On Sunday 19 July, Bournemouth Action for Israel (BAFI) were asked to leave the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival hosted every year.
Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival, a festival of solidarity, has been attended by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for a while. This year was the first time that BAFI had a presence at the festival in order to show the other side of the Israeli-Palestinian narrative.
On the Saturday, BAFI were (un)welcomed with abuse and attempted vandalism of their stall and material.
On the Sunday, organisers asked BAFI to leave for their own safety and for the safety of the festival’s staff.
Rather than asking the perpetrators who disrupted the peace at the Conference to leave, BAFI were punished instead of the aggressors.
Below is a statement made by BAFI on their facebook page:
WE’VE HAD ONE HELL OF A WEEKEND! WE BECAME 21st CENTURY MARTYRS, AT TOLPUDDLE MARTYRS FESTIVAL.
Bournemouth Action For Israel, is a grass-roots Israel Advocacy organisation, run by a group of Jews and Christian supporters of Israel. We decided to combat the rhetoric of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and to have a stand at the Tolpuddle Festival, promoting Israel’s side of the narrative, this weekend.
By booking to be at the Tolpuddle Festival, we knew we were entering the Lions Den. This festival is organised by the Trade Unions Congress, a left-wing, mostly anti-Israel organisation, whose members have swallowed the rhetoric of the well-organised and well-funded Palestinian Solidarity Campaign for many years, while Israel ignored what was and is happening, in the diaspora.
The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, which has had the trade unionists all to themselves for the past few years, quickly discovered our presence and that was the start of the less-than-welcome reception.
In succession, the volunteers were accused of representing a fascist, racist, oppressive, apartheid, baby killing, subjugating, land-stealing state and that we had no right to be at the festival. In forthright manner, we were informed that serious complaints would be lodged to the organisers with a view to having us ejected. A flash mob suddenly converged on us from the direction of the PSC stall, shouting abuse, throwing our leaflets to the floor and trying to destroy our stand.
Needless to say, when each organisation was invited to explain what it was there for, our leader was greeted by well orchestrated boos and jeers. Having fully anticipated just such a reaction, he calmly asked them if they would like another minute or so to vent their anger. When things quietened down, he was able to inform the hall that our organisation represents a Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestinian, Pro-peace viewpoint and if we could not have civilised dialogue here in England, what chance was there for it to happen in the Middle East.
After these initial rabid outbursts, the volunteers were encouraged to hear from other stallholders and officials that we had every right to be there and although they did not agree with what Israel was doing, we should be free to put over our point of view.
Today, we arrived very early to ensure we would be there before the PSC and as we were in the process of setting up our stand, we received a visit from the organisers. They explained to us that this was going to be the busiest day of the event and that they were short staffed on security. In view of the many virulent complaints they had received about us, and although we had every right to be there, we should leave in the interest of our own and their staff’s safety.
Not wishing to place the staff nor indeed ourselves in physical danger, we had no real option but to make a tactical withdrawal. Basically, we were bullied into going.
The problem with the radical left is much worse than we anticipated. THEY REALLY REALLY HATE US.
BAFI were also interviewed on BBC News on Monday 20 July:
A statement from Trade Union Congress (TUC) has since been released:
“The TUC is very mindful of the wide range of deeply held views on the situation in Israel and Palestine within the trade union movement. Many unions have a position of full, active support for BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel; other unions have positions of working with the Histradrut, and organisations such as Trade Union Friends of Israel, and TULIP (Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine).
Tolpuddle is a space for us as a movement to come together and discuss and debate in a comradely, friendly environment. It treasures the space that it has created and aims to keep it as a broad, open space reflective of all ideas and traditions of our movement. Many organisations have stalls at Tolpuddle that do not exactly tally 100% with every dotted I or every crossed T of TUC policy; but we still have them join us and join in the free exchange of ideas that takes place at the Festival. Some organisations, such as the RSPB, have stalls at Tolpuddle while not being a part of the labour movement per se.
So, while many folks may disagree with Action for Israel – as is their right – to deny them a place at the festival would, the organisers feel, undermine the spirit of free speech that the festival has built up over the years.
Comparisons to allowing organisations such as UKIP or the BNP a stall at Tolpuddle are not entirely appropriate, unless you can point out which parts of the formal labour movement actually support such organisations.
Feedback is being listened to and reflected on, on this topic and on other issues or concerns you may have about the festival.”