Smash the Balfour Declaration! Manchester students lead the way


A racist celebration of the Balfour declaration organised by the Israeli embassy and Zionist Federation as part of the ‘Balfour 100’ programme ended up being kicked off campus by University of Manchester students and their supporters. The event had been due to take place at the university – an insult to all those campaigning in solidarity with the Palestinians – but was moved at the last minute to the Hilton hotel, where fascist Israeli ambassador Mark Regev was forced to enter via a side-entrance. Nathan WIlliams reports.

Traffic on Oxford Road was brought to a standstill. Campaigners against the ‘celebrations’ took over the street and defied police as they marched from the university to the new location on Deansgate. Manchester-based Palestinian solidarity and anti-imperialist activists were joined by activists from Sheffield, Scotland and across the country. The event was organised by students from the BDS Society and Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! Society, along with Manchester Palestine Action and Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and attracted the support of many from the Palestinian community to picket the Zionist celebration of apartheid and ethnic-cleansing. Notably absent was the Labour Party. In fact, neither activists nor the party itself had supported the campaign against the Balfour ‘celebrations’ – demonstrating how Labour’s desire to remain a viable candidate for leading imperialist, racist Britain overrules even the weakest support for anti-imperialist politics. Its Shadow Foreign Minister Emily Thornberry is due to stand in for Jeremy Corbyn at the Zionists' London celebration.

The University of Manchester has over the past year engaged in repeated attacks on pro-Palestinian activities – cancelling meetings hosted by societies, restricting events during Israeli Apartheid Week and censoring event titles and speakers. Proving itself an ally of Zionism the university planned to host the Balfour celebration on its campus. It would have been a symbolic venue for the Israel embassy and the Zionist Federation as Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel, was a lecturer in Chemistry at the university while he met with Arthur Balfour to draft the declaration. Middle East Monitor uncovered collaboration between the university and Israeli embassy this year, around Israeli apartheid week, which resulted in the university clamping down on opponents of Israel. The University of Manchester was more concerned with collaborating with the representatives of an apartheid state than the concerns of its own student body.

BDS and FRFI societies campaigned to force the organisers to run away to another venue in fear of a protest. The university, however, did not at any point intervene. Despite nine student societies signing a letter addressed to Vice Chancellor Nancy Rothwell and Palestinian students expressing their fears and disgust towards the event no action was taken; except, of course, to defend the event. It was fear of the students’ opposition that convinced the Zionists to move their meeting – the new venue was only publicly confirmed at the last minute in an attempt to avoid protests.

Unfortunately for the Zionists, it didn’t work. Their change of venue represents a defeat, however much they will try and dress it up. Regev's presence had not been publicly confirmed, but once inside he gave a speech attempting to smear the protesters outside as ‘anti-Semitic’ – a common and inaccurate portrayal, the last resort of desperate Zionists. The speech was evidence of the disruption and damage pro-Palestinian campaigners caused to the Zionists and their attempted propaganda campaign.

Police and university security personnel attempted to ‘manage’ the protest. First, they tried to prevent the march; protesters refused to co-operate with their attempts at control. Then, as the march began police officers on foot and in cars attempted to divert and block our path. But they were fighting a losing battle. Three hundred people marched into the city centre, occupying the streets and blocking traffic. The march continued, with police officers on the sides still attempting to restrain it. At the Hilton Hotel a lively and spirited picket was formed as Zionists made their way into the meeting. Greater Manchester Police stood side-by-side with the hired security guards of the Israeli embassy to block the hotel’s entrance and allow people into the meeting inside. Police and security officers attempted to convince demonstrators to leave before the end of the event. But the picket stayed in place until 10pm, meaning those leaving the event were forced to confront the chants of the demonstrators.

This year, 100 years since the Balfour declaration, Zionists and British imperialists will attempt to strengthen the link between apartheid Israel and Britain. They will use events like the one on Tuesday 31 October as propaganda, to paint the occupation and ethnic-cleansing of Palestine as a positive. But this protest, the largest mobilisation in support of Palestine in Manchester since 2014's FRFI-led occupations of Barclays and M&S, has shown that Zionist lies will not go unchallenged, even in Britain, the staunchest and most historic ally of Israel.

Smash Balfour!

Zionism off campus!

Victory to the Palestinian people!

We call for further action to break Britain’s imperialist links to Zionism and Israel. Join the Boycott Israel Group in Manchester on 11 November, meeting at 12pm in Piccadilly Gardens, as we take to the streets with a rolling picket of the banks, shops and businesses that support the apartheid state of Israel.

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