After dropping Chris Williamson event, Quakers 'take time to reflect' on hosting speakers accused of antisemitism

Group says Jew-hate 'contravenes our fundamental belief that all people are equal and precious' - but has a history of accommodating controversial speakers


Chris Williamson, the suspended Labour MP, held a rally in a Brighton park last week after three city centre venues pulled out of hosting him.

The third, the local Friends’ Meeting House, run by the Brighton Quakers, accepted the booking after a hotel and a community centre both cancelled.

It has also been claimed by pro-Williamson journalist Greg Hadfield that the Quakers group cancelled out of concerns for “the safety of Mr Williamson, venue staff and the building”, rather than due to opposition to the speaker.

After the cancellation, the national Quakers in Britain group issued a statement recognising that “antisemitism is a real and growing problem in the UK and globally”, adding that Jew-hate “contravenes our fundamental belief that all people are equal and precious”.

But in an email to a member of the public, Jane Dawson, Quakers in Britain’s head of external communications, wrote: “Brighton [Friends’ Meeting House] were forced to cancel the event due to threats of violence.”

The Sussex Jewish Representative Council said suggestions the local community had used threats of violence were “disrespectful and untrue”.

Sussex Police refuted the Quakers’ claim, saying it notified the venue of a “peaceful protest”, but the Friends’ Meeting House cancelled the talk “not on the advice of the police”.

The episode has drawn attention to the Brighton Friends’ Meeting House’s record of hosting speakers accused of antisemitism and hostility towards the Jewish community.

Jackie Walker, who has since been expelled from Labour for “prejudicial and grossly detrimental” comments against Jews, spoke at the venue in 2016 and 2017 about “false allegations of antisemitism” and a supposed witch-hunt against figures on the left of the party.

The JC understands that Jewish communal organisations’ requests for the event to be cancelled were rebuffed.

The Brighton Friends’ Meeting House was also the venue where, during a fringe event for the 2017 Labour conference, Miko Peled, an Israeli-American activist, infamously suggested the Holocaust was up for historical debate.

A Board of Deputies spokesman said: "No venue – especially a place of worship - should give a platform to hate. We offer our solidarity to other faith communities when they face prejudice, and we expect the same."

When contacted by the JC, the Brighton Quakers said it was “taking time as a community to reflect on these issues”.

In October 2017, the Brighton Quakers published a page on its website advising members to question who funds organisations that complain about bookings.

The group simultaneously published an information page on accusations of antisemitism, saying it was concerned that such objections are being increasingly used to silence freedom of speech.

Oliver Robertson, Head of Witness and Worship for Quakers in Britain, said: “We value that Quakers let their premises to a wide range of organisations, while not compromising our values of peace, equality and non-violence.

“Decisions about which groups Local Quaker Meetings let their rooms to are made at a local level… The discussions around this issue have led us to consider whether there are ways we can support meetings better in the future.”

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