Tolpuddle 2015

FOR ATTENTION OF NIGEL COSTLEY

SOUTH WEST TRADE UNION CONGRESS

Dear Mr Costley,

This year’s Tolpuddle Festival was an inspiring, vibrant event that was good for the soul after the recent depressing election results and the vicious attacks on trade unionism, disabled people and those, in and out of work, living in poverty.

I am a veteran trade union activist, Mother of the SOGAT Chapel at The Press Association for 15 years and have been an activist in the Palestine solidarity movement for over four decades. It is brilliant that so many unions, branches and chapels have affiliated to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and have taken up the cause of the occupied Palestinian people. Thousands of trade unionists have recognised that this is the anti-apartheid issue of our time and have responded with solidarity and empathy. They have heeded Nelson Mandela’s statement that no-one can be free without the freedom of the Palestinian people. Many South Africans, including Ronnie Kasrils, have observed that the situation for Palestinians is ‘worse than apartheid.’ The brutal military occupation, the use of weapons of mass destruction against captive civilians with nowhere to run, mass arrests and detentions without trial, abuse of child prisoners, the constant threat of ‘transfer’ based on racial identity, ethnic ‘cleansing’ of swathes of Palestinian land, the abuse and second-class status of Palestinians, including ethnic ‘cleansing’ of Palestinian villages within the State of Israel, the racism endemic in Israeli trade unions…the list is endless.

Please do not be offended if I suggest that the inclusion of a stall promoting the State of Israel was an affront to the memory of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and to the overwhelming number of attendees at the festival who strongly oppose Israel’s genocidal policies and who tirelessly campaign on behalf of the besieged, long-suffering and courageous Palestinian people.

If you examine the Facebook page and website of this pro-Israel group, you will see a link to the extreme right-wing ’think tank’ the Henry Jackson Society, plus many other distasteful, racist and extremist comments.

I had heard there was a ‘reconciliation’ stall at the Festival and I initially approached them in a friendly manner, inquiring if there were any Palestinians involved in their group. I was met with extreme aggression and told ’they are killing us…they are over there’ (pointing to a lone, young man on the PSC stall). Rather than attempt to engage with the stall-holders, I made a complaint to stewards in the marquee. Later, I also registered a complaint at the information tent where I saw many others lining up to do so.

A South African woman who was collecting for Medical Aid for Palestinians outside the Martyrs Marquee on Saturday was harassed by the pro-Israel stall holders and told ‘You are collecting for weapons’ and ‘Palestinians breed too much.’ She also made a complaint to organisers. It was deeply shocking that the stall was allowed to remain for the rest of the day, after this racist abuse had been reported. If people of colour cannot come to Tolpuddle without being insulted in this way, is this not a failure of the anti-racist ethos of the trade movement?

Having examined the pro-Israel Facebook page and seen the triumphalist comments posted there, I conclude that the entire endeavour was staged as a provocation in order to garner publicity. The widespread accusation of anti-semitism as a response to criticism of Israel is a co-ordinated by a well-funded propaganda machine directed by the British Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) that receives funding from the Israeli Embassy. The Henry Jackson Society is a part of this, along with extremist websites such as Harry’s Room.

I do hope you will not mind if I disagree with your comment that the ‘Israel-Palestine’ issue is perhaps not one that should be discussed at Tolpuddle. The pro-Israel group states in its publicity that it went ‘into the lion’s den’ to counter the role the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has played in raising the issue of the Israeli occupation and apartheid system within the trade union movement. Their aggressive actions over the weekend demonstrated their inability to defend the indefensible by legitimate means. It is deeply worrying that senior organisers within the trade union and Labour movement are unable to distinguish between an extremist, hard-core, zionist group and ’soft’ zionist groups such as Peace Now, who believe in ‘reconciliation,’ albeit in the context of continued occupation. You could have consulted Jews for Justice for Palestinians for a knowledgable, measured evaluation of the group in question.

Palestinian trade unionists have been invited to speak at trade union conferences and desperately need our solidarity and support. It would be entirely appropriate to invite a Palestinian trade unionist to be a keynote speaker at Tolpuddle, rather than try to evade the issue by citing ‘security’ issues.

I sincerely hope that you will take up this suggestion with your colleagues.

In solidarity,

Diane Langford

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