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My anger over the antisemitic hijacking of Franco fighters commemoration

Martin Sugarman describes the events which led him to walk out of the annual International Brigade remembrance ceremony

    Martin Sugarman
    Martin Sugarman

    Every year I attend the commemoration of the huge number of Jews who fought against Fascist Spain in the Spanish Civil War and especially those who went from UK and Israel (measured as per head of population, the Israeli group was the biggest of any of the 53 nations who sent volunteers).

    I lay a beautiful Star of David poppy wreath and always get a huge warm welcome and round  of applause. Many of the organisers are known to me and very friendly. Many guest speakers over the years are no friends of Israel but conventionally they never bring other political issues into the speeches, so as not to deviate from the meeting's aim, to only remember those who died in the Spanish Civil War, fighting fascism and some who today may be suffering in other anti-fascist struggles round the world; but that is as far as it goes.

    This year for the first time since I have attended over the past 25 or so years, an ignorant and arrogant man called Tosh McDonald of the Aslef union gave a speech before the wreath laying - and he began by making comparisons of the Spanish Civil War with other struggles - usually not done - such as apartheid in South Africa, and ended with what he said was the essential one today, against the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, etc. He went into the usual rant demonising Israel. Some applauded, a lot did not - a sign of displeasure. 

    I immediately stood up after he finished, with no microphone, in front of about 300 guests in the open air and stated loudly and clearly that I was leaving in protest and would not be laying my wreath for the Jewish veterans from the Jewish community, which I held up so all could see, as he had inappropriately politicised the event with other issues which many people have different views on. He had also inappropriately praised Jeremy Corbyn a propos nothing - again usually no politics are mentioned on these occasions. Some applauded me and some jeered, and I made a dramatic exit.

    To make Jews unwelcome on such an event in which Jews played a major part – 25 per cent of all the International Brigade were Jews  and 15 per cent of the UK battallion were Jews despite being only half of one per cent of the UK  population - is profoundly antisemitic and I suspect that is why over many, many years the International Brigade Memorial Trust have deliberately never politicised the meetings and deviated from the commemoration format. This year they clearly failed to vet the speech of an extremist speaker who has never addressed the meeting before and crossed a red line.

    Iwill tell the IBMT if they write to me - as I am quite well known by some of them - that I will never attend again unless they read out a written apology to me and the Jewish Veterans at the next gathering in 2018 which I will want to read beforehand.

    (See full story here)