Momentum criticised for holding antisemitism debate on a Friday night


Momentum, a hard-left group loyal to Jeremy Corbyn, has been labelled “insensitive” for hosting an antisemitism debate on a Friday night.

Jeremy Newmark, head of the Jewish Labour Movement, has criticised the group’s Haringey branch for hosting the event this Friday – arguing that observant Jews will be unable to attend because of Shabbat.

“People clearly require preparation time and simply, holding this event on a Friday evening is crass and insensitive,” he said.

He also criticised the lack of balance on the panel event, titled: “Debate on Antisemitism, Racism and Freedom of Speech”.

Jacqueline Walker, who is under suspension from Labour after accusing Jews of being “chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade”, is set to speak at the event alongside Annie Cohen, an active member of anti-Israel group Jewdas. Unison activist Emine Ibrahim - a Labour councillor who called for John Mann, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, to be disciplined - will also speak at the event.

Mr Newmark said: “I don’t think they reflect the diversity of views on this issue inside the Jewish community. I don’t think they have a speaker on the panel that comes from inside the established democratic consensus of British Jewry on these issues.”

Mr Newmark, former chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said that the JLM would have offered a speaker, but for the timing of the event.

“I would encourage people to attend and get involved in the debate, but unfortunately many of our members will feel excluded,” he added.

Complaints over timing of this Friday’s event were aired by news website Buzzfeed. In response, a spokesman for Haringey’s Momentum branch said the event’s timing had been moved to 6:30pm and would finish by 8:15pm, giving observant Jews 30 minutes to get home before Shabbat comes in.

Posting on the group’s Facebook page, the spokesman said it was “the only workable date within a reasonable timeframe”.
He added: “This compromise allows us to still stage the event within a reasonable timeframe, while also making it possible for all observant Jews to attend. We apologise if anybody felt excluded by the previous scheduling. That was certainly not our intention, since we would absolutely encourage people of all faiths and ethnicities to attend.”

Momentum founder Jon Lansman said the timing was “regrettable and unfortunate”.

He told the JC: “I wasn’t involved in the planning of the meeting and didn’t know about it until yesterday and the timing of it is regrettable and unfortunate.

“I’m not happy about it but it is important not to shut down debate around these issues. One of the negative effects of the antisemitism debate is there isn’t enough serious debate going on, so I’m reluctant to discourage it from happening.
“I think the speakers are balanced and it gives an opportunity for Zionist speakers to share their views, which is important.”

The event is set to discuss “whether antisemitism is a major problem in the Labour party, why it is being raised separately from other forms of racism and to what extent this is motivated by forces opposed to Jeremy Corbyn's leadership or criticisms of the Israeli state.”

Panellist Ms Cohen said: “I was invited to speak on this panel as someone who has been vocal about the issue of antisemitism on the left, and at the same time the need to separate this from criticism of Israel and attempts to discredit the BDS movement, which I also broadly support.”

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