Trustee resigns over Jewish Museum’s decision not to host Jeremy Corbyn

Museum chose not to hold event after consulting Jewish organisations
Patrick Steel
A trustee of the London Jewish Museum has resigned after museum declined to host an event at which the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would have delivered a speech addressing the issue of antisemitism in the Labour party.

Julia Hobsbawm, the writer and founder of Editorial Intelligence, and a trustee of the museum, said she was resigning in defence of freedom of speech.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Hobsbawm said: “There is a point of principle at stake here: either we believe in freedom of speech or we don’t. I am uneasy about those who try to shut down Jeremy Corbyn on the grounds, as some are arguing, that he has de facto forfeited his right to it. I disagree. Democracy is all or nothing…

“[The museum] is also a charity. It has to be apolitical. This is tricky, when the whole question of being Jewish has become mired in politics, but giving her majesty’s leader of the opposition a chance to address his record in dealing with these politics on the grounds of the Jewish Museum seems to me valid.”

But in the same article, Stephen Pollard, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, said the museum was right to turn down the Labour Party’s request. He said:“None of us knows what, deep in his soul, Jeremy Corbyn thinks about Jews. All we can do is judge him by his actions. Despite a series of fine words attacking antisemitism — repeated in his Guardian article on Friday — his actions reveal a man who does not so much tolerate antisemitism as encourage it.”

The Jewish Museum had put out a statement on Thursday that said: “Following an approach from the Labour leader’s office, the Jewish Museum London is in discussion about holding an event at the museum next week… we work to break down barriers and are interested in being a space that would facilitate genuine healing dialogue between the Jewish community and the Labour party.”

But following consultation with Jewish organisations, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, the museum came to the view that the event should not go ahead. On Friday it tweeted: “The Jewish Museum London wishes to clarify that there are no plans for a Labour party event to take place at the museum.”

One source involved in the discussions told Museums Journal: “The museum rejected the ask because they saw that it wasn’t appropriate in the circumstances. All the conversations in the background were that this was not appropriate.”

Pollard tweeted on Thursday: “Can’t think of a time when I have had so many emails and texts in so short a time from people all saying the same thing: if @JewishMuseumLDN hosts Corbyn next week they will never set foot in it again.”

A Labour party spokeswoman told Museums Journal there were discussions about a possible speech but “nothing was confirmed and it didn’t take place”. Corbyn delivered a speech about anti-semitism on Sunday via a video posted on Twitter.

The Museums Association’s Code of Ethics states all those who work in and with museums should “support free speech and freedom of expression. Respect the right of all to express different views within the museum unless illegal to do so or inconsistent with the purpose of the museum as an inclusive public space”.

The furore follows a series of accusations of antisemitism levelled at members of the Labour party, leading to divisions over the party leadership’s response and its decision not to fully incorporate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism in the party’s code of conduct.