Statement from Steve Hedley
I recently attended an RMT London Transport Regional Council meeting on the subject of Palestine and possible benefits of boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and Israel's continuing breach of international law. I came to the meeting as the RMT Regional Organiser to welcome people and was not sure of the merits of the proposed policy. It soon became apparent however, that around five people in the room had come to disrupt the meeting and to prevent meaningful debate.
They began by interrupting and shouting comments such as: ”liars!”, and “that's a lie”, increasingly noisily barracking speakers, who included Israeli anti-Zionist Jews, Ilan Pappe and Moche Machover. The hecklers then whipped themselves into a frenzy even abusing people (including RMT members and activists) in the audience as “Nazis”, “fascists” and “racists”. In contrast, the meeting itself was conducted in order to let every one of the disrupters speak ad nauseum without heckling or interrupting them in any way. The barrage of abuse reached a crescendo when I tried to answer some of their points. I was abused as a Nazi and a fascist by someone now known to me as Richard Millet. I found this very upsetting as I have a long history of anti-fascist activity dating back some quarter of a century. I have had to vigorously defend myself from fascist attacks on numerous occasions and have even been arrested for my activity. It was made known to me during the meeting that at least two of the disrupters were associates of the neo-fascist English Defence League (EDL). It was these people who were clearly acting as agent provocateurs to disrupt a trade union meeting that I was addressing when I was recorded by Richard Millet on his mobile phone, a recording which it has been brought to my attention he has now posted on the internet on a number of right wing websites. This information came from Carol Foster, one of our retired members and a Jewish campaigner for justice for the Palestinians. Carol herself was abused as a fascist during the meeting by the hecklers and on a previous occasion has been threatened with violence by the same group.
Millet’s video recording itself has been heavily edited to 17 seconds in length and does not show the context in which my remarks were made, remarks which were recorded in full at the meeting and which I have a copy of. . The full recording shows that I had to raise my voice to prevent myself being shouted down by the hecklers and disrupters. In hindsight it was obvious that they wanted to provoke just such a reaction and then to use it against anyone who criticised the policies of the state of Israel.
Last night I read in a Workers' Liberty blog that I had made two alleged anti-Semitic comments. The first being: “your friends in the media”. I do not consider this an anti-Semitic remark. This was clearly a reference to those who cover up the actions of the Israeli government and I made it very clear that all my criticism was about the Israeli state's policies. It is widely known that British and American media report on the Israeli occupation of Palestine in a biased manner, favouring the Israeli state and American interests in the region. This is illustrated by the fact that the release of one Israeli soldier became a cause celebre in contrast to the release of hundreds of Palestinians including many teenage children who were simply described as Hamas terrorists.
The second comment I made was to Richard Millet after he had just called me “a Nazi” for the second time. He then asked me “Do you feel better now?” I replied sarcastically, ”Yes, better than you anyway, but maybe you feel better than me, as you're one of the chosen people”, he replied “Is that because I'm a Jew?”, I answered ”No, it's because you're a Zionist. I have no idea what your religion is”.
The phrase “chosen people” refers to the Jewish people, comes from The Torah and is repeated in The Bible (Deuteronomy 14:2. It has been adopted by right-wing Zionists as a Biblical justification for the seizure of Palestinian land, which they see it as their God-given right. However, I accept that my use of the phrase in the context of the highly inflammatory argument with aggressive and disruptive intruders trying to wreck a public meeting and provoke a reaction, was unwise and I regret using the phrase. I apologise to anyone who may have been offended by this remark.
I have never been, nor will I ever be, anti Jewish, or racist against any nationality or ethnicity. Neither will I refrain from criticising Israeli state policy towards the Palestinian population where that policy is discriminatory, oppressive and racist. I regret that I was provoked into making statements that could be deliberately and maliciously miscontrued by right-wing Zionists who are openly hostile to trade unions, openly consort with the neo-fascist EDL and who wish to smear my reputation and that of my union. Richard Millet, for example, has to register his blog out of the UK because he has been sued for slander and libel by other victims of his maniacal denunciation of everyone who dares to speak out against the Israeli state's role in the Middle East.
I'm very happy to give a full account and answer any questions if you want to speak to me on the matter.