Article published: Sunday, February 13th 2011
Aaron Porter has admitted that he did not hear anti-Semitic chanting at the protest against him prior to the January 29 “A Future that Works” march in Manchester, MULE can reveal. An investigation also discovered that an NUS official, believed to be an aide to Porter, was one of the two sources for the Daily Telegraph‘s allegations that the NUS President was “barracked” by racist chanting. The revelations will likely prove controversial, as protesters present maintain that no such chanting occurred.
After contacting the Telegraph, MULE learned that there are only two sources for their story – a PA photographer who claimed to have heard the chants directed at Porter, and the NUS itself. It was also revealed that neither reporters from the Telegraph nor the Daily Mail, the two newspapers that initially reported the allegations, were present at the protest.
When contacted, the Mail refused to give the name of the photographer who initially made the claims, and who was the sole source for their article, the final version of which was titled: “Student leader faces barrage of anti-Jewish abuse at rally as protesters accuse him of being a Tory.”
When MULE asked to speak to the NUS official who heard the chants, who is believed to be an aide to Porter, an NUS Press Officer said: “We cannot allow you to speak to the person directly. As there is an ongoing police investigation into the allegations we feel it is not appropriate to discuss it in the press.”
Porter himself also admitted to MULE that he had not himself heard any racial abuse, and that the NUS confirmed the story when journalists contacted them for comment. In a statement through the NUS Press Office he said:
“I was not certain what was said by those shouting abuse at me, however I was informed by others present that amongst other things anti-Semitic comments were made.
“This was independently reported by journalists present and was confirmed to another journalist who enquired. I have not made a specific complaint to the police as I did not clearly hear the contents of the chants myself.”
This may prove controversial for Porter, who in the aftermath of the protest made several statements to the media that gave the impression he had heard the abuse himself.
In an email to NUS members printed in a Financial Times article he said: “Just before the march started, 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.” On January 30 he sent a tweet that read: “Will not back down to intimidation, and certainly not to racial abuse”, and in a Times article on January 31st he wrote of the protest: “However, before I was able to speak to the rally of thousands, a small group of people started to chant abuse to try to intimidate me, and there were audible anti-Semitic comments.”
The fact that NUS officials were the second source means that their account of the day, along with the PA photographer’s, differs from video evidence. Of the two videos to emerge since the protest, one shows the moments before Porter was escorted into the Manchester Metropolitan Students’ Union. Another substantially longer one, which is largely uncut, shows most of the protest. At no point are anti-Semitic chants clearly audible, nor chants of “no to racism,” reported in the Telegraph article but not in the Mail.
Although no eyewitnesses have come forward to corroborate the Mail or Telegraph‘s claims, several have come forward to say that they heard no racist abuse. Sacha Ismail told MULE that he was at the front of the crowd initially, although he moved further back later on:
“There were certainly no anti-Semitic chanting going on. What was being chanted was ‘shame on you, you’re a fucking Tory too’, by dozens of people. In terms of abuse the whole tenor of the thing was hostile, but there was no threat of him being harmed.”
He also expressed doubt that the abuse could have come from a small group:
“It is conceivable but it seems unlikely because our people were right at the front the whole time and would have heard it. Our organisation [Alliance for Worker's Liberty] take a robust position condemning anti-Semitism which unfortunately is at times present in some other elements of the far left.”
Chris Marks, also a member of Alliance for Worker’s Liberty and Hull Students Against Fees and Cuts, confirmed Ismail’s account. When asked if there was any anti-Semitic chants he said:
“Absolutely and categorically not. I was at the front of the group which instigated the protest. If there had been anti-Semitic chants we would have heard and challenged it. Anything shouted was jovial.”
Marks told MULE that he was never approached or spoken to by any journalists. He also added that there was a BBC reporter outside Manchester Metropolitan Students’ Union where Mr Porter was taken. The BBC news reports did not allege hearing anti-Semitic chants.
Josie Hooker, a student at the University of Manchester, told MULE that she was about 15 metres away from Porter for the majority of the march. She also claimed not to have heard anti-Semitic chants or the chants of “no to racism” .
“At no point did I hear anti-Semitic abuse and at no point did I hear anyone shout ‘no to racism,’” she said.
“Due to my position on the march, I believe that if a 20 strong group of people were shouting ‘no to racism’ in response to anti-Semitic or racist abuse myself or one of the 15-20 odd friends and acquaintances present in various positions among the protesters would have heard it.”
She also suggested that the photographer who heard the chant “Tory Jew scum” simply misheard “you’re a fucking Tory too,” which was chanted throughout the protest.
Similarly, Sophia Coles-Riley told MULE: “I was within a few metres of Aaron Porter from the moment a group of students tried to challenge him on his political record, to the time he was barricaded inside Man Met Union by the police. None of the group’s chants were anti-Semitic.”
The eyewitnesses also underlined the political nature of the protest. Peter Campbell, a medical student from Newcastle, also claimed to have heard no racial abuse. Referring to the “Aaron Porter we know you, you’re a fucking Tory too” chant, he said: “It is a chant of disgust at a man that has repeatedly set back the student movement. It is certainly not pleasant, it’s not meant to be. However, it is not anti-Semitic.”
Said Hooker: “The majority [of protesters] were enthused to have the chance to make their frustration at Porter’s lack of support felt and at the sizable group of people who obviously shared their frustration.
“I was disappointed to see how the important political message of this event has been overshadowed by the seemingly shaky allegations of anti-Semitic abuse.”
Tom Fox and Michael Pooler
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