David Collier has written a magnificent blog about the TUC’s Tolpuddle Festival that we both attended at the weekend: He strikes precisely the right balance between the positive and negative. There are just a few things to add from my own perspective.
As David says, the Festival is mostly great fun, this year enhanced by the fabulous weather. For politics junkies it’s Nirvana. Apart from the trade union stands, there was a mobile cinema, a Cuba stand, a stand of the Marx Memorial Library, a stand for Debt Relief, stands for organisations that assist immigrants. And people are in a beautiful neutral environment, relaxed and with time to talk.
We were there with a specific purpose however: organised by Rosalind Schogger and supported by the ZF, to restore an informed Israel presence to the Festival, for the first year since 2015. If antisemitism is to be contained, this has to happen. Otherwise the field on the left is wide open for the PSC, War On Want, Medical Aid for Palestinians and Jewish Voice for Labour, all of which were in the ‘Martyrs’ Marquee’ on Sunday (apart from JVL, all were there on Saturday). Here was the flyer we gave out – the message being that trade union cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians (which is not generally known by UK union members) is happening and can be an an enabler of peace.
On Saturday I was in the Festival area, outside the marquee where the PSC and War On Want stands were located. I gave out 500 of the fliers, in about four or five hours. For the first few hours, it was excellent. People were smiling and interested in the information. A few even thanked me for being there. They had good questions, including a few that reflected the anti-Israel propaganda they had imbibed, inter alia from the four organisations mentioned above. Examples:
“I want to donate to the Palestinian trade union. How do I do this and how do I ensure that the money does not go to Hamas?”
“Isn’t the new act that was passed this week racist?”
“Why does Israel treat the Palestinians so badly?”
“Is Jeremy Corbyn antisemitic?”
Celia Dignan came to talk. She’s the Momentum Chair of Hornsey & Wood Green Constituency Labour Party. She wrongly insisted that Labour had adopted the entire IHRA. They did in 2016 – but then they reneged in 2018.
As David notes, in mid-afternoon the woman from Red Notes returned to berate me about the four Gazans who were killed in the retaliation for the shooting on Friday (20 July) of Staff Sergeant Aviv Levi. Other anti-Israel Festival attendees quickly piled in. Watch David Collier’s video here.
We had had a conversation in the morning, but she had subsequently learned about Friday’s retaliation. She starts by saying “loads of people were killed”. In fact four were killed – but I didn’t know the number, I had listened to the news but the incident was not mentioned. She then said “hundreds of Palestinians have been killed or injured”. Only afterwards was it clear that she had switched from talking about Friday to talking about the entire period since the ‘Return Marches’ began.
Here’s a commentary on the video:
0.37: A man (‘Black Hat Man’ BHM) joins in, saying about Hamas: “That’s resistance for stealing Palestinian land”
0.47: ‘Red Note Woman’ (RNW) says it was disproportionate. Wrong. ‘Proportionality’ in the law of war says you can use enough force to achieve your aim, it isn’t a numbers game.
1.24: BHM calls the Israeli government ‘terrorists’. He accuses me of smearing ‘us’ as antisemites. I deny it. RNW says ‘What are you doing here?’ and suggests our fliers are ‘lies’.
2.56: Enter WBTM (‘Welsh Black T-shirt Man’). In a baritone Richard Burton voice, he says that Israel uses Dum Dum bullets. A well-worn lie, Dylan Thomas voice or no Dylan Thomas voice.
Source: ‘Customary International Humanitarian Law: pt. 1-2. Practice’ edited by Jean-Marie Henckaerts, Louise Doswald-Beck, Carolin Alvermann. Regrettably Mr WBTM I did not have this book upon my person at Tolpuddle……..
4.00: WBTM asks me what I think about “what happened”. I assume he means the retaliation for Aviv Levi’s death. But he’s referring to the entire ‘Return Marches’ saga. For a while we talk at cross purposes. Then he claims that Hamas did NOT say that 50 of the 62 shaheeds of 14 May were members of terrorist groups. Of course they did.
5.20: Richard Burton aka Dylan Thomas aka WBTM tells me that ‘independent observers’ were present on 14 May and they say that the 50 were not Hamas members. Sorry boyo but VAR has not yet arrived at the Gaza border, Mark Clattenburg could not be enticed from Saudi Arabia.
7.01: His forefinger is now going up and down like the proverbial whore’s drawers: “No wonder so many Jewish people around the world are falling out of love [with Israel]”.
7.32: I attempt to return to giving out the fliers … I kind of sense that this has all been set up as a sting (a) to censor me (b) to provoke me so that I am asked to leave.
8.50: Enter SHM (‘Shaven Headed Man’) wearing a Rosa Luxemburg T-shirt. He wrongly says that Palestinians working in Israel are not allowed to join a trade union.
He suggests the Histadrut buys land – he’s confusing it of course with the JNF. He then wants to know how many Palestinians are Histadrut members. It’s in the thousands — but I did not have a more precise figure and I was not going to guess.
10.12: Red Note Woman objects to ‘people like this’ (me) being allowed in. Perhaps we should wear a yellow star – as a warning that we might tell the truth about Israel.
Thank you so much to the bearded security officer – who reminds her that we still cherish free speech in the UK. RNW then says that Israel is not entitled to defend itself from terrorists. Would she expect the UK government to defend her from a terror attack? “I would defend myself” (!) Good luck with that, Madam.
12:33: Red Note Woman is asked for the source of her comment (see above) that loads of Palestinians were killed on Friday. She says her friend told her. Then she explains why the ‘true’ figure hasn’t appeared in the media: “They always play it down because of the power of the Israeli government in this country…..” Pure antisemitism.
The event security (who were excellent) then calm things down. They give me timeout in the ‘Green Room’, the area in the marquee behind the stage. Jerry – a probation officer in Portsmouth – if you are reading this, thank you for being so nice. A real Mensch. After about 20 minutes I was allowed back and gave out the remaining 70 or so fliers without incident.
The Sunday of the Tolpuddle Festival sees coachloads of trade unionists arrive for the famous procession to the Methodist Chapel at the eastern end of the village, then back again. This year it was also Tisha Ba’av, the ninth day of Av in the Hebrew calendar. For Jews it is the saddest day, when the more religious fast and pray. Tisha Ba’av is the culmination of the Three Weeks, a period of time during which Jews mark the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Both Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on this date. The First Temple was burned by the Babylonians in 423 BCE and the Second Temple fell to the Romans in 70 CE unleashing a period of suffering. Jews still suffer today from those (see above) who persecute Israel with lies. So it was timely to be at Tolpuddle, countering the lies of the Israel-bashers. I joined Bournemouth Israel Action with a banner, flags and fliers on the pavement near the Chapel so that we could be seen by everyone in the procession. There were a few shouts of “Free Palestine” and ‘Apartheid” but most of the marchers did not shout at us. Several smiled.
Before the procession David and I went to the pub, The Martyrs’ Inn. In the sunshine on the terrace we entered into conversation with two men, one around early 20s, the other a bit older, wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt. We had a very amicable conversation, answering their questions about antisemitism, Zionism and Israel. They were not closed-minded Israel bashers – far from it – but nevertheless they had clearly absorbed some of the worst tropes about Jews, for example, the Khazar trope. Pitifully – as we shook hands – they told us that none of their Jewish friends in Labour had ever given them such comprehensive and informative answers – and that the basic information that we had related was all new to them.
After the procession though hot and tired I stayed to hear Corbyn speak. He had one hilarious joke: “Jacob Rees Mogg is thinking very seriously about the future, he’s got so far up to the 19th century, he hasn’t progressed beyond that yet…..” But then (21.38) we got “We will not allow antisemitism in any form …” Of course he meant ‘in any form that Labour recognises…………….…’
The Tolpuddle Martyrs were only pardoned because their supporters did not remain silent. In the face of the lies and intimidation from the present day Squire Framptons (eg the four anti-Israel outfits present at Tolpuddle) we too must not remain silent. We must attend these kinds of events and engage with the people there, provided safety is assured (again I want to thank the organisers and the excellent security staff). But I cannot overstate this – most of the people we met were decent and thoughtful. Labour (and the TUC) have simply been hijacked by a small minority of Israel bashers.
Surely that’s the lesson – of both Tolpuddle and Tisha Ba’Av…………
Postscript: Thanks to this reader for his comment: ‘I doubt if many know anything about Dum Dum bullets now. They are named after an arsenal of the British Indian Army. They do not explode but mushroom on impact and are very easy to improvise by filing the tips of modern copper sheathed bullets calibres 7mm to 8mm (.3″) of the eighty years prior to the Viet Nam War 1965 -75 during which both the US and the USSR changed to a .22″ bullet to carry more rounds to compensate for higher consumption by auto weapons – the M16 (5.56mm) and AK 74 (5.45mm). Both bullet designs were proportionately longer to fly more accurately. They cartwheel on impact. This is what makes thee ripping wounds. They being small can also fragment on impacting bones.‘