David Collier
Investigating antisemitism everywhere it surfaces

Hate wrapped in cotton candy at the PalExpo

At a family-oriented event in the heart of London, attendees freely hurled abuse and spat at any Jews they encountered

The ‘PalExpo’ came back to London for 2019. A large, two day ‘celebration’ of Palestinian culture, history and arts. It is extremely clever marketing. In theory there is nothing wrong with Palestinians holding an exhibition of culture, but the show was built for a far more sinister purpose than teaching dabke. There are two parts to the PalExpo and whilst the main exhibition hall had a range of activities from vase painting to date picking, a chain of political talks delivered the lies and the constant drumbeat of delegitimisation. Even the children’s games they had spread out pushed little but decontextualised propaganda. For example a ‘bowling alley’, where the skittles represent the wall, and they carried logos of companies that people are meant to boycott. A real game for kids:

palexpo skittlesAnd this is not to mention the exhibits on the settlements, checkpoints and so on. They even had a UN tent from 1949. It is an exercise in how to use cotton candy as a means of delivering poison.

The deception works well. Many of those I spoke to outside could not understand what there was to protest. It is just a ‘cultural exhibition’, they said. And asked ‘why are you protesting against it’? Did they not see who was speaking inside and what they were telling the audience? The reality is that many of these people do not realise how lost they are to the propaganda. When they hear the Palestinian narrative, when they look at the maps and listen to their ‘history’, they have so completely lost themselves inside it all, they see all opposition as nothing more than those ‘few’ in power trying to shut down the ‘truth’. It is all about the dead children and the hateful army that deliberately kills them. There is nothing beyond that.

Inside the PalExpo

This was not my first PalExpo. In 2017, they unceremoniously threw me, my wife and my son out following complaints about my presence from some attendees. We were mid-meal when we were told to leave. It is perhaps worth mentioning that since then, two of those involved have been expelled from the Labour party.  In 2017 it was at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference centre. This year, the PalExpo was in Olympia London. The main organisers, Friends of Al Aqsa, had only taken part of Olympia for PalExpo and even then, the venue was far too large for the crowd. I am sure they will spin the numbers, but they were certainly well down on 2017. On Saturday they claimed it was over 10,000 which is absolute poppycock:

Palexpo 10kApart from inside the main auditorium during the more important sessions, the place seemed sparsely populated. Many of the exhibits had no queue at all:

Pal expo emptyThe cotton candy was for the families, almost exclusively Muslim, who had come to experience a ‘day out’ with their children. But the more serious stuff was taking place in one of the four rooms they were using for the talks. Inside these, the demographic was different, it was far more mixed with a majority of ‘white’ Corbynista types taking up the seats. It was almost as if two separate events were taking place. And whilst the anti-Israel media outlets are distributing images of the central hall during the final event because it was full, the truth is that the sparse numbers were visible almost everywhere:

Pal expo half emptyThe PalExpo ‘festival of hate’ speakers

The PalEexpo brought in the heavyweights to sell the propaganda to the crowd, and it is here the strength of the anti-Israel crowd can be felt. In the original program were a host of academics, including Professors such as Ilan Pappe, Joseph Massad and Hatem Bazian. Professor Salman Sayyid is another one with tunnel vision, co-authoring problematic definitions of ‘Islamophobia’ whilst actively participating in events that belittle antisemitism. The audience also heard from Professor Rebecca Gould who in the past has set out to overplay the size/relevance of the non-Zionist Jewish community and fight against the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Given the current state of the Labour party, it is no surprise it was well-represented. With Faiza Shaheen, the Parliamentary candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green,  Huda Elmi from Labour’s NEC, who recently helped reinstate Chris Williamson. Colin Monehen who spoke at the last conference, Julie Ward, the Labour MEP for North-West England, Andy Slaughter MP for Hammersmith, Steven Saxby candidate for City of London, Leah Levane from the Yevsektsiya group JVL and Rachel Obrien Chair of London Young Labour.

Unions Unite

Then there are the unions. Shelly Asquith, political advisor at Unite, who has worn a ‘victory to the Intifada‘ T-shirt. Zita Holbourne from the PCS Union NEC. Simon Dubbins Director of International and Research from Unite. Louise Regan who was President of the NEU and Latifa Abouchakra, International Officer at the NEU and who seems to be comfortable comparing Gaza to the Holocaust and sharing posts from rabid antisemite Sandra Watfa:

And the students unions. Fope Olaleye, Black Students officer. Amina Easat Daas, who perhaps thinks there is no hypocrisy in fighting Islamophobia at Leeds University, whilst appearing at events that ridicule antisemitism. And of course Zamzam Ibahim, current President of the National Union of Students.

There were also a whole string of other propagandists and activists. Mandela’s grandson, Chief’ Zwelivelile Mandela was there too. And the host? Ismael Patel is chair of Friends of Al Aqsa. I have heard him give a talk at a university where he explained how Jews should be subordinate to Muslims on holy sites. The positions some of these people hold is frightening. They are spreading a narrative of hate and lies throughout the system.

Interesting to note there were some last minute changes and some backed out. Perhaps the upcoming BBC Panorama program on Labour’s antisemitism already has them running for the lifeboats.

Storytelling, antisemitism denial and the wonders of Narnia at PalExpo

The talks covered both days, all four rooms and every topic relevant to spreading hate, a false narrative and a denial of antisemitism. There were forty-two talks in total. I broke them down into five basic categories:

  • BDS, activism let us all stop Israel – 12 topics
  • Israel is the most evil nation on earth – 12 topics
  • Why dismantling Israel is the answer – 3 topics
  • Antisemitism is fictitious nonsense / everyone wants to silence Palestinians – 9 topics
  • Islamic / religious / community messaging – 6 topics

In just one speech, these are the messages that one attendee heard:

palexpoAs Luke Akehurst wrote on the PalExpo, ‘in this dark twilight world, everything is Israel’s fault’. But it is more than that. Theirs is Narnia, a make-believe world where an entire parallel ‘Paliverse’ exists. In the Paliverse no one questions, and no alternative voices are allowed. The discussions in anti-Israel events has long since parted from any resemblance to truth or reality.

There is no need to rehash all of their key arguments. This blog has been to enough events and deconstructed these arguments far too many times to need to go over 42 separate topics in this blog. What is true is that the combined message is a simple one: Israel is the world’s greatest evil, Jewish power, especially through a misuse of antisemitism, is denying the possibility of dealing with this at the international level, therefore only a united civil response can do anything about it. Ignore the ‘Hasbara’ and help us to destroy the demon state and rid it of the invaders. This is what the attendees were told. Whether they are aware of it or not.

Outside the PalExpo on day two

The second day I spend outside, amongst a handful of Jewish activists who had come to hand out leaflets and engage in dialogue. There had been some outside during the first day, but I had not joined them. On the second day I wanted to see how the event affected the attendees and wanted to engage with them outside. Predictably there were moments of real hostility. Despite some serious provocation, the Jewish activists maintained their composure throughout and whilst I am not sure of the value of these actions, there is a strong case to made that this is our only opportunity to at least try to reach some of these people.

It is never pleasant though. For every few that walk past with just a glare, there are those who take things further. In the first video you can see someone with a Palestinian flag painted on his face spit at me. It is no surprise. The people who spread the lies and the hate. The venue that allows it to take place. They must all share responsibility. They turn Israel and the Jews into monsters and demons. Walking out of such an event, leaves people with nothing but frustration and hate:

Joseph Cohen from the Israel Advocacy Movement was outside too. In my opinion, Joseph is a class apart when it comes to engaging those who hate us. He is always innovative and set up a table with a sign asking people to convince him to drop his support for Israel. I was watching Joseph talk to a man, who started spewing the nonsense about Adalah and their imaginary racist laws. I joined in. Then the man found out who I was. Worth watching what happened next:

A man who called me an ‘absolute scumbag’ for ‘falsely’ accusing people of antisemitism, went on to say the police ‘absolutely’ take their orders from the Jews. These are scripts fantasy fiction writers would think were too far-fetched to be believed. The security was not helpful. They were clearly ‘onside’ with the anti-Israel atmosphere and openly hostile. At one point one made some rather aggressive overtures towards Joseph. They realised they did not have the authority to do anything but wanted to make us feel uncomfortable.

Hostility and abuse

All of the others faced hostility and abuse. There were a few threats. The level of open antisemitism is astonishing and over the last few years it has got a lot worse and a lot more confident. I lost count at the amount of times people were told they were not ‘real Jews’. There are good Jews (anti-Zionists) and bad Jews (Zionists). We were often told to go back to Poland. Zionist Jews are openly abused as Jews, because the propaganda suggesting anti-Zionist Jews are actually a large force has been dangerously effective. There is a responsibility on anti-Zionist Jews to at least acknowledge they are a tiny minority. Instead the overstate it, deliberately blurring lines. This is a really dangerous strategy. It has enabled the normalisation of antisemitism. There was even someone with a sign saying ‘antisemitism is good for the Jews’.

Here is another video. Most of the abuse came from those walking by. One or two made a point. This man came and held up a sign simply saying ‘bullshit’. He ranted about plastic Jews, ‘Khazarian Jews’, wanting to create wars in the Middle East and own the earth. I know him. He is a regular on the circuit.

And it isn’t really about him, nor the other abusers. It is about those that came and applauded him. All those watching from the side. We saw plenty of examples of open and blatant antisemitism and not one person ever protested. This is how it happens. There are those who hate Jews and all the others who sit by and watch.

The truth of the PalExpo

There is one story that sums up the situation. Outside the venue, one of the Jewish activists, Mel, had engaged two Muslim girls. The exchange was sincere and cordial. There was underlying agreement about mutual respect and the need to achieve a deeper understanding of each other. The girls asked Mel to accompany them inside to watch a short movie. This a sign of how they believe these movies hold a truth that we are blind to. Converting a Zionist is as easy as showing them images of dead children. As if dead children are not on a tragedy for both sides or in all conflicts. Having built a rapport with these girls, Mel went in. They said they’d exchange contact information and continue the dialogue afterwards. Once inside, things changed. Mel was soon surrounded by haters and eventually the security was called. The girls changed their tune. They later said they’d been attacked for talking to her and had been ‘threatened’. Thus ended the relationship. A similar story to the one Joseph experienced with Zina after the Al Quds march.

This is why the moderates don’t matter. They lose. Whether in London or Gaza it is the extremists with their hate, threats of violence and ostracisation that rule the streets. Events like PalExpo is designed to create more of them. This is the truth of the PalExpo.

That all this could take place anywhere in 2019 is scary. But this didn’t take place in some private hut in an anonymous remote town. It took place in London Olympia, a major venue in the heart of our capital city. The speakers were Professors and MPs. And walking out of the conference the attendees felt wound up and confident enough to hurl abuse and spit at the Jews they saw outside, knowing there would be no price to pay. Nobody really cares. That isn’t just unsettling – we are in dangerous territory now.

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About the Author
David is a freelance Investigative Journalist who spent 19 years in Israel between 1987 and 2006; his journey being sandwiched between the 1st Intifada and the 2006 Lebanon war. Upon his return to the UK, David went back to university to study Management (BSc) and Ethics (MSc - distinction). His knowledge and expertise on Israel, led him into investigative work into rising antisemitism - and anti-Zionist activity. For almost a decade, David has been writing about the hostility Jewish people face. David's in-depth reporting on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias is well known - has changed the narrative - and made headline news around the world.
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