Jackie Walker in Edinburgh: cheers and a standing ovation

We went inside the controversial hard-left activist's fringe festival show


It was the night Jackie Walker, the left-wing activist suspended from Labour over accusations of antisemitism, promised to put her side of the story.

At the opening of her one-woman Edinburgh Fringe Show, The Lynching, based on her emails, diaries and family history, she attempted to justify the views that have made her a controversial figure.

Her criticism of Israel and doubts about Holocaust Memorial Day were aired, along with an acknowledgement that she had made a “mistake” in claiming Jews were the "chief financiers" of the slave trade.

In a 90-minute performance that was greeted by cheers and a standing ovation from the 30-strong audience, Ms Walker, a supporter of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, described her treatment by the media as a "political lynching" designed "to smash the most radical political movement we have ever seen".

Standing on the stage at the Tollcross community centre, where a banner draped in front of the audience read: "Anti-Semitism is a crime. Anti-Zionism is a duty", Ms Walker, 63, insisted: "I do not seek the destruction of Israel. I seek to save it from the slide into militarism, racism and far-right nationalism. We must be free to criticise any ideology that advocates the rights of one people over another. 

"We must be free to fight for that right without being accused of antisemitism. I think the Palestinians have a right to self-determination as much as the Israelis.

“The time to resist is now [to defend the rights of] black and white, Jew and gentile. Like them I refuse to remain at the back of the bus. I refuse to remain dumb and blind because the media or anyone else tell me that's what I should do. I refuse!"

In the question-and-answer session which followed, she referred to the antisemitism crisis that has engulfed Labour since Mr Corbyn became leader two years ago as “a witchhunt” which, she believed, most people didn’t "give a damn about. 

“They think it is really weird. People are scared of talking about this in their CLPs [constituency Labour parties]."

Responding to another question, she claimed that a proper debate on the Holocaust was being silenced.

She said: “At the moment we are being told what history we can speak about and what history we cannot speak about.

"We have to have a way where it is possible to write about the Holocaust, holocausts and the slave trade and race and identity where there is openness, and we haven't got that now and I think that is very dangerous."

In the show, Ms Walker plays a number of characters including her late Jewish communist father arriving as a refugee in New York, around 1918, and her late Jamaican-born mother, a black civil rights activist, who, she said, the CIA had “in their sights” in the 1950s.

Imagining herself on trial for antisemitism, she adopted the character of her mother - complete with a Jamaican accent -  to put the case for the defence.

She says: "Now you have heard a lot of things and it sounds bad. The question I want you to ask is why is this happening. Is Jackie Walker a Jew-hater, is she a racist? Because that is what antisemitism is. Or is something else going on. 

"First, she said Jews financed the slave trade. That sounds very bad, especially when you know it is not true - not as a general statement ... but hold on, let's have a look at what Jackie actually said. She said: 'Many Jews, my ancestors too, were the chief financiers of the slave trade.

“She's talking about her ancestors on her mother's side. I am descended from Jewish Portuguese people who came over to the West Indies in the days of Christopher Columbus - one of my ancestors got married to a Jewish man and converted.

"The Jews were coming away from persecution from the Christians. They got involved in the slave trade, but what else were they supposed to do?  

“This is not Jackie hating Jews. You can say this is Jackie showing off, showing how well she knows her history.

“But she made one mistake. She should have said 'amongst the financiers ... and many Jews, my ancestors too, were amongst the chief financiers of the slave trade', because that is a fact. You can read it in the history books ... 

“And she leaved it [out[ because she was having a chat with her friends on Facebook. And that make you a racist? And people have been taking it and sending it into newspapers like the Jewish Chronicle ... take it from me, if you want to make a person look bad you can do it."

Turning to the row sparked following Ms Walker’s claim that Holocaust Memorial Day marked only the Nazi genocide of the Jews, she says in character: "Wouldn't it be wonderful if the Holocaust Memorial Day could be opened to all people. What a terrible thing... People say it is open to everybody. Others say, no it doesn't include the terrible things that went on before the Nazis, things in the Belgian Congo when they killed 12 million ... none of that is in Holocaust Memorial Day."

Still in character she claims she and Mr Corbyn have been victimised.

She says: " Like Jackie, Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of being a Jew-hater, but when he was just an MP he was a supporter of the Palestinians and he didn't mind saying what he thought. He called some of the nasty people in the Israeli government criminal politicians. He has some enemies: the establishment, people on the side of the Israeli government, right-wing Labour MPs. They even say Mr Corbyn is the second greatest danger to people in the world; they even say Jackie is too.

"This is not just against Jackie Walker. It's [against] the whole big left movement for change. Jackie Walker is no Jew-hater, she is no racist. Jackie Walker is innocent!"

Speaking to the JC after the show, Ms Walker said: "Israel is a fact on the ground. I have half my family living there. Why would I want to see it destroyed? But Netanyahu, the government - it's so terrible. A great tradition of Jews is helping the oppressed. That's what my father did and I'm following that tradition."

Referring to her “mistake” in her comment about Jews and the slave trade, she said that being labelled a racist for missing out the word "amongst" in a Facebook post to friends was "preposterous".

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