In an email to organizers seen by The Electronic Intifada, Unite’s assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail justified the union’s decision, claiming that “Asa Winstanley’s publication has already caused deep hurt among Jews in Britain.”
Cartmail specified that she was responding at the request of Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, who “has numerous industrial commitments at the moment.”
Winstanley is a journalist with The Electronic Intifada, and his new book is the culmination of years of reporting on the issue of how anti-Semitism smears were weaponized against former UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.
Veteran socialist filmmaker Ken Loach criticized the decision, telling The Electronic Intifada that “Asa Winstanley’s book has been widely praised, including by noted Jewish commentators, for its rigorous and authoritative research.”
Loach, who has himself been the victim of the anti-Semitism smear campaign, said that: “By banning the author from discussing it in this way, Unite has shown the title to be accurate – anti-Semitism has indeed been weaponized. This is a critical political issue. Buy this important book and judge for yourself.”The book launch and signing had been scheduled for Monday 24 July at Tony Benn House, Unite’s regional office in the southwestern city of Bristol.
Winstanley was invited back in June to give the talk by a local community branch of Unite.
But a local union official contacted organizers on Friday saying the event would be canceled after “discussion with senior colleagues.”
Asked to explain why, the official would only say the decision “relates to advice and opinion on controversy around the film” and said that “the leadership of Unite” did not want to “be drawn into contentious political debate.”
Organizers then appealed to Graham, who got Cartmail to respond, prompting the email about the alleged “deep hurt” caused by the book.
The event had been booked with staff at Tony Benn House nearly a month ago.
Almost 100 tickets have been sold for the event, and organizers faced difficulty finding a large enough alternative venue at short notice.
Proving the book’s point
Organizers have this afternoon written to ticket holders promising to reschedule the event in September – at an alternative venue if Unite’s ban on the book remains in place. Organizers say they will honor existing tickets for the rescheduled Bristol event at a new venue.
Cartmail and Graham did not respond to The Electronic Intifada’s requests for comment.
The night was due to include a showing of the film Oh Jeremy Corbyn: The Big Lie, a documentary on a similar topic to Winstanley’s book, which has faced similar censorship by Unite.
Cartmail did not respond to the organizers’ request to clarify who had complained about the book launch. She only alluded to having “received concerns” about the film, though she did not say from whom.
Cartmail’s assertions about the book being “inflammatory” and causing “hurt” to British Jews echo Israel lobby smears against the left and the Palestine solidarity movement more generally.
Claiming that any criticism of Israel or its lobby is – “hurtful to Jews” – is a silencing tactic that conflates Jews and Judaism, on the one hand, with Israel and its racist state ideology Zionism, on the other.
Ironically, these types of distortion, silencing and censorship are the subjects of the book that Cartmail’s union has now censored and suppressed.Update: Shortly after publication of this article, pro-Israel group the Campaign Against Antisemitism thanked Unite for the cancellation, saying it came “after speaking with CAA” and “correspondence” with the group.
Described by one prominent critic as a “Campaign Against Palestinians” the CAA in December 2019 claimed to have “slaughtered” Jeremy Corbyn, who their leading researcher Joe Glasman described as “the beast.”
Book ban criticized
In June The Skwawkbox reported that Unite had effectively banned the film from all its buildings.
Some Unite activists disputed that conclusion. The film was shown by Unite Community at Tony Benn House in April.
But earlier this month The Skwawkbox reported that the union had also banned branches from even making donations to the filmmakers allowing them to put the film on outside of union premises.
Skwawkbox editor Steve Walker – who is also a Unite member – told The Electronic Intifada that “the union management’s attacks on democracy and freedom of speech” were another example of “the growing coziness between Unite’s management and the current hard-right Labour regime.”
Walker said that “the move to ban an event involving Asa’s book is only surprising in that the Unite leadership has put its fingerprints directly on it this time.”
He said the email from Cartmail at the request of Graham “demolishes the delusion indulged in by some of Ms. Graham’s supporters that these appalling maneuvers were only local issues or decisions that couldn’t be laid at her and her team’s door.”
With additional reporting by Asa Winstanley.