Waterstones censors academics launching book on Labour and antisemitism

STOP PRESS: 27th September. Waterstone’s admits: “We made a mistake.” James Daunt says “”I acknowledge that the cancellation of the event was not actually necessary”. There was no intention to repress free speech… See addition at end of the post.
H/t Steve Tiller

Scholars forced to abandon the launch at Waterstones in Brighton of a book about Labour and antisemitism have condemned an “astonishing attack on free speech and academic freedom” which resulted in the bookstore cancelling the planned event on Monday.

Jewish Voice for Labour has produced the following statement which is being distributed at Labour Party conference today, Tuesday September 24.

See here how to order the book in question, Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief.

Update: 26 September.
We post below our statement a Canary report Waterstones shuts down book launch exposing the antisemitism witch hunt against the left

Intimidation in Brighton

Waterstones bookshop in Brighton was due to host a publicly advertised launch of Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief, at 7.30 pm on Monday Sept 23. This is a scholarly book by renowned experts on how the media has influenced public perception of the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

On Monday morning, publishers Pluto Press heard that, following “a barrage of abusive emails, phonecalls and tweets” aimed at the Brighton store, the event was to be cancelled.

The book’s authors – Professor Greg Philo, University of Glasgow; Dr Mike Berry, University of Cardiff; Antony Lerman, Senior Fellow, Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue, Vienna; Dr Justin Schlosberg, Birkbeck, University of London and Professor David Miller, University of Bristol – condemned “this … astonishing attack on free speech and academic freedom. To stop university teachers from discussing research evidence in a bookshop through intimidation is simply incredible.”

It was only thanks to the local Rialto theatre making space available at the last minute that the launch was able to go ahead. The Rialto has since suffered serious online abuse.

Local staff at Waterstones who wanted the launch to proceed were overruled by senior management to force cancellation of the event – an alarming capitulation to intimidation. This is the most shocking of a number of attacks on freedom of speech at this year’s conference, with a succession of venues cancelling bookings by left-wing, pro-Palestinian organisations after facing abuse and threats.

It is vital that public figures, on Brighton council, in the Labour party and elsewhere, speak out against this bullying behaviour. All progressive groups are vulnerable to intolerant and repressive attacks. From banning meetings and preventing book launches, it is a small step before we will see books being burned by people who disapprove of their content.

Protest to Waterstones’ management via their website, www.waterstones.com

Send any replies you receive to [email protected].


Waterstones shuts down book launch exposing the antisemitism witch hunt against the left

The Canary, 24 September 2019

A torrent of “threats” and ‘abuse’, allegedly levied against Waterstones in Brighton, resulted in the cancellation of a book launch on antisemitism and the Labour Party. Pluto Press and Waterstones announced that they were “delighted to host an event to mark the release of Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief” on 23 September. But the bookstore then updated its website to say: “Due to reasons out of our control we have had to cancel tonight’s event”. Organisers told The Canary this was down to a “harassment” campaign.

Independent publisher Pluto also released a statement expressing its ‘disappointment’ that “external pressure” had resulted in the cancellation of the event:

We are disappointed to announce that tonight’s launch for ‘Bad News for Labour’ has been cancelled by @Waterstones, Brighton due to external pressure put on the store… https://t.co/dhQdRu0DYm

— Pluto Press (@PlutoPress) September 23, 2019

 “A barrage of abusive emails, phone calls, and tweets”

Greg Philo, the lead author of the book, informed The Canary via Justin Schlosberg, also a co-author, that:

Pluto Press had been contacted by Waterstones head office the day before the event was scheduled and told that the Brighton store had received a barrage of abusive emails, phone calls and tweets about the event and that there had been intimidation in the Brighton store.

Philo explained:

Our book acknowledges the existence of antisemitism in the Labour Party but critically examines the degree to which people have been misinformed about its extent and the role of the leadership in dealing with it.

Waterstones denies threats and intimidation

The Canary received a response from Waterstones which offered a very different explanation for cancelling the event on the day:

I can confirm that we have cancelled today’s  event. I would like to make clear that we did not receive threats or harassment. Here are some points to outline why we have made the decision.

  • this was a small event with about 50 tickets sold

  • it raised considerable emotion from various parties on both sides of the debate

  • we do not wish to be caught in this debate at an especially emotive moment: it is not a debate from which we shy in terms of book stock but it is not one in which we wish to be perceived to have taken sides

  • on a more practical level, we have not yet received the book stock and worried that it would not arrive in time

  • the shop decided to cancel the event in discussion with the central events team

  • we hope to reschedule the talk in this shop, or in others when we can be better prepared

Waterstones’ statement contradicted by the authors

But Schlosberg subsequently confirmed to The Canary that he was directly warned on Saturday that the event would likely be cancelled due to a “barrage” of “threats” and “harassment”.

David Miller, an academic with the University of Bristol and co-author of the book, also pushed back against Waterstones’ statement. He told The Canary “there were threats”. He also said “It’s not a debate. It is research findings”. Furthermore, he said the books arrived in Brighton at 2pm, well before the event was supposed to be held at 7.30pm. In fact, “the guy who arranged the event offered to come and sell the books personally”.

“Only one step from book burning”

Miller told The Canary: “It is really extraordinary that [this book event] has been cancelled as a result of threats”. He called it a “serious attack on both freedom of speech and academic freedom”.

Philo also hit the point home, noting that:

Academics from four universities are being stopped from discussing their research in a bookshop. It is only one step from burning books.

Organisers scheduled the event to occur on the evening of the third day of the Labour Party’s annual conference. Miller explained that “on arriving in Brighton at 12.37pm I got a message that people with tickets were in receipt of refunds”. This was a common theme. Andrew Feinstein, founder of Corruption Watch and author of The Shadow World: Inside The Global Arms Trade, told The Canary that he had been looking forward to attending the event “for a number of months”. He drove down to Brighton specially for the event and received an email at around 12.30pm refunding him for his ticket.

Andrew Feinstein: ‘This is personal to me as a Jew’

Feinstein explained that his “interest in the issue is born out of a number of factors”, including:

That I’m Jewish. That I’m a son of a holocaust survivor who lost 39 members of her family in the holocaust. That I was the first MP to introduce a motion in the South African Parliament, [which shockingly hadn’t occurred until his motion in 1996]. And that I’ve written about and lectured on genocide prevention at Auschwitz.

He called the alleged threats and harassment against Waterstones “absolutely despicable”.

Feinsten told The Canary:

In my opinion the whole discussion and debate has become completely irrational in the sense that this idea that the Labour Party has a particular antisemitism problem is simply not born out by the facts.

The ‘degeneration’ of discourse within parts of the Jewish community

He said that:

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 deeply problematic.

Feinstein pointed out that “there are a number of levels at which the debate has degenerated”. He emphasised that:

nobody asks my opinion on Zionism. Its just the fact that I’m Jewish and I support Jeremy Corbyn – that is now somehow is incompletely unacceptable to [certain] members of the Jewish community.

“Appalling Abuse” unleashed onto me as a “Jewish supporter of Jeremy Corbyn”

I’ve found as a Jewish supporter of Jeremy Corbyn the sort of abuse that is levelled at people like myself online is absolutely appalling. I’ve had the situation where I’ve mentioned my mother’s history, and a rabbi responded on social media suggesting that my mother must have been one of those Jews who collaborated with the Nazis – its insane and out of control. It really is.

He said he has found “absolutely no desire to engage on the matter”, and that:

Those propagating this notion of an antisemitism crisis in the Labour Party – they don’t want to hear anything different to their views.

Feinstein finds this “quite scary and deeply, deeply, problematic”.

Antisemitism is lower under Corbyn

He also pointed out that polling by YouGov on antisemitism in the UK and among political parties in 2015 and 2017 showed low levels of antisemitism within the Labour Party. He said the 2017 poll, after Corbyn had been leader for over a year, “showed antisemitism among Labour had fallen and was joint lowest among all political parties”.

Feinstein told The Canary:

I therefore believe that this whole crises has been manufactured by people who want to see Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership ended – and the irony of that is that Jeremy Corbyn is probably the most anti-racist politician of the last three and a bit decades in this country.

The Canary already reported how previous events, also to be held in Brighton with socialist MP Chris Williamson (himself a strong supporter of Palestinian rights), were also cancelled following a campaign of ‘intimidation and harassment’ unleashed onto staff at the Holiday Inn. A harassment campaign also reportedly led to the normally politically resilient Quakers pulling out as the back-up venue at the last minute.

But just as organisers persevered and found an alternative venue for the event with Williamson, so did the organisers of the launch of Bad News for Labour. They persisted, re-routed the books to the Rialto Theatre, and held a very successful book launch and discussion just around the corner. The attacks on the left in the UK are no joke, but neither is the resistance to them.
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From: Daunt, James <[email protected]>
Date: Fri, 27 Sep 2019 at 10:20
Subject: FW: Suppression of Academic Free Speech

As a matter of fact, I was not personally involved in the decision to cancel the event. I was in London last Monday but in meetings and was not consulted. You are correct, however, that it was a decision taken in London by the central events team and overruled the wishes of the shop itself.

The reason was largely one of simple irritation at what was perceived to be an ill-prepared event. With the benefit of hindsight, the event could have proceeded. The books did arrive and the shop could have handled it sensibly.

Is this an egregious suppression of academic free speech? I think more a case of muddle and a hasty reaction based on annoyance that a cooler head and more mature response could have avoided.

The reaction in turn from a small number of members of the public has been very strong. I respect those who worry that Waterstones will not stock books that cover controversial topics and especially those that address the politics of Israel and Palestine, and assure you that this is not the case. We will continue to stock and promote books of this sort, and of course this specific title.

I do not respect – and in fact abhor – those who have used the incident to make virulently anti-Semitic comment, as I hope you will agree. I have been on the receiving end of some shocking interactions that are completely alien to me.

 

In summary, I acknowledge that the cancellation of the event was not actually necessary. The motivation to do so was not malicious, however, let alone driven by any particular political agenda or the result of any external pressure. We made a mistake.

 

Regards

 

James

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (5)

  • Richard Hayward says:

    I think that, beyond the actual event, the most significant thing is how, once again this hasn’t been reported. The ‘omerta’ of the Great British Media is a true wonder to behold in the world of press ‘freedom’.

    Imagine if a Jewish Chronicle event was shut down by similar intimidation. I bet a few quid on that being immediate headlines (and laid at the door of the Labour Party).

  • Martin Kilkie says:

    I would have thought that one obvious response would be an urgent demand from our MPs for an investigation into this pattern illegal intimidation and bullying. The fact they have not is an indication of how far IHRA has shifted Overton’s window on this subject.

  • Jacob Ecclestone says:

    James Daunt admits that the cancellation of the book launch was taken by the London management of Waterstones and that it 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 – four experienced and distinguished media academics – seemed 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.

    I do not believe that these are 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.

  • I am pleased to hear that James Daunt has now admitted that the cancellation of the book launch was a mistake because when I rang him the day after the launch he was still defending it on the grounds that the launch had not been professionally organised.

    I echo what Jacob Ecclestone has said. These attacks on venues and the organise twitter abuse must be centrally organised and yet the media is not only indifferent but actively suppressing all news of this. The local Argus has spiked a story by its own reporter Jody Doherty-Cove.

    However as was not made entirely clear by the above Brighton & Hove Left Alliance, which booked the Rialto Theatre during Labour Party conference, adjusted its schedule on the Monday to ensure that this book launch went ahead.

    Full marks to the Rialto who have withstood some considerable abuse to defend free speech. I look forward to attending the ‘official’ launch at Waterstones

  • John says:

    Has anyone asked JLM to comment on these events?
    It would be interesting to know if they support or oppose such behaviour.
    More especially, do they condemn the sort of behaviout that led to Waterstone cancelling the book launch?
    I think they should be made to answer these questions.
    So – too – should the The Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland.

Comments are now closed.