Fighting to defend free speech on Palestine in London

On 9 October 2018, the Leaders’ Com­mittee of London Councils called on all London boroughs to adopt the Interna­tional Holocaust Remem­brance Alli­ance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. This definition deliberately conflates anti-Semitism and anti-Zion­ism in an attempt to criminalise and shut down criticism of the Israeli state. The Lead­ers’ Committee’s action comes after the adoption of the definition by the nat­ional Labour Party on 4 Septem­ber. Many London councils had already adopted the definition but following the Leaders’ Committee instruction council after council followed suit, typically without debate or opposition. The RCG has been the only group engaged in a widespread and principled anti-Zionist campaign to repeal the definition, rather than just tinker around the edges. This has seen Camden Council send officers to spy on us, sectarianism and censorship from members of the Palestine Solidarity Cam­paign (PSC) and associated groups, and overwhelming support from people on the streets around London.

130 local authorities nationally have adopted the IHRA definition. Included in this are the majority of London Labour councils. Lambeth adopted it on 10 October without debate, ignoring the protestations of a Jewish deputation. RCG supporters held a speak-out against this in Brixton on 10 November. Hammer­smith and Fulham adopted the definition on 17 October and RCG supporters are campaigning to reverse this. Waltham Forest will be discussing adopting the definition on 13 Decem­ber and will be met by a protest called by the RCG.

Camden sends spies

The use of the IHRA definition to police free speech was starkly demonstrated in Camden when the RCG called a public meeting on 21 Sep­tember to discuss the Labour Party’s abject capitulation. Zionists persuaded the King’s Cross Bruns­wick Neighb­ourhood Associa­tion, who manage the meeting venue on behalf of the Lab­our council, that the meeting would be anti-Semitic. Widespread support for our right to hold the meeting, including from Camden Mom­entum and Free Speech on Israel, stopped the Zionists in their tracks. However, Camden Council’s Prevent (‘counter-extremism’) team sent spies to the meeting to gather information and to monitor for anti-Semitism. The RCG demanded that Camden account for this and submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. On 8 November, the council refused this request on the grounds that releasing this information might interfere with their future spying ventures. The RCG is appealing against this outrageous cover-up and demanding answers from Camden Council.

PSC censorship

In east London, RCG supporters have come up against attempts to shut down free speech on Palestine from members of the PSC, Unison, Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Free Speech on Israel (!). Following the adoption of the definition by Tower Hamlets Council, Tower Hamlets PSC and Tower Ham­lets Jenin Friendship Association called a protest outside the 21 November council meeting. It was clear that they were just going through the motions as Tower Hamlets PSC chair Sybil Cock had told the RCG that the battle was lost even before the demonstration. The RCG was determined that real opposition should be organised and mobilised for the protest. At the rally the RCG was prevented from speaking by the Unison compere, at the insistence of PSC members. None of the JVL, SWP or Free Speech on Israel members present would defend our right to speak.

When the short and useless discussion in the council meeting on the IHRA definition was over, RCG supporters interrupted the meeting speaking about the way it has been used to prevent free speech, heckling, and raising a banner reading ‘Zionism is racism’. When ­police and security guards forcibly ejected them not only did the PSC and other opportunists not offer any support, but they even in­sisted that the council speaker read out a statement dissociating themselves from our protest. This should not come as a surprise given the behaviour of the PSC and the SWP experienced by our comrades in New­castle, Glasgow and elsewhere. Such spineless cowards are more interested in obeying the rules of local council respectability than in conducting any principled struggle against Zionism and for free speech.

RCG branches in London and around the country will continue to campaign against the IHRA definition, and fight to build a real anti-Zionist movement in solidarity with Palestine and against British imperialism. It is clear that this will be a fight against the Labour Party, and its supporters and apologists. We call on all principled anti-Zionists, all those who believe in real freedom of speech on Israel, to join us.

Repeal the IHRA definition!
Oppose Labour Zionism!
Zionism is racism!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 267 December 2018/January 2019

 

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