Four Jewish activists disrupted a talk by controversial commentators Melanie Phillips and Douglas Murray this week over Islamophobia concerns.
Both writers spoke at Tuesday’s talk, which was organised as part of Jewish Book Week, an annual festival now in its 68th year.
The Jewish Solidarity Action protesters were removed from the venue by security.
Footage released online by the group formerly known as Jews Against Boris shows activists holding up a banner marked “Say no to Islamophobia” from a balcony at the Kings Place event on Tuesday.
An activist can heard in the clip telling the speakers and audience members to stand in “solidarity with trans people.”
Tonight JSA disrupted a talk by Melanie Phillips and Douglas Murray at @JewishBookWeek because we will not stand by while our communal spaces legitimise Islamophobia and bigotry #JBW2020 pic.twitter.com/ZpqLDhgpyi
— Jewish Solidarity Action (@JewishSolidAct) March 3, 2020
A spokesperson for the campaign criticised organisers for hosting an event “with speakers who have repeatedly been accused of spreading anti-Muslim hatred.”
“At a time when many migrants and people of colour in this country feel under attack from the government, and the far-right is on the rise, it is absolutely crucial that we build safety through solidarity,” the spokesperson said.
“For Jewish Book Week to host this event sends a message that the Jewish community is not willing to stand in solidarity with our Muslim siblings against the bigotry they face in the media,” the spokesperson added.
The Jewish Chronicle sparked a backlash last year with its decision to publish an op-ed by Phillips describing the concept of Islamophobia as “profoundly anti-Jew.”
“To equate it with the dehumanising, insane and essentially murderous outpourings of Jew-hatred is obscene,” the columnist and author wrote.
A Board of Deputies statement criticised the newspaper for running the piece, describing the editorial decision as an error. “Anti-Muslim prejudice is very real and it is on the rise. Our community must stand as allies to all facing racism,” the group said.
The newspaper’s editor Stephen Pollard apologised to “any reader … angered or upset by the piece” in a statement acknowledging criticism.
He said the piece “reflects an argument about the origins and utility of the notion of Islamophobia, as opposed to anti-Muslim bigotry, that is part of political debate today. ”
Phillips told Jewish News on Wednesday: “As the audience who called for these intruders to be thrown out made very clear, their attempt to smear and intimidate stands directly against the Jewish ethic of truth-telling, reasoned discussion and resistance to bigotry.”
Meanwhile, campaigners criticised Murray, an associate editor at the Spectator, for previously describing the term Islamophobia as a “crock term.”
The writer had made the comment last year in a piece for the weekly magazine entitled “The false equivalence between ‘Islamophobia’ and antisemitism.”
Those who “wield the term”, he wrote, “seem to hope that they can present the situation of Muslims in modern Europe as so dire that they have pretty much already suffered an equal amount to the Jews of Europe in the twentieth century.”
In a tweet to campaigners on Wednesday evening, Jewish Book Week said it has “always been a platform for a diversity of voices.”
“We take pride in providing our audiences with the opportunity to hear and question different perspectives ¬- including those they may not themselves share – on the topics that matter,” the tweet read.
Murray described the disruption in a tweet on Wednesday as a “small disturbance” featuring “accusations of ‘transphobia’ and other thought crimes.”
Douglas Murray and Jewish Book Week were approached for comment.