The websites of Sky News, the Daily Mail and the Telegraph claim that NUS President Aaron Porter was subjected to anti-semitic abuse when 500 students chased him off the Manchester anti-cuts protest yesterday (see here).
The Daily Mail, for instance, reports the incident under the headline “Student leader faces barrage of anti-Jewish abuse at rally as protesters accuse him of being a Tory”.
We do not know whether Porter is actually Jewish, but that is obviously not the point. Any racist comments should be condemned unreservedly. In particular, Workers’ Liberty’s record on fighting anti-semitism, including on the left, is absolutely clear. We were, for instance, the only group on the far left to speak out about the Clare Solomon episode last year.
No one on a demonstration can hear every chant. However, the claims that have been made range from implausible to patent lies.
Yesterday’s incidents were begun by a group of students from the Hull and Leeds anti-cuts campaigns accosting Porter. This group included several AWL members (incidentally, the one who took the lead and shortly afterwards led chants against Porter, Chris Marks, is Jewish - as many of the anti-Porter protesters will have been). We were at the front of the crowd which chased Porter and thus would have heard any racist chants – let alone a “barrage”! We were also in possession of two of the four megaphones involved.
The quality of the Daily Mail’s ‘evidence’ (“A photographer said he also heard cries of ‘Tory Jew scum’”) should tell you something about the veracity of their claim. (In fact the chants were "Aaron Porter, we know you, you're a fucking Tory too" (not Jew!), "Students, workers, hear us shout, Aaron Porter sold us out" and "Porter - out".) The Mail's accuracy can also be gauged from the fact it claims Porter took refuge in University of Manchester Students’ Union, when in fact it was Manchester Metropolitan Union.
According to the Financial Times, Porter himself is promoting the claim of racism, writing to his NUS executive colleagues: "I was surrounded by a particularly vicious minority of protesters more intent on shouting threatening and racist abuse at me rather than focusing on the issues." Note the obviously false suggestion that the alleged racist abuse came from a large number of people, defining the character of the protest, rather than one or a small number of individuals.
A more plausible explanation is that the NUS leadership, deeply shaken by yesterday’s events, have desperately manufactured the whole thing in order to salvage some sympathy. They have ‘picked’ anti-semitism because they know that some sections of the far left have a weak record of fighting it, and therefore hope the claim will get some grip. (We should add at this point our disgust at attempts by papers like the Telegraph and the Mail - with its foul history, including support for Oswald Mosely’s anti-semitic Blackshirt movement, and its staple diet of anti-migrant agitation - to pose as champions of anti-racism.)
There has also been a claim of homophobia, because one protester shouted something like “I want to hit you with my [something]”, with some people claiming the word was "dick" (the chant can be heard in the first, shorter video, but the final word is unclear). If it was "dick" this was an idiotic comment; and if there was homophobic intent it should also be condemned unreservedly. Let's say we assume that the word was "dick" and the chant was intended to be homophobic, rather than just being immature. The reality remains that this was a left-wing protest, made up overwhelmingly of students who are positively and actively anti-homophobic, anti-racist and against oppression in general. That would be true even if one or two individuals did shout an anti-semitic chant.
That is the real story of what happened in Manchester yesterday: hundreds of students, led by the left, expressed their bitterness and anger at the NUS leadership’s repeated betrayal of our interests and struggles. It seems entirely possible that the claims about racism are evidence of how desperate Aaron Porter and his friends are becoming. If so, they should be ashamed of themselves for abusing the struggle against racism in this way.