Pajamas Media readers will be aware of the worrying events that unfolded on June 17, when a London debate on Sharia law between Douglas Murray of the Centre for Social Cohesion and Anjem Choudary of al-Muhajiroun was terminated. The discussion had to be canceled due to disturbances inside the venue, Conway Hall, when al-Muhajiroun’s “security men” objected to male guests wishing to sit with women. A protracted standoff in Red Lion Square ensued. Giles Enders, chairman of the South Place Ethical Society, which runs Conway Hall, took to the stage and said he was canceling the event, telling the crowd, “I am not prepared to have fundamentalist thugs in our hall preventing people from coming in. We do not condone segregation.”
In July another alarming event unfolded in London that has sinister connotations for the future of free speech in this country and in Western democracies. It revolves around Jonathan Hoffman, who is vice chair of the Zionist Federation; he is a gentle and self-effacing man with whom I appeared on Press (Iranian) TV on June 12 in a debate against Ilan Pappe, Hajo Meyer, and moderator Alan Hart on anti-Semitism and Israel. (During the “debate” moderator Hart bellowed at Hoffman that he would be evicted from the studio if he did not stop spouting Zionist propaganda. It was a viscerally searing broadcast for me; I had told Hart to bring Hoffman along and he ended up being repeatedly bullied until I threatened to walk out of the program if this did not stop.)
Hoffman tried to book a place at Toynbee Hall for the July 12 launch of Ben White’s new book, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide. The book-signing and lecture were sponsored by War on Want, a registered charity. (They are supposed to be politically neutral, right?) To his astonishment Hoffman was told he would not be welcome at the launch and that he would not be allowed entry to Toynbee Hall!
I will pause here and say it was a blessing in disguise that I delayed by a week or so writing up this story. It has now become an international issue because Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, has made it known to the British Charity Commission that he wants War on Want investigated for breach of its guidelines.
It appears Hoffman’s offense was to have raised objections at a previous anti-Israel event attended by some of the organizers of the Toynbee Hall launch. What is so appalling about the banning of Hoffman is that an “official statement” was issued by War on Want’s executive director, John Hilary: “War on Want welcomes all members of the public to our events. Mr. Hoffman alone has been told he will not be welcome on Thursday because he is known for causing serious disturbances at public events on this issue.”
Hoffman commented later that when he had raised objections to biased propaganda at another event, the police had been called. This was used as justification for his banning by War on Want. “I heckle the anti-Semites,” he said. “And they call the police so that at the next meeting they can ban me, saying ‘the police had to be called last time.’ And the police are always annoyed to be called out on false pretenses. It’s called ‘free speech — provided we like what you say.’”
To his credit Hoffman went to Toynbee Hall on July 12 and stood outside distributing a leaflet he had compiled, citing errors in Ben White’s book. In a letter seen by the Jewish Chronicle, Ronald Lauder has made it clear that Ben White’s book promulgates the use of the expression “Israeli apartheid” and that this “incites hatred and contempt for the state of Israel.” He added that the recent definition of anti-Semitism by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia states “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination … is a racist endeavor.”
Hoffman’s leaflet refuting many of Ben White’s claims made these points:
Colin Chapman features three times: He is the author of Whose Promised Land, which revives the ancient Christian canard of “supercessionism” — the belief that because the Jews denied the divinity of Christ, God transferred His favors to the Christians while the Jews were cast out as the party of the Devil. This doctrine lay behind centuries of Christian anti-Jewish hatred. …
In April 2000 Nelson Mandela came to London and spoke to the Board of Deputies of British Jews. … [He said]: “Israel cannot be expected to withdraw from the Arab territories which she legitimately conquered when the Arab states wanted to [wipe] her out of the map of the world.” No mention of “apartheid” in Israel — from a man who spent 27 years as a prisoner of the loathsome apartheid regime in South Africa.
To add salt to the wounds of supporters of Israel, Ben White is having an American tour this summer!
The fact is that the followers of Ben White, one of whom made the standard accusation at the lecture that the Palestinian viewpoint is muzzled in Britain because the media are controlled by others (translate: Jews), did not want debate. They wanted to spread the usual mantras about the “genocidal, ethnic cleansing, apartheid Israelis.”
That anyone was banned from the book launch is yet another disturbing case of the left and its radical allies bullying individuals and curtailing free speech. This creeping censorship by an increasingly strident left, along with the proliferation of radical Muslim groups who effectively destroyed the Douglas Murray event, must be challenged at every juncture. Britain’s — and America’s — cherished legacy of freedom of speech is under threat and must not be allowed to die.