United with far right
Tony Greenstein reports on a demonstration against ‘anti-Semitism’ that brought together the English Defence League and Jewish Labour Movement
You couldn’t make it up. Board of Deputies President Marie Van der Zyl, the Jewish Labour Movement’s Louise Ellman MP, chief rabbi Ephraim Mervis and Blairite former home office minister Beverly Hughes - known for her hatred of asylum-seekers - all voiced their support for a demonstration against ‘anti-Semitism’ in Manchester on September 16. It was organised by a group that is friends of the British far right, including the English Defence League and Football Lads Alliance. Step forward the North West Friends of Israel.
This demonstration had nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with supporting Israeli apartheid. Those organising it stood squarely behind a racist ‘Jewish’ supremacist state that bars Palestinians from hundreds of Jewish-only communities.
Should anyone need any reminding, the EDL - formed by Tommy Robinson, aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon - is an organisation of Islamophobic and racist bigots, which manages to combine support for Israel with Hitler salutes. Tommy Robinson himself is popular with Zionists these days and earlier this year completed a tour of Israel.1
That North West Friends of Israel welcomed the EDL on its demonstrations is not in dispute.2 In its opposition to Palestine solidarity demonstrations outside the Israeli Kedem shop protest in Manchester in 2014, NWFOI worked with the EDL.3 As a report at the time observed, “NWFOI warmly welcome the English Defence League to their demonstrations.”4 The accompanying commentary by Natan Levinson of NWFOI, explained: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
It is probably worth pointing out that these days support for Tommy Robinson and various neo-Nazis extends to the office of the prime minister of Israel. No less than Hananya Naftali, Binyamin Netanyahu’s deputy social media advisor, recently tweeted, “Free Tommy Robinson!”5 And why, you might ask, shouldn’t he? Steve Bannon - another great supporter of Israel and a 24-carat anti-Semite - is also a supporter of Tommy Robinson.
And Netanyahu, as is well known, counts amongst his best friends people like the anti-Semitic prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, and Poland’s equally anti-Semitic government.6
But it gets worse, much worse. Robert Festenheim of RF Solicitors is also active in NWFOI and Festenheim is a very busy fellow, who formed Jewish Human Rights Watch (JHRW) in 2015.7 In case you get the wrong idea, rest assured that it has nothing to do with human rights - and it is not even a Jewish organisation. It just watches over groups that are concerned with human rights, especially Palestinian human rights (which it opposes). Suffice to say, Festenheim works closely with another far-right group, the ‘charity’, Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA).8
JHRW was particularly active a year ago, campaigning with the CAA against Palestine Expo 2017,9 a two-day festival of Palestinian culture, politics, art and history held at London’s Queen Elizabeth II Centre. JHRW opposed what it termed a “Jew hate event”.10
However, there are some ‘Jew-haters’ that Festenheim is quite at ease with. Take Tommy Robinson. Festenheim appeared in a promotion film with Robinson about a shopkeeper who had been told by the police to take down an Islamophobic poster.11 Festenheim was pictured laughing and joking with Robinson.
Reports simultaneously emerged of a meeting in Manchester between a dozen members of the local Jewish community and Robinson.12 A Board of Deputies spokesperson was quoted in the Jewish Chronicle as saying: “Tommy Robinson’s record of anti-Muslim provocation means that he could never be a partner of a respectable or mainstream Jewish organisation.”
Which is, of course, a lie because the Board of Deputies put out a press statement, after Israeli snipers had murdered over 50 unarmed demonstrators in Gaza, supporting the action.13 They justified it because they were supposedly supporters of a Muslim group: ie, Hamas.
The strange thing is that Festenheim represents Prestwich Hebrew Congregation on the Board of Deputies, yet it has taken no action against him. Antony Dennison of NWFOI denied that the organisation had been amongst those meeting with Tommy Robinson, but that is not our understanding. NWFOI is up to its ears in support for Robinson and his new organisation, the Football Lads Alliance.
Antony Dennison of NWFOI is also an interesting character. He is a former solicitor struck off by the high court for having defrauded his former partner. All in all, quite a suitable person to chair this far-right Zionist group.
As I have said, the demonstration called by NWFOI had nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with support for Israel and opposition to Palestinian rights. The fact that Festenheim and his colleagues do not even recognise the Palestinians as a people should tell you something about their motives.
However, despite all the claims that this was to be a mass demonstration against the evil of anti-Semitism, only a few hundred turned up, while about 250 counter-demonstrators showed up too.
1. See www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-israeli-fanboys-boost-a-uk-far-right-anti-muslim-activist-s-campaign-1.6132882.
2. See, for example, www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmCmCt-W4fI.