Britain: new forces threaten old alliances

There was a huge outburst of anger across Britain at Israel’s attack on Gaza. Demonstrations on 3 January were unprecedented in their spread throughout the country. A week later, upwards of 50,000 marched in London, 10,000 in Edinburgh, and 5,000 in Birmingham. In some cities, there were several protests a week; on 17 January there were further protests across the country.

On 23 January, protestors entered the EDO arms factory near Brighton, which manufactures components for Israeli F15 and F16 aircraft and Hellfire missiles, and ‘decommissioned’ the equipment they found. Six were arrested. Seventeen universities and BBC buildings in London, Man chester and Glasgow were occupied.

In many places protests were marked by their militancy and preparedness to confront the forces of the state. They included many young working class people, predominantly Muslim, mobilised in numbers not seen since before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. From the outset the opportunists who run the Palestine Soli darity Campaign (PSC), Stop the War Coalition and CND tried to prevent the demonstrators from acting outside of their control.

The PSC in London set the tone. Following an angry demonstration outside the Israeli embassy in London on 28 December, the PSC scheduled daily protests the following week for 2-4pm. Each day, the PSC attempted to shut down the protest at a time it had agreed with the police, against the wishes of many demonstrators. On one occasion, as PSC National Chair Betty Hunter gave demonstrators ten minutes to leave, a protester answered: ‘If Israel stops its attacks in ten minutes, then we’ll stop our demonstration’. The protest continued. At the second, huge London demonstration on 10 January, thousands of demonstrators halted outside the Israeli Embassy despite efforts of stewards to move them on. When some of the demonstrators were attacked by the police, they resisted. For the third national demonstration, on 24 January, the opportunists chose a route which went nowhere near the embassy.

In Edinburgh on 10 January, the intent of the PSC/SWP organisers was to march people up to barriers in front of the US consulate and then march them away again as quickly as possible, despite an appeal from the SWP for people to bring old shoes. In the event protestors remained for some time in front of the consulate, keeping up militant chanting as hundreds of shoes, sticks and bottles rained down on the consulate and the police, whilst stewards and police made calls in vain for the march to ‘move along’.

In order to re-establish and then maintain their control of any developments, the opportunists excluded the new forces from any decision-making process by publicising organising meetings as little as possible – this was the case in Glasgow, Dundee, Manchester and Liverpool. These were reserved for ‘activists’. In Newcastle, the PSC chair at the first meeting after the Israeli attack announced that the only item of discussion would be the national demonstration in London on 10 January, and at a meeting on 26 January spoke of public protests at the city centre Monument as a ‘declining asset’.

The opportunists also tried to dampen down any acts of militancy or examples of politics they did not find acceptable. Thus on 30 December a Dundee protest attended by 200 people was told by the self-appointed organiser as they arrived that ‘now is not the time for anger or politics’; similarly on 6 January Salma Yaqoob of Birmingham Stop the War asked a noisy demonstration outside the city council for silence, telling the angry crowd ‘If you care for the Palesti nians, now is the time to be quiet and orderly’. Meanwhile Manchester Stop the War opposed a call-out by other organisations to protest against a Zionist rally on 11 January.

Overall the opportunists attempted to exclude any serious politics. Na tional demonstrations were addressed by the usual round-up of Labour politicians – Tony Benn, and MPs Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. At a protest in South Shields outside a Labour Party dinner attended by Foreign Secretary David Miliband on 23 January, the SWP attempted to drown out anyone exposing Labour’s long-term support for Zionism.

Local actions however are continuing, and FRFI urges its readers to get involved wherever they can.

Thomas Vincent


Round up of action

FRFI supporters have been active throughout the country in support of the Palestinian people.

On Sunday 28 December, within hours of the first Israeli attack on Gaza, FRFI activists in Glasgow joined several hundred people in a spontaneous march around George Square. We attended demonstrations on 3 and 10 January in Glasgow and Edinburgh and protests organised by the Scottish PSC against Lloyds TSB, one of which saw an impromptu march from George Square to the bank and another one in which a PSC member was arrested. In Dundee FRFI has also been involved in regular protests. Despite a supporter being summonsed for obstruction for refusing to take down a stall, these protests will continue.

In Manchester, supporters were also active, being part of a demonstration outside the BBC offices in Manchester on 28 December and then involved in the setting up of the Gaza Solidarity Committee. This committee called a demonstration of 3,000 in Manchester on 3 January. FRFI supporters played a major role in organising further events including a picket outside Lloyds TSB followed by an open mike protest in Piccadilly Gardens on 10 January. Supporters also attended a protest against the Stand up for Israel rally organised by the Manchester Zionist Council and addressed by Labour MPs Ivan Lewis and Louise Ellman in Albert Square on 11 January.

In Newcastle, FRFI supporters organised weekly pickets of Marks and Spencer with up to 40 protestors. To keep the movement alive and democratic, FRFI organised open action forums to plan future events including a rolling picket through the city centre on 17 January, reported in the regional Sunday Sun: ‘Demonstrators with Fight Racism Fight Imperialism caused major disruption to shoppers and traffic in Newcastle for more than two hours as they targeted several high-street stores they claim support Israel…more than 200 protesters carried out a series of demonstrations against the continuing Israeli attacks on Gaza.’
In London, FRFI supporters attended the daily pickets of the Israeli embassy from the day they were called, mobilising people to join the weekly picket of Oxford Street Marks and Spencer which they have organised since the start of the Intifada. On the major demonstrations they have ensured that their contingents have been the noisiest and most militant, with an open mike on both the marches and the pickets.

FRFI 207 February / March 2009

 

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