Throughout this week, the SKWAWKBOX has been collating information on a series of incidents aimed at events organised by pro-Palestinian activists and left-wing Jewish Labour supporters during Labour’s annual conference, which finished on Wednesday.
However, one of the incidents has taken on a bizarre and telling life of its own and merits its own article.
On Sunday evening, members and supporters of Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) were leaving a fringe meeting at the Friends’ Meeting House on School Lane when they were ‘attacked’ by a group of four people wearing ‘high-vis’ jackets bearing an organisation’s logo, according to a tweet by one of the JVL members:
In spite of its name, according to its own website JHRW exists specifically to fight ‘BDS’ – the ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ campaign against goods and services from illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine:
Miriam Yagud, one of the JVL group, told the SKWAWKBOX:
We were on an upper floor of the Friends’ Meeting House for the meeting and people arriving were saying they had been harassed on their way in by a group of four or five people. A Quaker employee had gone out to talk to the harassers and it seemed they had dispersed, as a few latecomers hadn’t seen them.
But when we went out at the end of the meeting, we were more or less surrounded by four people in the high-vis jackets and bodycams who were being extremely aggressive. One of them, a very tall man, was shouting at [a female JVL member who has appeared on TV as a spokesperson], who’s not young, that she was a fake Jew and other horrible things.
[___] is a very calm, non-threatening person and wisely she just tried to walk away from this man when he shoved her hard in the shoulder. A couple of the men in our group were outraged at this but we persuaded them not to get physically involved.
I’m only little, but I stood my ground with my back to the aggressive man as the rest of our group walked away, while I edged slowly backward to put a bit of distance between them and those accosting them and eventually we got away from them, but it was very frightening.
Other members of the group have corroborated Ms Yagud’s account. The incident was reported to Merseyside Police.
While the mainstream media have made misleading claims about the ‘police protection’ supposedly provided to pro-Israel Labour MP Luciana Berger – and presented a hoax bomb-threat against a pro-Palestine event as ‘antisemitic’ to propagate a false picture – this case of alleged actual assault against a left-wing Jewish activist has not been picked up by any of the ‘MSM’.
That is no surprise to those who’ve recognised the bias involved in media coverage of the Labour Party – but events were about to take a bizarre turn.
In accordance with normal journalistic practice, the SKWAWKBOX contacted JHRW to ask whether the people involved had been their representatives and to offer the chance to comment. The initial response was a request for permission to share the enquiry internally:
Hello – thank you for your email.
Under GDPR rules, I’m requesting your agreement for me to pass this email on internally to our spokesperson.
This was naturally granted – but the next email to arrive was from a legal firm rather than an ‘internal’ spokesperson. Or so it appeared at first glance:
The threat doesn’t stand up, as reporting allegations as allegations, with the other side given opportunity to respond or deny them – as RHF Solicitors have done on behalf of JHRW – is perfectly normal journalism. As if to underline the threat, RHF’s initial email was followed up with a request for an address where papers could be served.
However, that’s not the really interesting part.
RHF Solicitors is a firm specialising in insolvency law, but according to ‘Legal Cheek’, it occasionally ventures outside its ‘comfort zone’ to support efforts to combat ‘BDS’.
The email was sent by Robert Festenstein who, according to Companies House, is a partner in – and in fact ‘principal’ of – RHF Solicitors. ‘RHF’ appears to derive from his initials:
The reason that this is interesting is that, while Companies House has no listing for ‘Jewish Human Rights Watch‘ or ‘JHRW‘; it does have a listing for a private limited company ‘Jewish Human Rights Watch Education‘, whose apparently founding director bears a familiar name:
The SKWAWKBOX wrote back to Mr Festenstein:
Thank you for the interesting response. You appear to be both an LLP member at RHF and [the founding] director, according to Companies House, of Jewish Human Rights Watch Education. Shouldn’t such an obvious conflict of interest be declared in your attempted threatening email?
An offer was also made to include in the article the video footage Mr Festenstein claimed had been taken showing that JHRW representatives – confirmed as such by his initial email – were in fact the victims of an assault rather than alleged perpetrators.
No response has been received to either email.
Robert Festenstein’s decision to act as lawyer for himself, or at least for his own firm, is interesting enough. But Mr Festenstein – a member of the Board of Deputies according to his profile on the Times of Israel site – also has a less amusing acquaintance, according to the Jewish Chronicle.
The Chronicle reported last year that Mr Festenstein had appeared in a video made by an far-right website, featuring the former EDL (English Defence League) leader known as Tommy Robinson:
Festenstein is introduced by Robinson in the video as ‘lawyer Rob who we brought with us‘, denied any lawyer-client relationship between the pair, as the Jewish Chronicle related:
Mr Festenstein represents Prestwich Hebrew Congregation on the Board of Deputies – which issued a firm statement this week condemning an association with Mr Robinson by Jewish organisations.
He is also a regular blogger whose biog states he is “active in representing groups fighting antisemitism and opposing BDS.”
When asked about his appearance in the video alongside the former EDL leader Mr Festenstein, founder of Manchester-based RHF Solicitors said: “I was interviewed by Mr Robinson in connection with a matter where I am instructed by a client who has a potential dispute with Sunderland City Council. Mr Robinson is not my client and I have no association with him.”
Asked about the Board’s statement on Mr Robinson, Mr Festenstein said: “I fully support the Board’s views.”
In 2015, Evolve Politics reported that another BoD – and JHRW – member had compared Labour-run Leicester City Council to perpetrators of nazi genocide because of the council’s decision to support BDS.
Legal website Legal Cheek has described JHRW as a ‘right-wing’ pressure group, criticised its use of ‘Hitlerian imagery’ in its campaigns and its claims to speak for Jewish people without consulting them.
RHF Solicitors have acted ‘on behalf’ of JHRW before in cases against councils implementing BDS policies.
While Establishment media claimed falsely that a Jewish Labour MP needed a protective detail in Labour’s annual conference, left-wing Jews faced bomb threats, harassment, attempted intimidation and, allegedly, at least one assault in various incidents in and around Liverpool city centre.
Left-wing Jewish activists have long expressed concern about growing closeness between some pro-Israel groups and extreme right-wing groups. An unpleasant incident in a city-centre street as the conference kicked off last weekend has unexpectedly shed light on one connection between a pro-Israel organisation and the far right.
Details of other incidents throughout the conference period will be published shortly.
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