Jewish Book Week (JBW) has defended its decision to host far-left author Michael Rosen in the face of a social media backlash.
Rosen, who will discuss his new illustrated children’s title Please Write Soon: An Unforgettable Story of Two Cousins in World War II at a Family Day event this Sunday, courted controversy across the Jewish community over his staunch backing of Jeremy Corbyn at the height of the Labour Party’s antisemitism scandal.
In a 2019 column for the Morning Star, Rosen wrote: “I’ve known Jeremy Corbyn for 30 years. He is no antisemite. He has put his neck on the line hundreds of times in opposing racism, antisemitism, far-right fascism and Holocaust denial.”
Corbyn remains suspended by the party for publicly disparaging the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s 2021 report, which found Labour guilty of unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination against Jewish people under his leadership.
Rosen’s invite to one of the Jewish community’s most prestigious events sparked consternation across social media, with some accusing JBW of blocking them for condemning Rosen’s appearance.
Writer and comedian Lee Kern wrote: “This celebration of Jewish expression through the art of letters is blocking Jews who use words to express upset over the veneration of Michael Rosen.”
Another Twitter user wrote: “You’re blocking Jewish people who’re criticising you for hosting Corbynite, JVL supporter, and anti-Israel activist Michael Rosen?” A third simply stated: “Michael Rosen, who has stood with and defended some of the UK’s most vile antisemites, is hosted by Jewish Book Week.”
JBW, however, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, has firmly stood behind its decision. Director Claudia Rubenstein told Jewish News: “We are proud to welcome speakers who collectively represent a diversity of views, opinions, experiences and insights.
“While we respect the fact that some people will not always agree with the views of our speakers, we remain committed to holding open and challenging conversations, particularly on the important topics of our day. We will deny a platform only in exceptional cases and most obviously to those who peddle hateful opinions about others. Within these limitations, we regard freedom of speech as a precious right to be valued and defended.”
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