- Created: Thursday, 26 April 2018 10:59
- Written by Dominic Mulgrew
As the Israeli state expels thousands of African migrants, prepares to annex the West Bank, and talks up war on Hezbollah and Iran, it should be unthinkable for any anti-racist organisation to offer any concession to Zionism or the Zionist state. The charge that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism has been used by supporters of Israel to vilify supporters of Palestinian freedom inside and outside the Labour Party. Yet on 17 March, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), through its Stand up to Racism (SUTR) front was prepared to allow an avowedly Zionist and pro-Israeli organisation to join its annual march against racism in Glasgow. More than that: it had faced down pro-Palestinian supporters when they demanded that the organisation in question, the Confederation of Friends of Israel – Scotland (CoFIS) be excluded from the event. In the end, the Zionists were prevented from joining the march because of a counter-mobilisation led by Glasgow Revolutionary Communist Group.
This stance of the SWP is appalling. It has always argued that Zionism is a racist ideology. For instance, Nick Clark in Socialist Worker on 13 March 2018, said: ‘Opposition to Zionism is not anti-Semitic. Zionism has always claimed that Israel should be an exclusively Jewish state – racism against Arabs is at its very core.’ In allowing such racists to pretend they are anti-racists and join its SUTR march, the SWP shows that its alliance with the Labour Party and the trade union leadership far outweighs the principle of supporting Palestinian freedom.
CoFIS participation on the 17 March demonstration had become an issue because a small contingent of its members had been able to join the 2017 march carrying Israeli flags. In the lead up to this year’s march, SWP/SUTR had refused to say whether or not CoFIS would be allowed to join in again. Glasgow RCG therefore sent an open letter to SUTR in mid-February insisting that it publicly exclude CoFIS, arguing that:
‘The issue at stake is quite clear. Zionism is a racist ideology. It is the ideological cloak of the racist colonial-settler state of Israel. SUTR and its Socialist Workers Party (SWP) backers cannot present this form of racism as something different from the racism they say they are challenging. To do so is to capitulate to the Israel-backed and reactionary campaign which presents anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism. If SUTR and the SWP do not challenge CoFIS and prevent it from marching with SUTR on 17 March, SUTR will be understood as saying that Zionism is an acceptable form of racism.’
When there was no response, the RCG organised a lobby of the SUTR Glasgow steering committee on 10 March where a motion was put in the name of Scotland against Criminalising Communities (SACC), demanding that SUTR tell CoFIS that it would not be welcome on the demonstration. Only one committee member, Sandra White, a Scottish National Party MSP, voted in support. Those who voted against included SWP members Penny Gower, Jim Main, Talat Ahmed (also SUTR’s spokesperson), and Keir McKechnie (SUTR chief steward). A letter from the president of the EIS teachers’ trade union, Nicola Fisher (also a friend of the SWP), was read out stating that if the SACC motion was accepted, the EIS would remove all funding and support from the march. If this was not enough, SUTR nationally through Diane Abbott, Labour Shadow Home Secretary and SUTR President, ordered the Scottish SUTR to ensure CoFIS was allowed to join the march.
CoFIS in the meantime had made it clear that it would attend the demonstration, stating on Facebook that supporters of Palestinian freedom such as the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) were the real racists. In the week before the demonstration, Glasgow RCG decided that rather than walk away and let the Zionists present themselves as anti-racists, it would mobilise opposition to prevent the Zionists marching. On the day, under the slogan ‘the Zionists shall not pass’, around 100 people confronted the 20-30 Zionists who turned up. Other organisations which mobilised to stop the Zionists included West Dunbartonshire Supports the People of Palestine, who brought an excellent replica apartheid wall which was used to hem in the Zionists and withstand police pressure; Red Front Republic; Communist Party of Great Britain – Marxist Leninist (Scotland) and Class War. In addition, there were individual supporters of groups which condemned SUTR’s stance but either did not call for CoFIS to be confronted, such as Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign and Solidarity Scotland, or had opposed such open confrontation with the Zionists, including SACC and SPSC.
The SUTR march itself numbered around 500; SUTR claim that 1,500 joined in is a gross exaggeration. The Muslim Council of Scotland, which had attended the steering committee and voted against the SACC motion, changed its position and publicly announced beforehand that it was boycotting the demonstration. Apart from handing the Zionists some placards, SWP/SUTR stewards were so embarrassed by what was happening that they got the march to move off leaving the Zionists behind, kettled by pro-Palestinian supporters. Protected by more than 40 police, and surrounded by counter-demonstrators, the Zionists made their way over an hour late to the SUTR final rally in George Square, by which time the main march had dispersed. It was a victory for principled anti-racism.
Since the march, SWP supporters have attempted to justify the organisation’s stance, saying that it would have been sectarian to exclude the Zionists and that it would have made SUTR look anti-Semitic, to which they have added that the RCG stance was racist. Such arguments are a complete abandonment of basic socialist principles. Fighting Zionism is an essential part of any anti-racist standpoint: the idea that an organisation such as SUTR should not take a stand on Palestinian freedom is merely a cover for the SWP’s alliance with the reactionary pro-Israel standpoint of the Labour Party.
The counter-mobilisation to the Zionists could have been bigger but for the decision of SACC and SPSC to avoid any confrontation and limit the embarrassment of SWP/SUTR. Immediately following the 10 March lobby of the SUTR steering committee, pro-Palestinian organisations including the RCG met to discuss their tactics for dealing with CoFIS. We called for a militant counter-protest; there was a clear agreement by the 25 people present to report back on this proposal by 13 March. Instead, the SPSC issued a public announcement calling on people to boycott the march and avoid a confrontation with the Zionists. At this point, we issued our call for a mass mobilisation against CoFIS. Sofiah MacLeod, national chair of SPSC, privately emailed supporters on 14 March:
‘After some consultation with Glasgow branch and the National Committee we decided to meet at the start of the march to address and discuss with the participants of the march about CoFIS. Our intention is not to engage with CoFIS or to attack anti-racist marchers and supporting organisations. We are not joining the FRFI demo.’
SACC chair Richard Haley added: ‘Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (RCG) are calling for a mass mobilisation against CoFIS on Saturday… I think we should avoid publicising this action and should try (though it may not be possible) to avoid publicly commenting on it (FRFI will probably not change their view, and a side-debate over this will just produce unfruitful friction). People have a right to peaceful protest, but this is an unwise way to exercise it.’
Both were completely wrong. They wanted to keep a veneer of respectability; like SUTR they seek the patronage of the Labour Party and official trade union movement, and did not want to engage in an action which could undermine such links. The fundamental lesson that needs to be learned from the events of 17 March is that for effective solidarity with Palestine, there must be an irrevocable break with the Labour Party and the opportunist forces which defend it. Democracy, militancy and grassroots activism will all be key to ensuring the success of a real movement. There can be no concession to Zionism – it is racism through and through.
Victory to the people of Palestine!
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 263 April/May 2018