Free Speech and Bullshit: the Truth to Power Cafe.
Free speech needs its champions at the moment. Much of the Left has lost confidence in it, leaving right wing blowhards like Tommy Robinson or provocateurs like Count Dankula to make the running. So it should have been a reason to rejoice that highly-regarded arts producer, Jeremy Goldstein, put himself forward as free speech’s man of the hour. His latest project, Truth to Power Cafe, declares itself:
a new international performance event mixing memoir, image, poetry, music and live and spontaneous testimony from participants rising up in the name of free speech and political activism.
Each show is a mixture of staged performance and guest speakers — somewhere between performance art and a salon of ideas. The event has a personal dimension for Goldstein:
Truth to Power Cafe is inspired by the political and philosophical beliefs of Harold Pinter and his Hackney Gang. The Hackney Gang included my late father Mick Goldstein and Henry Woolf. I am the son of the Hackney Gang. (Facebook post, October 26.)
The Hackney Gang was a group of close friends, with Pinter at the centre, most of whom had known each other at school. They met in the late 1940s into the 50s to argue about books, theatre, art and politics. Pinter’s early 1950s novel, The Dwarfs, is based on the Gang.
To this impressive cultural lineage, Goldstein adds the imprimatur of Index on Censorship as an event partner. Index is the UK’s leading charitable organisation advocating for free expression worldwide.
First seen in 2016, Truth to Power Cafe was to have opened at London’s Roundhouse for a two-night run at the end of October with a line-up including activist Dan Glass; performer and producer Xavier de Sousa and spoken word artist Reece Lyons; journalist and co-founder of Justice for Women Julie Bindel; and Holocaust survivor Ruth Barnett— alongside young performers from Roundhouse itself. Goldstein himself hosts each performance and takes part in staged segments. It’s an ambitious concept, lauded by the Guardian’s theatre critic as “the revolutionary potential of theatre at its best and most direct”. The Roundhouse performances should have been a triumph.
There’s just one problem.
It turns out that Jeremy Goldstein doesn’t believe in free speech at all.
This is what happened.
Goldstein booked Julie Bindel to take part in the October 31 Roundhouse show.
On October 22, Bindel received an email from Goldstein:
This sort of thing happens to every producer at some point, and Bindel thought no more about it, until she happened to see advertising for the Roundhouse event at which she had been due to speak — and in her place was Peter Tatchell.
Bindel and Goldstein exchanged emails on October 23:
Bindel: This event appears to still be advertised. Is it still going ahead but without me, or is it cancelled?
Goldstein: Yes we’re still doing it and hoping to make the best of it.
Bindel: But am I still participating?
Goldstein: As I said I had to rethink the line up, but I hope we can keep in touch and do something together in the future.
Julie Bindel is not a fool and she knows when she’s been no-platformed — god knows, it has happened often enough to her. The next day, Bindel challenged Goldstein on Twitter:
Bindel then contacted Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship, which was one of Truth to Power’s media partners. Ginsberg was due to faciliate a post-performance discussion after the October 31 Roundhouse event. While waiting for a response from Ginsberg, Goldstein’s explanatory email arrived. Here it is in full:
Later that same day, Index announced that it was ending its association with Truth to Power Cafe:
It quickly emerged that Xavier de Sousa and Vijay Patel, two other participants in the October 31 performance, had complained to Goldstein about Bindel, arguing that she is guilty of hate speech and “directly responsible for the continuous and contemporary growth in street and online violence against trans people.” (Joint statement by de Sousa & Patel)
De Sousa and Patel were not happy with Index on Censorship’s withdrawal statement, or Goldstein’s apology to Bindel (referenced in Index’s statement, above), and withdrew from the event. They were followed through the exit by performer Reece Lyons, who alleged that the event would not be safe for trans people with Bindel present.
To anyone with experience of the conflict between transgender activism and gender critical feminists, this is familiar territory. Transgender activists routinely seek to delegitimise women’s voices by labelling them transphobic and accusing them of hate speech. Bindel has faced these slanders — and much, much worse — for more than a decade.
On October 26, Roundhouse cancelled both performances of Truth to Power Cafe. (Goldstein is an independent producer and Roundhouse was to have hosted the events in its Sackler Space — Roundhouse is not the producer of Truth to Power Cafe, nor responsible for any of its content or the decisions taken by Goldstein). Roundhouse issued a statement:
I asked Roundhouse CEO and press department for a response to Bindel’s no-platforming, but the organisation has refused to comment further.
On October 26, Goldstein made a long, rambling statement on his Facebook page. Following his statement were a series of supportive comments from his colleagues and other Truth to Power Cafe participants.
These are Goldstein’s words in full:
Goldstein’s assertion in this statement that he knew nothing of Bindel’s views when booking her is not plausible. He has been an active and award-winning producer in LGBT and queer arts for two decades, and Bindel’s critical views of transgenderism are well known. Even if Goldstein had managed to work for twenty years in the queer arts sector without knowing about Bindel’s work, the briefest glance at Wikipedia would have been sufficient to inform him. (Full disclosure; I worked with Goldstein during my time leading Queer Up North International Festival. The festival presented a play Goldstein produced in 2008).
Leaving aside Goldstein’s unconvincing ingenue act, and his attempts to position himself as a victim, what is more concerning in his statement is his assertion that Bindel’s ‘abhorrent’ views ‘incite hatred and violence towards the trans community’. This libel is aimed at gender critical feminists over and over again. It is always untrue.
Let’s imagine for a moment what Truth to Power Cafe could have done in response to de Sousa and Patel’s complaint. Goldstein’s job was to declare that Truth to Power Cafe would live up to its rhetoric and stand by Julie Bindel. Maybe de Sousa and Patel would then have backed out immediately — maybe not. But Goldstein’s responsibility was to take that position — to be steadfast. It’s likely that protests would have followed and that Roundhouse would have cancelled the event anyway, citing safety issues. But Goldstein would have done his job, Truth to Power Cafe would have demonstrated what it means to ‘rise up for free speech’ and would have continued on to its next venue, its free speech credentials burnished.
Hypocrisy is an easy charge to lay at anyone’s door. We are all guilty of it to some extent —even in the most saintly of us, there is a gap between what we say and what we do. But no-one forced Goldstein to declare himself a free speech champion or team up with Index on Censorship. No-one forced him to centre himself in the whole endeavour. He did all of this freely, selling his production to venues and to audiences, and building his reputation as a producer on the back of this inspirational injunction:
Rise up in the name of free speech and activism!
Having done all of this, Goldstein had one overriding responsibility: to live up to his own words. Ultimately, the only fair judgement is that Goldstein is a free speech poseur, and Truth to Power Cafe is a fraud.