Bad News For Labour: Boycotts, Book Launches and Abuse

JVL Introduction

In Waterstones censors academics launching book on Labour and antisemitism, we reported on the cancellation at short notice of the Book launch at Waterstones in Brighton, due to take place during the Labour Party Conference.

Pluto Press: “this was an attempt to shut down academic freedom and free discussion of an important but contentious issue.”

This article was originally published by Pluto Blog on Mon 30 Sep 2019. Read the original here.

Bad News For Labour: Boycotts, Book Launches and Abuse

The campaign to root out alleged antisemitism in the Labour party has been fought tooth and nail. Pluto has just published a new book on the topic: Bad News For Labour: Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief. A serious academic study, it found that, on average, people believed that a third of Labour Party members had been reported for antisemitism, when in fact the actual figure was far less than one per cent, and unpicks how this erroneous opinion became so widespread, looking particularly at the media. The book replaces media hype with the rigorous analysis of evidence.

It was disappointing then that the launch of the book in Waterstones Brighton during Labour Party Conference last week was cancelled due to a ‘torrent of “threats” and “abuse”, allegedly levied against Waterstones’, claiming the book and its authors are themselves antisemitic. We at Pluto believe that these claims are false and that this was an attempt to shut down academic freedom and free discussion of an important but contentious issue.

Andrew Feinstein, the CEO of Corruption Watch, commented:

‘The irony of that is that the Jewish community, throughout history, has been the source of such diverse intellectual and political thought and that debate has always been encouraged in the Jewish community – certainly in my experience. The fact that one can no longer discuss this issue – the fact that events are being cancelled – this intolerance and refusal to discuss issues properly is deeply problematic.’

Greg Philo, one of the authors of the book, put forward the following statement:

‘The five academic authors had intended to present their research at a book launch in Waterstones, Brighton on 23rd September. But this occasioned a storm of abuse on Twitter, calls to boycott Waterstones and false accusations about the authors and the content of the book. Waterstones cancelled the event citing organisational problems but have now agreed to reschedule it. The authors have issued a statement saying it is completely unacceptable to attempt to prevent academics from presenting research findings in a bookshop. They have put the following on Twitter:

The claims that Bad News for Labour and its authors are antisemitic are a false and slanderous attack on us as individuals and on our professional integrity as academics. Those responsible must desist.’

We are working with Waterstones to re-organise the event – so watch this space.


Comments (1)

  • Jacob Ecclestone says:

    James Daunt of Waterstones has admitted that the cancellation of the book launch was taken by the London management of the company and that the decision to cancel was neither “necessary” nor the result “of any external pressure”. But he does not deny that in the days before the book was due to be launched members of staff at the Brighton bookshop received threatening and abusive messages from people demanding that the event be cancelled.

    Certainly the authors of the book – experienced and distinguished media academics – seem to believe that this was the case, presumably because they had discussed the cancellation with Waterstones’ staff in Brighton.

    I sent the following protest to the Press Office/PR department of Waterstones on Wednesday,25 September.

    “I do not know the precise nature of the threats which your company and members of your staff were subject to, but the purpose of those threats is clear enough – to silence all discussion about the origins, sources and purposes of the campaign alleging anti-semitism in the Labour Party.

    By cancelling the launch event – presumably because you decided that freedom of speech is less important than the economic success of Waterstones – you have submitted to terrorism. Not the terrorism of guns and bombs , perhaps, but terrorism in the sense that you submitted to threats; you submitted to the will of people or groups of people who
    wish to silence all criticism of the state of Israel and its ideological supporters in this country.

    At a moment in our history when the rule of law is under scrutiny as never before, you have a greater responsibility than most to uphold freedom of speech and to resist those who use fear and intimidation to silence voices of which they disapprove.

    As someone who has been buying books on and off for almost 80 years, I would like to have your response to this protest.”

    So far I have received no answer.

    Over the last three years, the Society of Friends (the Quakers) have cancelled meetings after receiving threatening and abusive phone calls and recently a Member of Parliament was prevented from speaking at a meeting called to discuss allegations of anti-semitism within the Labour Party because the hotel venue was cancelled, also after threats of violence. The cancellation of the book launch in Brighton is the latest example of a new and disturbing political phenomena in Britain.

    These are not isolated and unrelated acts. This kind of intimidation appears to be systematic and well organised. I don’t know if Jewish Voice for Labour is the right organisation to monitor and publicise this kind of unlawful behaviour, but at the moment no-one seems to be doing it.

    The use of threats of violence and psychological harassment to frighten people, to silence discussion and prevent debate is not something of which we have much experience in this country over the last 50 to 60 years. All the more reason, then, I believe, to see it as an emerging form of terrorism which should be dealt with under the law. After all, the only defence we have against acts of terrorism – whether physical or psychological – are agreed and recognised codes of personal rights. We are entitled to demand that those rights are enforced by law.

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