Tolpuddle's new martyrs? Pro-Israel group alleges anti-Semitism at Dorset festival


A pro-Israel group which took a stand at the Tolpuddle Festival last weekend has claimed that its representatives became "21st century martyrs" because of the reaction to their presence by pro-Palestinian campaigners.

The festival is held in honour of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, agricultural trade unionists – most of them Methodists – who were sentenced to transportation in 1834. It attracts large numbers of political activists and is supported by the Trades Union Congress.

Bournemouth Action For Israel (BAFI) said in a Facebook post that it "decided to combat the rhetoric of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign" by taking a stand at the festival.

BAFI said that its volunteers were "accused of representing a fascist, racist, oppressive, apartheid, baby killing, subjugating, land-stealing state and that we had no right to be at the festival". It said that a "flash mob" had attempted to destroy its stand on Saturday and that when the volunteers arrived yesterday, organisers told them that their safety could not be guaranteed and that they should leave.

"Not wishing to place the staff nor indeed ourselves in physical danger, we had no real option but to make a tactical withdrawal. Basically, we were bullied into going," BAFI said.

Spokeswoman Rosalind Schogger told Christian Today that while the group had not been categorically told to leave, they were told that stewards had been harassed and that there were questions about their safety. She said that complaints had been made about their presence, with some festival-goers comparing them to the British National Party, Nazis and fascists.

"The Tolpuddle Festival is about freedom of speech," she said. "We weren't allowed to be free."

She said she had been shocked by the experience and that it was evidence of anti-Semitism rather than of a purely political difference of views.

"I am seriously considering whether Jewish people have a place in this country any more," Schogger said.

Schogger's claims were denied by a Palestinine Solidarity Campaign member who was present and said that claims of a flashmob shouting abuse, trying to destroy the stall and throwing leaflets on the floor were "just complete nonsense" and "ridiculous".

The PSC members said that there was "lots of discussion", but nothing of a violent or abusive nature.

PSC Director Sarah Colborne said: "Israel's violent and lethal occupation of Palestinian land and its siege on Gaza are illegal under international law. PSC campaigns peacefully to address these wrongs. We stand against racism, and in support of international law and human rights for all."