Cable Street 85

JVL Introduction

David Rosenberg gives a vivid account of the 85th Cable Street anniversary celebration – and of the malevolent Jewish News story about the event.

He points out clearly what the story didn’t mention – the four direct descendants of Jewish fighters from the day; Rabbi Gluck; local MP Apsana Begum; Labour Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs; and many more. The only speaker they mentioned was Jeremy Corbyn, a constant presence on antiracist and antifascist demonstrations over five decades.

Only 3 months ago a leading light in JLM wrote a blog which began: “Cable Street is one of the Left’s proudest moments – Jewish, Black and socialist East Londoners stood together and stopped the march of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts. ”

So one assumes they were centrally involved in organising for and participating in the 85th celebrations.

Not a bit of it! As reported below:

  • At no time after the publicity went out did JLM contact the committee to request a speaker.
  • Their social media footprint in the week before and after Cable Street 85 contains nothing about Cable Street 85 – not a SINGLE tweet about it…

None of that stops the JN reporting that they were “excluded” from the event!

It ill behoves us to point out that the march was – as ever – open to all. But perhaps with the JLM’s new-found closeness to the leadership of the Labour Party they didn’t want to be seen in Cable St company?

David Rosenberg writes:

It takes a lot of badly motivated effort of a certain kind to turn an incredibly meaningful, emotional and warm-hearted event, so full of humanity – as the recent march and rally for the 85th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street was – into some kind of act of imagined malevolence.

You only had to glance at social media comments and the photos published on the day from people who were there, to know the warmth and pride people felt to be part of it, especially as they described the very moving, personal speeches by those whose parents had been at the barricades in 1936.

Cable Street 2021 banner with MPs Apsana Begum and Bell Ribeiro-Addy

But every party has its poopers. And huge dollops of poop littered the report the Jewish News (JN) provided for its readers. They had flagged up the event a couple of days before, not to encourage their readers to attend, but to warn them that two of their bogey-people – Jeremy Corbyn and Apsana Begum (the local MP) – would be there.

One golden rule for serious journalists is surely that if you are going to write about an event, and make claims about it, you ought to attend it. There was no evidence to suggest that the staffer who covered it for JN had been there.

Rabbi Herschel Gluck

There were no shortage of opportunities to take photos there, of, for example, the four Jewish people who spoke with such pride about the involvement of their parents and other relatives on the day, or of Rabbi Herschel Gluck, as he delivered a barnstorming speech that evoked the event’s loudest cheers. But in the end they used a photo taken by staff on Jeremy Corbyn’s Project for Peace and Justice, which Corbyn had used when he tweeted about the event, to illustrate their story.

So, if you are a journalist who wasn’t there, how *do* you write about it? Well you invent a narrative and fill it out with whatever backs up that narrative, in this case  half-truths and whole lies.

In their photo you can see one of the 19 speakers on the day at the microphone, the only participant JN mention in their report. It’s Jeremy Corbyn. And why shouldn’t the most dedicated anti-racist and anti-fascist activist in parliament in the last four decades be there?

They chose not to mention the four direct descendants of Jewish fighters from the day; Rabbi Gluck; the local MP Apsana Begum who grew up in the local Bangladeshi community near to Cable Street and is now MP for the area that includes the Cable Street Mural in St Georges Gardens where the rally was held; Labour Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs; local and national trade union representatives; speakers from various Bengali, Indian and anti-racist groups including Nooruddin Ahmed of the Altab Ali Foundation, one of the youth movement leaders in 1978 who helped to drive the National Front from the area after the racist murder of Altab Ali; Rob Griffiths, from the Communist Party; and two more Jewish speakers; Mary Davis ­– a history professor, and Julia Bard for the Jewish Socialists’ Group.

Composite image including June and Ruth – two of the speakers who were relatives of those who fought in 1936 (June’s mum is still alive but housebound at 104 and was unable to come in person)- Tony Booth, Michael Rosen, Apsana Begum, David Rosenberg and the Altab Ali Foundation banner

To return to their photo of Jeremy Corbyn: someone is standing next to him in a yellow hi-vis jacket. He is Hazuan Hashim. Out of the picture frame on the other side was Hashim’s collaborator Phil Maxwell. For decades they have been independently recording, in films and photos, the social and political history of the East End, especially its key anti-racist, anti-fascist aspects, which is what they were doing there.

During the 75th anniversary celebrations in 2011 they premiered their wonderful film From Cable Street to Brick Lane showing the courage of the resistance in the 1930s and the 1970s, in interviews from witnesses and participants, and images.

But in 2020, Hashim, who moved to Liverpool with Maxwell a few years ago, and was elected BAME equalities officer of his CLP, fell foul of the controversial disciplinary processes of the Labour Party. He is currently suspended, as one of four local CLP who signed a critical letter to their MP in an internal CLP officers forum, which was leaked. The letter suggested that their MP had acquiesced to an “inaccurate and factionally motivated position on antisemitism” in an article she wrote.

JN seized on the image of Corbyn and Hashim at close quarters. It’s initial headline said “Corbyn speaks at Cable Street rally next to activist suspended for antisemitism.” After my complaints in private correspondence with the editor (who supported his reporter’s version) JN quietly made a change, adding the word “remarks” to the end of the headline. Before that it had said that Hashim was “suspended for antisemitism”, an inaccurate claim that might have landed them in legal trouble.

The charges are strongly contested by Hashim and the other signatories, and there has still been no hearing. JN claimed inaccurately that Hashim was holding the microphone for Corbyn. The photo itself tells otherwise. Hashim was busy filming Corbyn and every other speaker from start to finish of the rally. The microphone was passed to each speaker by myself and my co-chair Julie Begum – no-one else.

JN also claimed, based on the fact that I co-chaired the rally, that the event was organised by the Jewish Socialists’ Group. It’s not true, but we are proud that we contributed to the event’s success. Why did it not argue that it was organised by Julie Begum’s organisation as she was the other co-chair?

In truth, neither myself nor Julie organised it. Representatives of several organisations involved with the 75th and 80th Cable Street anniversaries met at the end of July to discuss whether it might be possible to hold a commemorative march and rally in these COVID times. I was the JSG’s sole representative on the Cable Street 2021 committee. I did not chair any committee meetings though the committee asked Julie Begum and myself to co-chair the rally. We both happily accepted this honour.

Then the JN report threw in another red herring – the absence of a speaker from the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) which their spokesperson expressed a lot of anger about. He implied ridiculously that they were excluded, despite it being a publicly advertised event that the organisers had called on all anti-racists and anti-fascists to attend.

What was the mundane truth on this one? We decided early on to build the platform around a set of Jewish speakers whose parents took part in the 1936 events. This was crucial because we knew that this would be the first five-yearly commemoration where we could not hear direct testimony from the participants in 1936.

Other speakers were proposed from some groups represented on the committee. After the initial publicity was shared (late August/early September), a number of other groups contacted the committee to request a speaker at the event. We had planned to have considerably fewer speakers than at the larger-scale 2016 event, but were able to accommodate some of them. At NO time after the publicity went out did JLM contact the committee to request a speaker.

It is also very hard to reconcile their very apparent extreme anger on this matter with their complete silence about the Cable Street anniversary on their social media in the week before and after Cable Street 85. Check their website: nothing about Cable Street 85! Check their twitter feed: not a SINGLE tweet about Cable Street 85!

As Mark Twain observed “a lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” An American Jewish newspaper, the Algemeiner, picked up the story in good faith from Jewish News, perhaps assuming that standards of fact-checking are as high in British journalism as they are in the USA. It ran its own online version of the story but  with some of the JN’s inventions and inaccuracies intact.

I contacted them. In complete contrast to the reaction from the JN editor, the Managing Editor of The Algemeiner was a mentsh. After a few friendly email exchanges he changed aspects of what they had written and drafted a quote based on some of the points I had made. Seeking and obtaining my approval, he added an attributed quote from me to the end of the article. I am very pleased it referred to the Jewish speakers, especially the relatives of the 1936 fighters, and Rabbi Gluck. It remains an utter disgrace that the JN didn’t refer to those speakers.

Every committee member, I’m sure, felt exhausted from the work they voluntarily contributed over several weeks towards the anniversary event but I am sure that, like myself, they would have felt enormously cheered, buoyed, moved and heartened by the love expressed on that day, and since, by those who were there, and were proud of being there.

And, to be honest, a small part of me almost feels sorry for the party poopers who have to expend such energy lying to themselves as well as to others.

See also:

David Rosenberg’s study Remembering the Battle of Cable Street, published by Tribune on the anniversay of the march, places the Cable Street events in a broader context.

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