Tower Hamlets Respect chair guilty of assault at Tesco demo

Carole Swords at a Palestine Solidarity event

Carole Swords at a Palestine Solidarity event

A veteran anti-Israel campaigner has been convicted of slapping a Jewish man during a boycott protest at a supermarket.

Carole Swords, chair of Tower Hamlets Respect Party, attacked Harvey Garfield as he attempted to defend Israeli goods from potential vandalism.

Swords has previously written on Facebook that Zionists are "cockroaches" who "hide in the dark and try to create havoc where they lay their eggs". She wrote that the "slimy, vile, hard skin bugs need to be stomped out".

Swords, 59, of Bow, east London, entered a Tesco store in Covent Garden on August 13 last year after attending an anti-Israel demonstration outside the nearby Ahava cosmetics store.

At City of London Magistrates Court last Thursday, Swords denied assaulting Mr Garfield, claiming he had harassed and attacked her.

But magistrates viewed CCTV footage of the incident and agreed with the prosecution that Swords had used "threatening and abusive words or behaviour to cause harassment".

The court heard how she swore at Mr Garfield before turning and landing the blow, knocking his spectacles to the floor.

Giving evidence, Mr Garfield said he had been volunteering at the store once a fortnight to advise staff about the anti-Israel protests. He provided early warnings of "more extreme demonstrations" which could cause disturbance and vandalism.

He explained how he was attacked. "She walked past me and down the aisle. I turned to follow her at a distance… She stopped and said to me 'don't you f***ing follow me'. I turned my head to reply, but she struck me in the face.

"It happened in a fraction of a second. The next thing I knew I was bending down to pick up my glasses. Her words were quite forceful, I was taken aback. It was absolutely not an accident. I was surprised more than anything. I had never been struck before in that way."

Defending, James Mehigan repeatedly accused Mr Garfield of being a "vigilante". He alleged that Mr Garfield had called Swords a "Nazi" and "terrorist" in an effort to provoke her.

Mr Garfield responded: "That's absolutely not true. I did not take the law into my own hands."

Swords spoke of her part-Jewish upbringing and said she had been involved in anti-Israel activity for 20 years since visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem and "realising things weren't quite right".

After magistrates were shown a copy of the "boycott Israeli goods" leaflets Swords had distributed, she told them: "Why would I destroy Israeli goods? I eat Israeli goods."

She claimed she had not read the pro-boycott material before distributing it and accused Mr Garfield of spitting at her and grabbing her arm while "sweating like a rabid dog".

Swords was found guilty on one charge of a public order offence and given a conditional discharge. She must pay court costs of £250.

Following the trial Mr Garfield, 59, said: "In a sense I felt I was being put on trial, but I knew I was telling the truth."

Last updated: 1:26pm, February 2 2012