McDonnell and Manson event marred by protests, attempt to burn Israeli flag

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McDonnell and Manson event marred by protests, attempt to burn Israeli flag

Jenny Manson's head-to-head with the shadow chancellor met with loud and vitriolic demonstrations outside

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

JVL chair Jenny Manson and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell
JVL chair Jenny Manson and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell

Jenny Manson’s head to head event with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was marked by a vitriolic demonstration outside the event venue, during which an unsuccessful attempt was made to set fire to an Israeli flag worn by one of the demonstrators.

Ms Manson, chairman of Jewish Voice for Labour, told the Jewish News that the decisions taken to ban people from the event — held to back her bid to be Labour’s candidate for the Finchley and Golders Green constituency — were not hers, but those of her campaign team. She said: “Some were refused admission for administrative reasons, some for security reasons. But these decisions were taken by my campaign team, not me.”

Around 15-20 people, some of whom had been ticket-holders and were subsequently told their tickets were cancelled, demonstrated outside the Cricklewood hotel where the event took place. Among them was Damon Lenszner, 58, who was one of the participants in the BBC programme earlier in the year which took British Jews to Israel.

Joseph Cohen, of the Israel Advocacy Movement, told the Jewish News that Mr Lenszner had been wearing an Israeli flag around his shoulders when an unknown man wearing a camouflage jacket stepped forward, took out a lighter, and attempted to set light to the flag. 

As soon as this action was seen by other demonstrators they moved forward to the security detail at the hotel but the man — who did not succeed in setting the flag alight — moved away and disappeared into the hotel.

Among those who failed in their bid to enter the event was journalist Etan Smallman, who had previously been issued with a ticket. And a group of young Jewish students who were initially refused entry were admitted after intervention by Liberal rabbi Danny Rich.

Inside, the meeting began late with 20 minutes of “socialist magic” from Ian Savile before the political discussion. The audience was not as crowded as might have been anticipated, but the “facilitator”, Steven Kelly, made it clear that the discussion was only focusing on the economy and would not deal with any questions relating to Israel, Palestine, or antisemitism.

Anyone raising such issues, he warned, would have the microphone removed and could be evicted from the meeting. But when a young Jewish student, Emily, asked how Ms Manson’s candidacy in Golders Green could extend to making people like her feel comfortable, John McDonnell applauded the question.

He said: “What we need at the moment is a healing process. We need healing voices. Our differences are not unsolveable, and we should have mutual respect for differing views.” He believed, he said, that Jenny Manson was the candidate to offer such a healing voice.

Despite the warnings — and the meeting’s content consisted of Ms Manson, a former tax inspector, interviewing Mr McDonnell to ask about Labour economic solutions — the last question of the night caused uproar as Jewish activist Ida Symons asked why there were Jewish people outside the meeting who had been refused entry.

Mr McDonnell, who did not pass the demonstrators on entering the hotel, instead using a back entrance, demurred and said: “I have said I will meet and talk to anyone”.  

But as predicted, the mic was removed from Ms Symons. She said later that a number of Jewish members of the audience had thanked her for raising the matter. Ms Manson, perhaps referring to the social media row which had raged all day once the banning were made public, said: “Everything which was done, was done under advice”.

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