this banner was displayed near our #Lab19 conference centre. We asked the police to remove it and I’m glad they did. This kind of antisemitic poison has no place whatsoever in our society.”
I'm disgusted that this banner was displayed near our #Lab19 conference centre.
We asked the police to remove it and I'm glad they did.
This kind of antisemitic poison has no place whatsoever in our society.https://t.co/YvL3LloYC4
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) September 23, 2019
This brought forward 1,800 responses, many from people who couldn’t see anything anti-Semitic about the banner at all. Even the artist, Latuff, said so:
No, Mr. @jeremycorbyn that banner was not disgusting.
-how the #Israel Lobby™ weaponize anti-Semitism to silence critics.
-how you bowed down to your detractors and ordered removal of a banner with a @Mondoweiss cartoon I made in defense of you!
— Carlos Latuff (@LatuffCartoons) September 23, 2019
On the Monday, I attended a voluntary interview at the John Street police station where I was interviewed under caution with the duty solicitor present. I explained what the banner was about and why I had brought it to Brighton, to promote political discussion on the weaponization of anti-Semitism.
I explained about the Al-Jazeera documentary on which the banner was based, The Lobby , which portrayed how Israel funds the take-down of politicians sympathetic to Palestine, using groups such as the JLM and the FoI.
I noted the banner had particular relevance at this time. An election was coming and that once the date was announced, newspapers would be full of accusations of anti-Semitism aimed at Labour politicians who have dared to criticise Israel, in an effort to undermine their vote. I thought it important to point out the role a foreign country was having in British electoral affairs.
I concluded by telling the police that I was disappointed in them for undermining my freedom of speech.
The police must now decide if they will ask the CPS to prosecute me; it is likely to be months before a decision is made.
In the meantime, I will pursue claims of criminal damage against those who attacked my banner and against the police for taking it down, for the Human Rights Act of 1998 – Article 10 protects my right to hold my own opinions and to express them freely without government interference, including through works of art.
The next day, Rabbi Ahron Cohen of the Neturei Karta spoke to me and gave his view that he could not fathom any way that the banner was anti-Semitic.
Many are dumbfounded at Corbyn’s tweet describing it as such. When the Lobby film was shown in 2017, its fairness and accuracy was supported by OFCOM and Corbyn called for an investigation, so he knew that Israel pumps millions of pounds into Zionist defamation activities in the UK with the sole aim of shutting down any debate on Israel’s racist treatment of Arabs and Christians.
However, according to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism adopted by most political parties, to say that Israel is a racist endeavour is now seen as prejudice against Jews.
The banner says: “IHRA: tell the NEC how you feel”, because I wanted Labour members to tell the Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to abandon the IHRA definition they adopted a year ago, an action Corbyn himself objected to.
Party members are now beholden to a definition whereby any activist criticising Israel as racist becomes an anti-Semite, a plainly ludicrous claim. This enables Zionists to make endless charges of anti-Semitism against anti-apartheid activists.
Most of these accusations come from the JLM, registered as a socialist society affiliated to Labour.
I am chair of Labour Against Zionist Islamophobic Racism (LAZIR), a group of Labour Party activists which sees Zionism as racism and who want to end its influence, seeking to get the JLM disaffiliated. At the Conference, we distributed 1,500 flyers to Party members calling for this, highlighting the JLM’s role in undermining any politician who supports Palestine and criticises Israel.
Corbyn’s pro-Palestine stance has drawn JLM’s ire and they have declared Corbyn “unfit to be prime minister”. They score Labour candidates seeking election according to their level of support for Israel, working with the media to undermine whose whom they don’t like or who support Corbyn.
One doesn’t have to be either Jewish or in the Labour Party to be in the JLM.
Labour’s founding planks are fairness, equality and social justice. LAZIR point out that JLM’s sole focus is on protecting Israel, sharing none of Labour’s values in their disregard for Palestinian rights.
I emailed Corbyn in response to the tweet, pointing out the Rabbi’s views and that he himself had called for an investigation into Israel’s work undermining UK politicians; he had also not supported Labour adopting the full IHRA definition.
I copied in all NEC members and drew this response from Jon Lansman:
I do not wish to receive any more of your messages. Your obsessive hatred of those you call “Zionists” marks you out as an anti-Semite. To be clear, you do not have my permission to retain my contact details so please delete them and never contact me again.”
Lansman is Momentum leader and the man responsible for getting the IHRA definition adopted by Labour in 2018. He is a strong supporter of Israel and spent years on a kibbutz. He is also one of the nine CLP reps on the NEC and as such was elected to represent the views of CLP members, including me. I consider that as my rep, Lansman must accept that part of his role is to receive communications on Labour Party matters from members.
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson couldn’t resist wading in as well, saying in the Jewish Chronicle he was furious about this “deliberate intimidation of Jewish Labour members at the conference”.
He said “Regardless of where and why it is outrageous to come to a conference of a democratic party and to intimidate people who are just trying to make the world a better place.” I do not consider Watson’s unbridled support for Israel is in any way making the world a better place.
I am now in discussion with my solicitors; I will seek redress through the courts.
Latuff’s cartoon was first published in September 2018, when it was used to illustrate Gregson’s article Why let Netanyahu write the Labour rulebook?
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