Statement regarding yesterday’s commemoration

Post date: 02/07/2017

We were saddened that the representative of Ajex (Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen & Women) walked out of our commemoration yesterday (1 July 2017), which honours the International Brigade volunteers in the Spanish Civil War.

Martin Sugarman has attended this annual event over many years in order to lay a wreath on behalf of Ajex at the memorial to the International Brigades on London’s Southbank.

We understand that Martin took exception to statements made in a speech by one of our guest speakers, Tosh McDonald, President of the train drivers’ union ASLEF.

Tosh expressed the view that, just as the Spanish Civil War had been the great cause of young people in the 1930s, or that the anti-apartheid campaign had been the great cause of his generation, the plight of the Palestinian people was the equivalent great cause for many young people today.

During the speech, Tosh also clearly and unequivocally denounced anti-Semitism and said it had absolutely no place in the labour movement.

The IBMT has never restricted or vetted the words of guest speakers. We have regularly invited leading trade unionists and Labour MPs to address our annual commemoration, as well as prominent campaigning journalists such as Owen Jones and John Pilger.

There are varying shades of opinion within the labour movement on many contemporary political issues, in particular on wars and conflict in the Middle East. The Spanish Civil War and the International Brigades are often invoked to justify arguments in favour of one side or other in such conflicts – even opposing sides in the same conflict.  

As a registered charity, the IBMT has to be strictly neutral on all such contemporary political issues. Our mission is to preserve the memory and spirit of anti-fascism and international solidarity that motivated the volunteers to join the International Brigades.

The IBMT’s commitment against anti-Semitism is and always has been absolute and unconditional. Opposition to anti-Semitism is a core element of that spirit of anti-fascism exemplified by the International Brigades. We expect anyone associated with the IBMT to share this guiding principle.

It is a matter of record that the IBMT has repeatedly pointed out that a large proportion of the 2,500 International Brigade volunteers from the British Isles were Jewish, with estimates of their number ranging from 10 to 20 per cent of the total.

The Jewish volunteers who went to Spain to fight fascism, whether from Britain or around the world, have a very special place in the story of the International Brigades. They understood better than most the exceptional threat to civilisation posed by Hitler – who sent troops, aircraft and armaments to assist General Franco’s rebellion against Spain’s elected government – and many hundreds of them gave their lives for the cause.

Next year we will therefore once again invite a representative from Ajex to take part in our commemoration and we hope very much that one will attend.

Posted on 2 July 2017.

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