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Town Hall censorship

From Michael Prior

Friday, 2 August 2019

I know that I am not the only person to be outraged at the cancellation by Trustees of the Hebden Bridge Community Association, which manages the Town Hall, to cancel at short notice the meeting on 3 August at which Chris Williamson M.P. was to speak on the topic of "Will the next Labour Government deliver?"

Calderdale Trades Council is a respected and reputable local body and Williamson is an elected Member of Parliament. These are not negligible things. It appears that on the basis of an assertion by a local member of the Liberal Democrat party that he would protest Mr. Williamson's visit, presumably outside the Town Hall, that the Town Hall Trustees cancelled the booking on the basis of such a protest would cause unpleasantness to a wedding booked on the same date.

We should be clear. Causing a public disorder or blocking a public highway is a matter for the police who, if alerted, would no doubt take appropriate action. What may happen outside the Town Hall premises is nothing whatever to do withthe Trustees of the Town Hall.

I am not a member of the Labour Party unlike Mr. Williamson. It would be interesting to find out if local Labour members, in particular Labour councillors on Hebden Royd Council, share my views on action to taken effectively to limit the free speech of one of their own. I am aware that there are some serious allegations made about Mr. Williamson, though having read through copious material on them, I cannot see that they have any validity. But in any event, Mr. Williamson still has the right to answer these in public if they are put to him.

Incidentally, a petition started by one Sean Bamforth, a member of the local Liberal Democrats, to protest about the meeting gathered 31 signatures. Clearly a mass movement.

From Andrew B

Friday, 2 August 2019

I am disappointed to read that the trustees of the Community Association have made the decision to cancel the booking which would see Chris Williamson in attendance.

One cannot help but would if the booking would have been cancelled had it been the leader of the party attending, considering his ignorance thus far has only helped the anti Semitic culture to grow. Perhaps this decision isn’t about the couple getting married this weekend at all but more about censorship to protect a cause supported by the individuals making the decision?

From Mo O'Ryan

Saturday, 3 August 2019

It seems that thoughtfulness for other people may not have been taken into consideration by those protesting at the cancellation of the visit of Chris Williamson. A wedding is generally a one off event to be celebrated and enjoyed by a group of people on a particular day. Chris Williamson could be invited to speak at another time. Maybe that is what should be the main focus of this discussion.

From John Murray

Saturday, 3 August 2019

The Town hall appear to have cancelled the talk by Chris Williamson due to concern about the effects of the planned protest on staff and the wedding party. This is not unreasonable

There is a wider issue about inviting a speaker who has been suspended by his own party for anti- Semitism. 

I commend his advocacy for the Palestinian people but this appears to have mutated into racism against Jewish people, and the speech which triggered the disciplinary process was appalling. He was dismissive of the worries about anti- Semitism that have led to people leaving the Labour party.

I do not think he should be given a platform

Racism against any group should be abhorred

From Michael Prior

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Just a short correction. Mr. Williamson is currently suspended from the Labour Party over allegations of anti-semitism which are being investigated. A quite important distinction I would have thought. Incidentally, can Mr. Murray give us a link to the speech which he found so disgusting

From John Murray

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Yes he is being investigated for alleged anti-Semitism, thanks for this important distinction

The speech in Sheffield that I referred to was widely reported including via the BBC and I am sure folk can find it without my help

From Michael Prior

Monday, 5 August 2019

Thank you, Mr. Murray, for accepting that Mr. Williamson is under investigation for alleged anti-semitism, an investigation which has not concluded.

The speech which Mr. Murray finds "appalling" can, I think be found at the Guardian link

and also on the Yorkshire Post

I am sure Mr. Murray will correct me if I am wrong.

I have to say that I cannot find a trace of anti-semitism in it but others can form their own opinion.

From Ron Taylor

Monday, 5 August 2019

Like Michael Prior I was angered by the fact that Chris Williamson’s talk at the Town Hall was cancelled. I was looking forward to hearing what he would say about how a Labour government might implement a much needed radical agenda after years of Conservative and (not too long ago) Lib Dem austerity. My anger is directed not towards those at the Town Hall who made the decision to cancel, but towards the local Lib Dems who saw an opportunity for political advantage and threatened a protest at the venue.I just hope their opportunism backfires on them. 

Chris Williamson has fallen foul of a concerted attempt, now supported by local Lib Dems, to brand anyone who is critical of Israel and its policies towards the Palestinians as an anti-semite, making it harder to identify actual forms of anti-Jewish hatred.Again like Michael I have listened to Chris’s speech and I, too,cannot find a trace of anti-semitism in it. One might disagree with what he said but to brand him as anti-semite is nonsense.

From Allen Keep

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

The Town Hall's decision is disappointing to say the least but it would not have been made but for the shameless opportunism and political bankruptcy of the Lib Dems. and the threat of their leader to protest.

Against what? The speaker, as I understand it, has not been suspended for anti-Semitism but for bringing the Labour Party into disrepute. His oft quoted speech was clearly not anti-Semitic and he hasn't been found guilty of anything in any case. Strange that a "liberal" organisation would want to supress his right to speak (on a range of matters by the way and not as the Lib Dem fake narrative has it that the focus of the meeting was the question of anti - Semitism in the Labour party). Claiming that this was an issue of race hate and a threat to the Jewish community in Calderdale is as dishonest as it is irresponsible and actually does the cause of opposing anti-Semitism no good at all.

The Lib Dems claimed in their petition and social media posts that the meeting would discuss and challenge the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. That was not the published focus of the meeting but why let facts get in the way of a chance to jump on a bandwagon?

The idea, in any case, that even discussing and possibly challenging this definition is in itself evidence of anti -Semitism is unbelievably crass. The IHRA definition is being discussed and challenged all over the world, and quite rightly, but this isn't appropriate in our Town Hall apparently. One of the clauses of the definition claims it is anti-Semitic to argue that Israel is a racist endeavour. This linking of criticism of Israel to anti Semitism is nothing new (although the Lib Dem leader believes it is a red herring apparently). 

It is however, incredibly prevalent at the moment and we must ask why this is.

Perhaps those supporting the Israeli state in its continued and accelerating ethnic cleansing of Palestine (I've just fallen foul of the IHRA definition) would like to silence those, like Chris Williamson, who dare to speak out against it. Perhaps they attempt to deflect and undermine "legitimate criticism of the Israeli state" with smears and accusations that the real agenda of those who criticise Israel is anti-Semitism, by definition.

Shame on the Lib Dems for joining in the smears and aiding the silencers and oppressors of opposition to Israel.

From John Murray

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

|It seem that most people taking part in this discussion do not object to the reported comments by Chris Williamson in the Sheffield meeting last February. 

I think it is worth placing them in context.

Chris Williamson is reported to have said that Labour had "given too much ground and been too apologetic" in relation to allegations of anti- Semitism

This needs to be seen against the background of his support for a number of activists who have had sanctions following internal party investigations

His position is in the public sphere and can be easily checked

He supported the following people

Scott Nelson who was expelled in April 2018 after tweeting about the "deaths of workers abroad caused by appalling conditions working for Jewish companies". The party found this unacceptable

Marc Wadsworth who was expelled in May 2018 for bringing the party into disrepute, following an altercation with a Jewish Labour MP who he is alleged to have accused of working hand in glove with a right wing journalist

Jackie Walker who was under investigation for alleged misconduct (she was expelled in March 2019) for comments made at a training event, including falsely claiming that Holocaust Memorial day does not commemorate other genocides, and also questioning the need for high security at Jewish schools

Ken Livingstone who was accused of bringing the party into disrepute after claiming that Hitler initially supported Zionism (not historically accurate and making an offensive link between Nazism and Zionism). Hitler had already made negative comments about the Jewish people in Mein Kampf. Ken Livingstone resigned after a period of suspension.

It is for folk to make their own minds up about the above individuals, but as stated in by first contribution to this discussion I was appalled that a sitting labour MP could apparently support people sanctioned by the party for anti- Semitism. 

From Chris Drake

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Firstly I would like to address the reasons why this meeting was canceled at very short notice via a notice in HebWeb.
The wedding, described by one contributor as 'an event to be celebrated and enjoyed on a particular day'. Which incidentally I believe was tagged on at the end of the town hall notice to evoke exactly this kind of response.

When I arrived at 11 am on Saturday, the large main outer doors were locked with a sign outside saying there was a wedding happening that day, something that has never happened before to mine or anyone else's recollection. Especially not on one of the busiest weekend of the year, the car show weekend.

The meeting in the Town Hall was to take place between 1-3 pm. The reception, there was no wedding happened at 5.00pm meaning there was no clash in any way with these two events.

Secondly, the reason given that they thought there might be a demonstration outside is scandalous. The combination of a Lib Dem councilor threatening a demonstration with a petition signed by 30 people is a joke and the Blairites in the Labour party who were very quiet but nevertheless also didn't want him to speak along with the capitulation of the Town Hall have destroyed the right to freedom of speech and assembly in this town via the back door.

Lastly, the so-called antisemitic statement made by Chris Williamson is as follows:  "Labour has given too much ground and had been too apologetic in defending its record of addressing the scourge of anti-Semitism within the Labour party."

Noam Chomsky described the charges against Chris Williamson as an "insult to the memory of many victims of the holocaust."

By canceling this meeting by someone who has not been found guilty of anything, the various parties have prevented dialogue and discussion and have acted as arbitrators of free speech.

However free speech is a right of us all and is far too important to play games with! I will be very interested to see what tactics will be employed the next time some members of this town decide that they don't want someone to speak in Hebden Bridge because with the destruction of free speech you are left with fascism. But maybe that's what some people would prefer?       

From Jeremy Godden

Thursday, 8 August 2019

I agree with Chris Drake's statement that the wedding plans seemed to be an excuse and this smacks of Censorship by the Town Hall. I also agree with her that the decision appears to destroy 'the right to freedom of speech and assembly.' in Hebden Bridge. We have a right to hear people's views. 

From Paul Clarke

Thursday, 8 August 2019

I certainly don't think we should curtail the rights to speak of people like Chris Drake and a suspended MP who have obvious open minds on this issue.

What perplexes me is given an invitation had been issued to one of the great political thinkers of our time why the organisers couldn't have found another venue in Hebden. After all even at short notice we are not short of rooms where people could hear this great orator.

I appreciate they might not have been to tell the multitude of people who were eager to hear from a suspended MP, but I'm sure a message on Hebweb would have helped divert the masses to the new venue.

That is the real crime here depriving local people of a deep and open minded analysis of the issues in the Middle East and the road to socalism.

From Ron Taylor

Friday, 9 August 2019

I always understood that anti-semitism was defined as a hatred of Jews because, simply, they are Jews. Such hatred is unforgivable and must never be tolerated. But in recent times there has been a shift in how some people (almost exclusively supporters of Israel) wish to define anti-semitism. There is now the phenomenon known as the ‘new anti-semitism’ which, we are told, takes the form of criticism of Zionism and of the actions and policies of Israel, and is often manifested in campaigns holding the Israeli government accountable to international law, such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

In this respect it is different from ‘traditional’ anti-semitism, a hatred of Jews per se, the idea that Jews are naturally inferior, belief in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy and so on. The ‘new anti-Semitism’ also differs from the traditional form in the political allegiances of its alleged culprits. ‘Traditional’ anti-semites came from the political right whereas the new anti-semites are, in the eyes of the accusers, largely on the political left.

The logic of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ is formulated in this way; a) anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews, b) to be Jewish is to be Zionist, c) therefore anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic. But the logic falls apart at b) as it is patently false to claim that Zionism is identical to Jewishness. There are many Jews across the world, including in Israel itself, who describe themselves as anti-Zionist or non-Zionist and who are fiercely critical of Israel’s behaviour.

The acceptance of this flawed formula has had the effect of stifling criticism of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians. Of course, its proponents tell us that criticism is not prohibited but it is not made it clear just what criticisms are acceptable and what are not.

I acknowledge that there will be people in the Labour Party who hold genuinely anti-semitic views ; they should have no place in the party (nor anywhere else for that matter). But I believe that most instances of anti-semitism on the left are rooted in ignorance, particularly in terms of the issue of Israel-Palestine. There have been far too many instances where people who are understandably angry at the injustices and atrocities committed against the Palestinian blunder into anti-semitic language when criticising Israel. This makes me particularly angry as an advocate for Palestinian rights; such criticism can be both wrong and detrimental to the cause. And I concede John Murray’s point that Chris Williamson may well have defended some who do not deserve to be defended; Scott Nelson, for example. As for Jackie Walker and Ken Livingstone they would be better employed talking about what is happening now on the ground in occupied Palestine - the house demolitions, the destruction of European-funded humanitarian projects, the creeping annexation of the West Bank etc -  rather than engaging in arguments about matters that have no real relevance to today’s situation. But it does not, in my view, mean that Chris Williamson is an anti-semite or, as some have described him, a Jew-baiter, and be denied a platform to speak.

From Allen Keep

Monday, 12 August 2019

I'm not in the Labour Party but it's clear to me that the campaign against it in the context of accusations of racism using the narrative of the new anti-Semitism that Ron explains so well is not just to deflect from opposition to Israel's continuing ethnic cleansing of Palestine but also to destabilise Labour and to breed disunity amongst the ranks.

How sad then that Paul Clarke who I assume is still a Labour Party member and who identifies with the left should forget the principles of a united front and solidarity with his own comrades and miss an opportunity to defend his own party when under attack. Indeed, it seems completely out of character for Paul to miss a gilt-edged chance to criticise the quite appalling behaviour of the Lib Dems on this occasion.

So the Lib Dems get a free pass on this occasion
and instead Paul turns his fire, or rather his rather tedious sarcasm, on the organisers of the meeting and the invited speaker with his usual jibe at Chris Drake thrown in for good measure. 

For the record because, unlike Paul, I asked the organisers did indeed try to find alternative venues for the great orator but were turned down including by the Trades Club. Perhaps the issue is too hot a potato for some socialists.

Rather than rather insultingly pointing to "the real crime" here Paul could enlighten us as to his views on anti -Semitism or the Israel/Palestine question or even on the challenges Labour faces in having the policies to win an election(which was what the meeting was actually about)?

It would be good to see local Labour members and supporters take their party away from the image of people who constantly infight and slag each other off as well as mount a defence to the often scandalous charges of anti-Semitism that so threatens their chances of defeating the party that actually is full of racists.

Would contributors please follow the HebWeb Forum guidelines and keep discussion to the issues.

See also:

HebWeb News: Town Hall Booking cancelled (31 July 2019)