A representative of Jewish veterans of the Spanish Civil War refused to lay a wreath at a memorial in London yesterday in protest at a speaker linking the event to the struggle of the Palestinians.
Martin Sugarman, a writer on Jewish military history, objected to comments made by Tosh McDonald, president of the train drivers’ union, Aslef.
For more than 20 years, Mr Sugarman has laid a wreath of poppies shaped in the form of a Magen David at the annual commemoration for the 4,000 British members of the International Brigade who fought against General Franco’s fascists in the 1930s.
Nearly a fifth of the British volunteers in Spain were thought to be Jewish.
Mr Sugarman said the event, at the International Brigade Memorial Trust’s memorial to the fighters on the South Bank, traditionally focused on remembrance and stayed clear of contemporary politics.
But the Aslef leader, he said, had compared the Palestinian struggle against Israeli “oppression” with the republican cause in Spain.
It “insulted the memory of the overwhelming majority of Jewish fighters who went to Spain,” he said.
Mr Sugarman said shortly after Mr McDonald had finished speaking, “I stood up and held up my wreath. I said words to the effect that it was inappropriate to have politicised the event and in protest, I was leaving and was not going to lay my wreath.”
In response, the International Brigade Memorial Trust posted a statement on its site which defended Mr McDonald: "Tosh expressed the view that, just as the Spanish Civil War had been the great cause of young people in the 1930s, or that the anti-apartheid campaign had been the great cause of his generation, the plight of the Palestinian people was the equivalent great cause for many young people today. During the speech, Tosh also clearly and unequivocally denounced anti-Semitism and said it had absolutely no place in the labour movement."
See Mr Sugarman's account of the event here.