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A prestigious local community venue in east London was set to host an event on Thursday night organized by a charity that supports and funds a boycott of Israel and accuses Israel of being an apartheid state.
Moreover, the charity made it clear to the co-vice chair of the Zionist Federation, Jonathan Hoffman, that he would not be allowed to attend.
Toynbee Hall was to host the launch of a book titled Israel Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide. The controversy surrounding the event allegedly led to one of the venue's funders to pull out. The book was written by journalist Ben White. In one of his articles, White said he understood why some people are anti-Semitic.
"I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are," White said. "There are, in fact, a number of reasons. One is the State of Israel, its ideology of racial supremacy and its subsequent crimes committed against the Palestinians. It is because Zionists have always sought to equate their colonial project with Judaism that some misguidedly respond to what they see on their televisions with attacks on Jews or Jewish property."
Thursday's event was sponsored by a charity called War on Want, which is accused of having an anti-Israel agenda.
"Despite passing themselves off as a mainstream aid charity, War on Want runs virulently anti-Israel campaigns," said Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. "It supports and funds a boycott of Israel, promotes this idea to libel Israel as 'apartheid' and complains about 'Zionist pressure' if anyone objects."
War on Want claims to "fight global poverty" and its campaigns focus on areas such as fighting free trade agreements, sweatshop conditions of workers and tax dodging by multinational corporations.
However one of its major campaigns is "fighting occupation in Palestine" in which it calls for sanctions against Israel and for the annulment of Israel's trade agreement with European Union. It has accused Israel of carrying out a "campaign of apartheid."
Last year, War On Want was warned by the Charity Commission, the regulator for UK charities, for deviating from its mandate as a registered charity for its politicized campaigning.
Following an investigation into War On Want's activities, the Charity Commission said on Thursday prior to the event: "After making contact with the charity and considering their response... The commission has concluded that the charity could only support the event if certain steps and measures are properly taken to manage the risks.
"These steps include, for example, that the charity will brief the author in advance regarding the framework in which charities must work and after the speaker has finished the charity will have its own session on the subject... On the basis of assurances given by the charity that had already planned these and other steps, we are not taking the matter further...
"The commission does not have the power to investigate an allegation or complaint that War on Want's event is inciting hatred and contributing to anti Semitism. Any concerns about this should be reported to the police."
Toynbee Hall is run as a community-serving charity.
"As with all our room bookings and events, Toynbee Hall cannot be held responsible for any views expressed by hirers and their representatives," Graham Fisher, Toynbee Hall's chief executive, said.
War On Want's executive director, John Hilary, told the Post: "The event is designed to draw public attention to the gross abuse of human rights in Palestine. My colleagues and I have just returned from there last week, and we will be sharing our experiences of the situation alongside Ben White's presentation of his book."
Asked why Hoffman had been banned from attending the meeting, Hilary said: "War on Want welcomes all members of the public to our events. Mr. Hoffman alone has been told he will not be welcome on Thursday because he is known for causing serious disturbances at public events on this issue."
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