L is for Labour – or Likud! Cash-strapped Islington Council used taxpayer money and Israeli sources to ban pro-Palestinian musician

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By Eve Mykytyn

Why would a local Labour council, beset by austerity and unable to meet its constituents’ needs, take on the work and expense of banning a musician from a 90-minute Christmas concert? Apparently, the council, Islington’s, acted in sycophantic response to a request from Martin Rankoff, Director of Likud, UK, a member of the conservative Board of Directors of British Jews and a frequent and rude critic of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (see below the offensive picture posted by Rankoff’s Likud UK).

Offensive picture posted by Likud UK insulting Jeremy Corbyn

Offensive picture posted by Likud UK insulting Jeremy Corbyn

Rankoff claimed that he had been planning to go to the Blockheads’ Christmas concert (funny, he was not sure how or under whose name he bought tickets) but that he would not attend if one of the best saxophonists in the world, Gilad Atzmon, played the saxophone. 

Instead of explaining to Rankoff that this was a musical, not a political, event, or that the council was obliged to allow anyone who expressed lawful views to perform or simply offer Rankoff a refund, the council rapidly acquiesced to Rankoff’s request to have an Atzmon-free concert. Elected Labour council head Richard Watts assured Rankoff that the council would ban Atzmon from playing and reminded Rankoff that the council continued to pledge fealty through a Hannakuh party and a Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration. 

The Blockheads and their promoter were instructed to remove Atzmon from their act based, the council claimed, on clauses 50 and 51 of the council’s “Live Events Terms and Conditions”, although those clauses are clearly meant to apply to neo-Nazi type political events. Since Atzmon’s devious plan was to play music, the council was unable to explain how his music constituted “dispersement of hate”.

Despite Watts’s assurance that he could ban Atzmon from playing the sax, Atzmon tried to exercise his right to earn a living and twice appealed the council’s decision. Two of the council’s staff, Martin Bevis and Ian Adams (they are respectively, Assistant Director and Director of Financial Operations and Community Service) were apparently authorised to decide Atzmon’s appeals. It is surprising that this power is within the scope of their qualifications and employment. So council employees, paid for by the taxpayers, were tasked with constructing banning letters instead of doing the work of the people.

The denial of Atzmon’s first appeal was signed by Martin Bevis, who  “cit[ed] almost entirely Zionist and Israeli sources to back up the claim that Atzmon is an ‘anti-Semite’. These sources include the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Haaretz, the Times of Israel, and The Forward.1 Richard Hugus, “Who Runs Our World

From these sources, Bevis declared that Atzmon had been “found to be, at the lowest, provocative and distasteful, and, at the highest, anti-Semitic and racist…” If Atzmon played at the concert, Bevis concluded, it could harm the relationships between the Jewish community and others. Apparently, this new rationale freed the council of its initial reliance on its Live Events manual and replaced it with a vaguely sourced standard of the need to please some of London’s residents. 

“… to [Ian] Adams, an employee of a borough of London, the only valid authorities on [Gilad] Atzmon and on his academic and political supporters ‘are in the media run out of Israel’.”

In his writing denying Atzmon’s second appeal, Ian Adams proved to be an expert in Zionist thought as well. Adams dismissed Atzmon’s long list of distinguished academic and political endorsers, including (among others) Richard Falk, Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University; John Merscheimer, chaired professor at the University of Chicago; Karl Sabbagh, a British-Palestinian film producer and author of The Riemann Hypothesis: The Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics (as well as others); and James Petras, Emeritus Professor at the University of Birmingham. Adams claimed: “I have found that the majority of them would appear to have also been subject to significant controversy or allegations of being anti-Semitic themselves.” As Richard Hugus points out, to Adams, an employee of a borough of London, the only valid authorities on Atzmon and on his academic and political supporters “are in the media run out of Israel”.

Did Adams or any of the council even have time to read any of Atzmon’s work or that of his endorsers before they passed judgment? How can the council ban Atzmon for his lawful intellectual work without examining what he has said? At a minimum, did they read the critical sources cited? If not, that would explain as mere copying the repetition of inaccurate quotations. Interestingly, the page citing denunciations of  Atzmon’s endorsers was sent directly from the council’s lawyers well after Adams’s letter was delivered.

Atzmon’s only remaining remedy is a petition for judicial review of the council’s ruling. But before Atzmon’s appeals ran out and judicial review might have necessitated legal representation, the council chose two partners from one of Britain’s most expensive firms, Simkins,LLP, to represent it. One of the lawyers has represented Sheldon Adelson, generous funder of Donald Trump and the Likud Party in Israel, but surely there is no connection between that representation and the original complainant, the director of Likud UK. How does the cash-strapped council justify the use of taxpayer funds to hire an expensive law firm to protect its citizens from a saxophone? Perhaps the council’s seemingly excessive move of utilizing two law partners was to help prepare appeal responses so that  possible judicial review would more likely favour the council.

“…given the ample evidence of collusion between Labour and Likud, the colossal waste of taxpayers’ money and the likelihood that the council had acted beyond the scope of its authority, the British public was entitled to know the whole story and reach its own conclusions.”

Who knows what the results of judicial review might be. In the British Parliament 80 per cent of Conservative MPs belong to the Conservative Friends of Israel and there are 118 Labour MPs belonging to Friends of Israel. Will the courts in such a system support free speech and the basic right to earn a living or will they cater to one group? Are England’s judges prepared to rule that a philosopher whose views upset some people ought not be allowed to perform as part of a band at a musical event? Is it kosher to ban a law abiding citizen, let alone one listed among the “one hundred living peace and justice activists, advocates, models?” 

Rather than rolling the weighted dice, Atzmon chose to postpone judicial review and publicly reveal the ban and its bizarre justifications. He believed that given the ample evidence of collusion between Labour and Likud, the colossal waste of taxpayers’ money and the likelihood that the council had acted beyond the scope of its authority, the British public was entitled to know the whole story and reach its own conclusions. The hope is for more than a judicial ruling: it is for a grassroots effort to change the decision making power allotted to one group only. 

Atzmon’s decision proved effective. The story has spread rapidly through social media and has become an international news item. The public has reacted with outrage: over 6,500 signed an online petition asking the council to reconsider its actions, and the council has received thousands of complaints. Hundreds of people have written to the council under the Freedom of Information Act to get the minutes of the meetings during which the council decided to ban a musician. 

The council has yet to respond.

If you are a British citizen, you can file a Freedom of Information request asking for records relating to Gilad Atzmon’s ban, the standards relied upon for that purpose and the process and assistance used by Bevis and Adams in their decision making.

You can do this by using Islington Council’s complaints form here, by writing to Islington Council at 222 Upper Street, London N1 1XR, or by fax to 020 7527 5001.


*Eve Mykytin is a writer, editor and former financial lawyer

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One Response to “L is for Labour – or Likud! Cash-strapped Islington Council used taxpayer money and Israeli sources to ban pro-Palestinian musician”

  1. Jesus Christ ✝ Jesus Christ ✝ says:

    The Palestinian Christian is the real Semite, while you antichrist are the anti semites.

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