Zionists: Debating Tactics

August 1, 2015

by Martin Odoni

The other night, Friday 31st July, I attended a launch-event in Manchester of Max Blumenthal’s latest book, The 51-Day War, along with Clayton Doyle of The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, and Kerry-Anne Mendoza of the Scriptonite Daily and Addicting Info blogs *. As the book – indeed much of Blumenthal’s journalistic career – is highly critical of the ruthless and brutal policy of the Israeli Government and military towards the Palestinian people, it was a mild worry that Zionist protesters might show up at the event and try to scupper the proceedings. Manchester does, after all, have a very sizeable Jewish community, and inevitably, a large proportion of them are Zionists. This worry was to prove well founded, and there were several incidents during the course of the evening, which, while never coming close to derailing the event, I think should be placed on public record. This is chiefly because I saw plenty of indication that the Zionists who were there are likely to present a false version of what happened.

Here is my account of what I saw; –

I had arrived at the Meeting House about 6:15pm, and as the talk was not due to begin until 7pm, and the sun had finally come out for about the first time in several days, I decided to sit outside for a while. There were several low walls running alongside the steps up to the front door, and I chose to sit on the one on the left – seemed fitting for a socialist like me – and just tried to unwind a bit at the end of a long week in work. I got out my mobile phone and did some random site-hopping for a few minutes, enjoying reports from the Test Match at Edgbaston, where England had beaten Australia earlier that day. (As I have an Australian colleague in work, the bragging rights are mine for a few delicious days.)

After a few minutes, I would say at about 6:22 or so, I noticed a few other people had started to show up. Many were going into the building, but some were gathering at the foot of the steps, and a couple of them appeared to be carrying placards of some kind. From the angle I was sitting at, I could not make out what the placards were saying, but these new arrivals were talking to each other in slightly urgent tones. I could not follow much of what they were saying, so I gave them no further mind and returned to web-browsing on my phone. When I glanced up a moment later, I noticed that one of the new arrivals, a bald-headed fellow in a dark top and light blue jeans, had sat on the wall at the opposite end of the steps from me. I assumed he was doing the same as I was; just relaxing on a summer’s evening ahead of Blumenthal’s talk.

Shortly afterwards, a taxi pulled up by the pavement, and a familiar figure got out, with receding reddish hair and a thin beard. Max Blumenthal himself had arrived. As is always the way with these things, he looked somewhat smaller in real life than he sometimes appears on videos, but he had arrived nonetheless, and I felt now was as good a time as any to head inside. Just as I was standing up straight, I heard a commotion from the people with the placards, and a notable tone of contempt as one of them called out, “There he is!” The fellow sitting on the opposite wall also stood up and moved to a central position on the staircase, a few steps up from the pavement. The others rushed over to the taxi, where Blumenthal and his fellow passengers were unloading some bags of equipment for the presentation. I recognised Clayton Doyle among them – I had met Clayton at a previous event at the Meeting House hosted by Kerry-Anne Mendoza just before Christmas 2014 – but just as I was about to walk over to him to say hello, I realised that the other people who had been waiting here were not friendly.

As Blumenthal made his way towards the steps, several of these people started calling him a liar and a disgrace, and demanded he explain to them why he “wouldn’t tell the truth” of what was happening in Israel. To his credit, Blumenthal, clearly well used to these sorts of confrontations, seemed to take it all in his stride, cheekily got out his mobile phone and took a ‘selfie’ with the protesters before continuing past them up the steps.

NOTE: Blumenthal has put the ‘selfie’ up on his Twitter feed. It can be seen here. If you look very closely above the head of the woman holding up the placard in the photo, you can actually see me stood in the background, wearing a black fleece. I thought I had best point this out, just in case any local Zionists read this and try to make out that I was not there, and that I am making all of this up.

Then things got uglier. The man who was standing on the steps edged across and stood slap-bang in Blumenthal’s way. I immediately noticed that the guy was quite short and stocky; fairly well-built, but the top of his head did not reach quite as far up Blumenthal’s body as he would probably have wished. Nonetheless, he stood firmly in Blumenthal’s path with his arms tightly crossed, and even took a slight step forward so that he could ‘eye-ball’ him almost head-to-head.

Blumenthal politely asked the man to step aside, and the man said something I could not quite make out over the sound of more abuse coming from the other protesters still on the pavement below. I must stress therefore that I could be wrong about this, but he seemed to be saying, “I’m just standing here, I have every right to.”

If he did say that – again I must stress that I am unsure – then he is mistaken. The steps are part of the Friends’ Meeting House property, and therefore belong to the local Quakers Society. They are therefore not public property. The Quakers are perfectly happy to make their facilities available to anyone, but it was the man’s privilege to stand on them, not his right. Furthermore, if he used that privilege to obstruct other users of the building from accessing it, then he was abusing the privilege.

Blumenthal also Tweeted a picture of the man who obstructed him. Friendly fellow…

The two men were still stood directly in each other’s faces. Blumenthal was making an honest attempt to get past, but each one was met with more obstruction of the ‘I’m-not-quite-barging-you’ variety from the other man. Blumenthal suggested that what the man was doing amounted to assault, which was met with a scoffing remark. Blumenthal finally managed to brush past him, just as some of the staff who were organising the event stepped out from the front door to see what all the commotion was about.

At this point, the thug, clearly a man of an unusually sensitive disposition for a self-styled ‘hardened tough’, started making noises about Blumenthal assaulting him.

This is laughable enough given the physical confrontation had been entirely of the thug’s own making. But I want to place it firmly on record here and now that I was watching quite closely, and there was not the slightest hint of actual aggression from Blumenthal. He simply brushed past the man. The man might have made a too-late move across to re-block his path, and that would have caused their shoulders to meet. But again, the aggression would have been entirely on the thug’s side, not on Blumenthal’s, and in any event I did not see much sign even of that. The accusation against Blumenthal was absolute nonsense.

Indeed, the unmistakeable air of aggression surrounding the man’s stance, especially his adoption of a head-to-head position, was so pervasive that he was not far from landing an actual head-butt on Blumenthal’s chin. For the thug to then cry out that he was being assaulted is not only babyish and untrue, it is the equivalent of a drunk driver accusing a motorist who has parked his vehicle of dangerous driving.

Possibly the thug realised he was treading on dangerous ground, and from there Blumenthal and his companions were finally able to get through the door into the building. I followed at a discreet enough distance that I hoped would make clear I was not with the protesters. I briefly spoke to Clayton, mentioning to him, “That was a promising start. All that, and he hadn’t even got into the building yet.” Clayton nodded bleakly.

On entering the auditorium inside the building, and being a bit of a natural wallflower, I found a seat on the extreme left edge of the lines of chairs. There were quite a few people here already, although the auditorium was not yet half-full. Deciding not to risk treading on anyone’s toes after what had happened outside, I just stayed where I was for the time being, frequently sipping my bottled drink to help keep me from coughing too much; I was recovering from a nasty bout of tonsillitis and it had left me with a persistent chesty cough of exactly the type that can cause immense annoyance during a public lecture.

After I had been sitting there for about fifteen minutes, I glanced over my shoulder, and I rolled my eyes in despair. The bald-headed thug had made his way into the building and was now entering the auditorium. I wondered whether he was going to attempt more physical intimidation, but instead he sat in a chair, arms again tightly folded, and remained there for some minutes. I gave him the occasional suspicious glance, but for the moment he seemed not to be looking for any more trouble.

A few minutes later, one of the other members of the audience started handing out small cards with information about the history of what had once been Palestine. I accepted the card she offered me with a thank you, and this seemed to provoke the thug. He leapt out of the seat and walked over to me, pulling from his pocket some mini-booklets with the Star Of David on the covers. He insistently presented one of them to me, telling me, “You can at least get the other side of the story while you’re at it.”

This remark irritated me intensely, because of two condescending assumptions he was making. One, that the card I had received would be nothing but half-truths, but two, that I had only ever heard the Palestinian side of the argument. Now, it is in fact against the odds that people born in the UK will have heard the Palestinian side of the argument at all before they are about 25, but the odds would be even more against a Briton like me hearing it, because I am ethnically Jewish myself. Therefore, the story of modern Israel is one with which I am more than familiar. But also, being British, and therefore constantly in the glare and sound of a mainstream media that is quasi-instinctively Zionist in its sympathies, I grew up with only the Israeli version of events – which is to say the thug’s version – in my ears. It is in fact only over the last ten years or so that I have been able to hear full and articulate summaries of the Palestinian side of the story.

I glanced at the first couple of pages of the booklet, read some protesting-toned details, which, though factually-accurate, were of doubtful relevance, and shook my head. “I’ll be surprised if this tells me anything new,” I thought.

“What makes you think I haven’t heard all this before?” I asked the man.

“Just keep an open mind,” he grumbled, looking for other people to pass his little booklets to. He handed one to a woman, who looked unimpressed.

“I don’t want it thanks, mate,” said the woman coldly (or words to that effect) putting the book to one side.

“I’m not your mate,” the man growled back, returning to his seat as he began to realise that no one wanted his booklets, “and I never would be.”

“Oh yes?” I hooted, although I doubt the man heard me, “That’s your idea of being ‘open-minded’, is it?”

Not long afterwards, Blumenthal looked up from where he was setting things up on the stage, noticed the thug and demanded to know, perfectly reasonably, why he had been let in after almost committing an assault earlier. It appears to have been around this point that the staff of the Meeting House contacted the police to get help.

When community police officers eventually arrived, the man was escorted out of the building, protesting angrily that he was being silenced for being a Jew. This was probably the most idiotic remark he had made yet. What ethnicity, after all, is Max Blumenthal, the man delivering the very talk everyone had shown up to hear? What ethnicity, for that matter, were about half the people in the room? An awful lot of them, yes, were Jews who, like me, openly oppose Israel’s inhuman treatment of the Palestinians, and are hurt and offended by Binyamin Netanyahu’s stance that the crimes are committed in the name of the Jewish people. I have lost some Jewish friends down the years, one in particular to whom I was once very close, for my opposition to Zionist militarism. It has often hurt to be rejected for following my conscience more than my bloodline, but the fact that Zionists are prepared to burn bridges so easily was what taught me just how unthinking they tend to be on the subject of Palestine.

Clayton walked over to join me once the thug was gone, and we exchanged a few more exasperated words about the marked tendency of Zionists towards aggression, sometimes bordering on violence.

The thug and the other Zionist protesters were still arguing with the police on the steps outside by the time Kerry-Anne arrived after her long journey up from Bristol. She took this photograph; –

The Friends' Meeting House is run by the local Quaker's Society, and they summoned the police to keep the protesters from disrupting the event.

A Zionist trying to disrupt a book-launch event is confronted by police on the steps of the Friends’ Meeting House in Manchester. (Photo provided by, and published with kind permission of, Kerry-Anne Mendoza.)

It did not end there. A few more of the Zionist protesters came into the auditorium and sat near the back. Throughout Blumenthal’s talk, they kept making laughing and snickering noises every time atrocities were described – even though the descriptions were mostly accompanied by explicit evidence. I and others there were truly chilled to our spines when Blumenthal described an indiscriminate Israeli attack that killed hundreds of Palestinian children, and we heard the protesters cackling. That is a moment of utter inhumanity that I will never forget.

There was a Question-and-Answer session once Blumenthal completed his talk, and the protesters walked out in a loud huff when they realised that they were not going to be among those who got to ask one of the questions. Sad for them, I am sure, but the spiteful abuse they threw Blumenthal’s way as they shuffled out came from exactly the same stable as their thuggish colleague’s earlier behaviour.

Just to point out, I had hoped to ask a question as well, and I also did not get the opportunity. (I was going to ask Blumenthal how frequently Zionists try to emotionally-blackmail him into silence by making irrelevant and manipulative references to the Holocaust.) I was a little disappointed, but hey, there was only so much time available and we had already overrun, so I was never going to throw a hissy-fit about it. After all, it was hardly as if Blumenthal was under any obligation to do a Q-&-A session in the first place.

My point in doing this account, to repeat, is simply to have a ‘witness testimony’ to what happened on Friday in the public domain, as the deceitfulness of the protesters is implied in their behaviour, which makes it likely that they are putting about false versions of what happened. To reiterate the most important detail, I was watching the confrontation on the steps closely, and Blumenthal was being physically obstructed, and he categorically did not commit an assault. I very much doubt it would come to it, but if necessary, I would be quite willing to stand up in court and say that. There were others watching, and I am sure most of them would be willing to do the same.

I should also emphasise that the evening largely went very well. Blumenthal’s talk was both harrowing and fascinating in equal measure, and I understand he had a splendid night-on-the-town with some of the audience afterwards, with healthy amounts of beer and kebabs accompanying them through to the small hours of the morning. So the Zionist attempts to derail the meeting were absolute failures.

But there is a secondary reason for writing this account, which has been implied above by my conversations with Clayton, and underlined by those very failures. Quite frankly, Zionists, when they are exercising their Zionism, are not pleasant people. They are aggressive, loud, intolerant of alternative viewpoints, and quite capable of the most vindictive bullying when they are losing an argument. Kerry-Anne, for instance, has been repeatedly targeted by Zionists trying to get her social media accounts shut down, because they cannot compete with the copious evidence she is able to present for her condemnation of Israel. (That evidence comes from well over a decade of visiting places like the Gaza Strip and seeing the real effects and the real causes of Israeli atrocities there.) This display on Friday of trying to muscle a journalist into silence made the Zionists look both stupid and violent. Stupid, because they were substituting muscle for articulating a coherent argument, and because they seemed to imagine a journalist who has repeatedly dared the horrors of war-torn Palestine, and struggled in person against the Israel-tainted threat of the mainstream media, might actually be intimidated by some undersized Mancunian berk with a bald head. And violent because, well, that is self-evident. And the whole attempt failed. The talk went ahead, was very well-received by most of the audience, and nobody whatsoever was swayed in the slightest in a pro-Israel direction.

Zionists should therefore ask what this sort of screeching, muscular approach is achieving. It does not appeal to anybody, it does not persuade anybody, and it does not even silence those it is designed to bully. If it did, surely Blumenthal would have cancelled the talk and gone elsewhere? On the contrary, the bullying and snickering merely repelled and disgusted the very people the Zionists were trying to sway.

If Zionists truly want the rest of us to be ‘open-minded’ they will have to set a good example. Threatening to land a ‘Glasgow kiss’ on the chin of a brave journalist is not a good example. A good example would be engaging in a proper debate.

That is what everyone else in that room was doing. So perhaps we are not the ones who have anything to learn?

EDIT TO ADD 2/8/2015: I have been informed on the grapevine that the thuggish fellow’s name is Irving Modlin.


* I stringently deny any insinuation that I am deliberately name-dropping, by the way. I would never stoop so low. Never. Absolutely never. I would never even be tempted. The very idea would never even have crossed my mind.

And besides, if I were name-dropping, I would have described them as, “My very dear long-time friends, my comrades-in-arms, and my most adoring fans”.

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