Greenbelt Festival withdraws invitation to controversial JVL speaker

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Greenbelt Festival withdraws invitation to controversial JVL speaker

The festival said Leah Levane's presence on the bill would divert attention from its 'rich history and wider Jewish conversation'

Leah Levane at Labour Conference last year (Credit: YouTube)
Leah Levane at Labour Conference last year (Credit: YouTube)

Greenbelt Festival has disinvited a controversial Jewish Voice for Labour speaker, citing concerns about the “febrile nature” of the Labour antisemitism row.

Leah Levane, who is a Labour councillor in Hastings, heads the left-wing fringe group Jewish Voice for Labour. She was due to appear in a panel at Greenbelt to discuss faith, but her invitation was withdrawn within days of the festival.

The festival of arts, faith and activism returned for the 46th time over the August Bank Holiday weekend in Northamptonshire. Its lineup included the group Extinction Rebellion, the comedian Russell Brand, radio personality Paul Mason and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

Greenbelt has previously hosted controversial speakers, such as anti-Zionist blogger Robert Cohen, who described former Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker as a “longstanding anti-racist campaigner and educator” in a blog post this year.

In a statement, Greenbelt said Levane’s presence on the bill would “on balance” divert attention from the festival’s “rich history and wider Jewish conversation.”

“In disinviting her, Greenbelt must make it clear that Leah was not coming as a representative or spokesperson for the Jewish community in the UK,” the statement read.

“She had been invited as one voice onto panel; as a lively and interesting contributor; as someone whose passionate and contrary voice in the face of the prevailing narrative in the UK we considered would be interesting to include.”

In response, JVL issued a statement, claiming “pressure was put on organisers” to rescind the invitation.

“The pressure will not reduce because Greenbelt has succumbed to it, instead it will give succour to those who seek, at the very least, to deny legitimacy to JVL’s important perspective,” JVL said.

“But we had expected, given the courageous stand that Greenbelt has made in the past, that this pressure would have been resisted not least in recognition of the dangers of silencing alternative voices for honest and respectful debate, for democracy, for diversity and also for Jewish people.”

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