A community centre has denied charges of “antisemitism” after it hosted the opening day of a conference organised by a group that claims “today’s Holocaust is the Holocaust of the Palestinians”.
Event organisers described themselves in a post on their website as a “grassroots network of ordinary people fighting for a just and lasting peace for the Palestinian people.”
But a tweet sent from the group’s Twitter account on 26 October featured an image of a hook-nosed bearded man rubbing his hands together and saying “Much Holocaust,” originally shared by the account Aida Gaza.
Alongside the image are the words “Today’s Holocaust is the Holocaust of the Palestinians by the Jewish State, supported by most Jews worldwide. Few exceptions.”
The event, entitled “Palestine: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow”, organised by the group Interfaith for Palestine, was originally set to be held at St Columba’s Church hall on Friday and Saturday.
But the church pulled its booking amid a flurry of criticism on social media on Thursday, including from the Board of Deputies and the group North West Friends of Israel, which expressed fears over the lineup.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Shrewsbury said last week it condemned and opposed “antisemitism in all its forms,” adding: “When serious concerns about the nature of this event were brought to our attention appropriate steps were immediately taken.”
However, Hoole Community Centre, a registered charity, hosted the conference on Friday, while the second day of the conference was reportedly held at an undisclosed location.
The community centre said it had monitored the meeting but found no evidence of antisemitism. “In our view, it was well-organised, peaceful and reasonably balanced. At no time did we observe any remarks that could be construed as antisemitic,” the centre said in a statement.
“Although strong opinions were expressed about the actions of Israel against Palestinians, these were perfectly within the legal realms of debate and were neither antisemitic nor inciting any public disorder or violence,” the statement read.
The community centre also said it had received a “barrage of senseless, hateful and inaccurate comments” on social media over its decision to host the conference. “We deplore these which have done nothing to help engender local friendship towards Israel,” the centre said.
Chris Matheson, MP for Chester, told Chester Live: “I have worked with the Jewish Leadership Council to establish what was happening and I have been in contact with the manager of the chair of the trustees of Hoole Community Centre and other venues.
“Although I welcome open debate on certain matters on the Middle East, I will not tolerate these people in Chester who are of a racist and anti-semitic nature.
Both Mick Napier from the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Rev Stephen Sizer withdrew from the event last week after Gilad Atzmon was added to the list of speakers.
Disgraceful that a "community centre" hosted this hate group. But we are grateful for the solidarity of:
????St Colomba's Catholic Church @ShrewsRCnews for hearing our concerns, and cancelling
????A Chester hotel who cancelled 2 reservations for speakers, after hearing our concerns https://t.co/ZHLmYIw5bH
— Board of Deputies of British Jews (@BoardofDeputies) November 4, 2019
The controversial saxophonist has faced several accusations of antisemitism, which he denied, over previous comments relating to Israel, the Holocaust and hate crime. He reportedly discussed “Palestine under the Jewish state” at an undisclosed location on Saturday during the second day of the conference.
In a statement to Jewish News prior to the event, Atzmon denied allegations of Holocaust denial, adding: “I do believe that Jewish pressure groups intimidating churches, art and culture centres is a very dangerous past.”
“I’m pretty sad to admit to myself that no one within the Jewish community is brave enough to act to restrain this type of anti-Athenian behaviour,” he added.
In a 2009 essay, Atzmon condemned what he described as the “Holocaust religion” while in 2003 he suggested that attacks against synagogues should be seen as “political responses” instead of hate crimes.
“I am not suggesting that Jewish interests are not being mutilated and vandalised. I am not saying that synagogues aren’t being attacked, that Jewish graves are not brutally smashed up. I am saying that these acts, that are in no way legitimate, should be seen as political responses rather than racially motivated acts or ‘irrational’ hate crimes,” he wrote.
Interfaith for Palestine was approached for comment.