Fringe meeting of the day, but was I the only reporter there?
Hundreds attended this week's launch of Jewish Voice for Labour in a Brighton seafront ballroom - except, it seemed, the media
28 September, 2017 — By John Gulliver
David Rosenberg, a leading Jewish Socialist for several years, is one of those behind Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL)
IT wasn’t possible to squeeze more people into the Brighton seafront hotel ballroom without breaking every rule on fire safety.
Dozens stood at the back, dozens in the aisles. The launch on Monday evening of a new Jewish group, Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) – reported to be non-Zionist, ushered in by a prominent retired Appeal Court judge and an Oxford professor – drew more than 305 delegates and visitors from the Labour Party conference being held a few yards down the esplanade.
Everybody was there – except, it seemed, fellow reporters. It was the fringe meeting of the day but they were absent.
Next day, not a word about it in the mainstream media except a highly exaggerated “report” of a shared speaker who earlier at another meeting had “denied” the Holocaust. But did he?
But first, the three men who launched the new group – Sir Stephen Sedley, retired Court of Appeal judge (and a long-time resident of Kentish Town); Oxford professor Avi Shlaim, a renowned academic on international relations; and David Rosenberg, a leading Jewish Socialist for several years. All battle-hardened in the war of the past year with the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) representing members who are Zionists though, apparently, you don’t have to be a party member to belong to it. Among its leading figures is Mike Katz, a prominent Hampstead member. Apart from anything else there is one big difference between the two groups – you cannot belong to the JVL unless you carry a Labour card.
In that sense, it must have been a kind of coming out occasion publicly for Professor Shlaim and Sir Stephen though neither has ever been shy about their allegiance to Labour.
Professor Avi Shlaim and, right, Sir Stephen Sedley (PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF EXETER)
Is there anti-Semitism in the Labour Party? Yes, say JLM supporters, including MPs. Not really, and it has all been exaggerated by opponents of Corbyn, says JVL.
From JLM comes the accusation that JVL members and their like use criticism of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians as a cover for anti-Semitic views.
No, said JVL speakers, including Sir Stephen who argued that opponents of free speech were “conflating” the two issues – Israel and anti-Semitism – to cloud the controversy.
When I reported this controversy at last year’s Liverpool conference the hall was packed – but the atmosphere was pretty muted. Both sides took up the cudgels, at the meeting chaired by Richard Kuper, another Camden resident, and a supporter of the rights of Palestinians.
But feelings clearly soured in the past year, hence the birth of JVL. But there is no denying there are competing definitions of what anti-Semitism consists of. And now that such eminent public intellectuals like Professor Shlaim and Sir Stephen have stepped in to lead the charge against JLM which is, in a sense, officially recognised by the party, it looks as if the controversy won’t go away, much though the party leadership would like it to.
Well, did Miko Peled, son of a famous Israeli general, actually deny the Holocaust ever happened?
Tuesday’s Evening Standard and yesterday’s dailies suggested he did. He spoke at a Monday fringe meeting – and then suddenly popped up at the meeting I attended.
He gave a long, meandering exposition of the way the Palestinians had been driven off their lands by Israel, first in the 1940s, then in the 1967 war. It went on for more than 30 minutes and, somewhere in his talk, he implied that what had happened to the Palestinians could be likened to a “holocaust” but I never heard a word of “denial”.
If the dailies and TV news channels covered more fringe meetings they would have heard what Miko Peled actually said.
Instead, there is a lot of sound and fury – and few facts.