Voices of dissent at Leeds council event

By Jessica Elgot, July 22, 2011
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Leeds City Council has been criticised for allowing a pro-Palestinian speaker to address crowds, including South African dignitaries, at an anti-apartheid event.

Voices of Apartheid, a project which documents Leeds campaigners' involvement in the anti-apartheid movement, was launched last week at Leeds City Museum, attended by the Mayor of Durban, James Nxumalo, and the South African Deputy High Commissioner Bongiwe Quabe, as well as Leeds schoolchildren.

But one of the project's architects, Leeds City Council's former equal opportunities officer Frances Bernstein, compared the South Africa and the Israel-Palestine conflict, saying she hoped that young people in Leeds would continue to "fight injustice" by taking up the Palestinian cause.

Dr Peter McParlin, who attended the event, said Martin Dean, the council's international relations officer, had failed to intervene, a claim refuted by the council. He has lodged an official complaint with the council, which has now instructed an independent officer to investigate.

Dr McParlin, a consultant child psychologist, said: "I felt I had to say something, so I made it clear that I was very embarrassed by what was said. I stood up and said this was no place for such political views, in front of children who are very politically impressionable. I have no strong feelings for either cause, but we have a fabulous Jewish community in this city and it's very insulting, and it could be a sensitive subject for people in the audience. We should be a democratic, pluralistic city."

A Leeds City Council spokeswoman said: "During the course of the event a remark was made about the Palestinian situation by one of the speakers. The host moved the agenda back onto its main subject of South Africa, and the event continued, and was a great success. We apologise if this remark caused offence to any of the attendees."

Now the Music Centre co-ordinator for the council, Ms Bernstein, daughter of South African anti-apartheid campaigner Rusty Bernstein, is a member of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods. She was part of the Women's Anti-Apartheid group in Leeds.

She said she had been speaking in a personal capacity.

    Last updated: 10:42am, July 22 2011