First, the story in pictures. (The photos are by Chris, from Indymedia. For reports on other demonstrations around the country on 17 January, click here. Another set of photos from Sheffield: click here).
And in words:
The 17 January Gaza vigil/march in Sheffield was the same story as 10 January, only with the levels of hostility to AWL ratcheted up massively due to the presence of a large contingent of SWPers (who were missing last week, when they all went to London). Our banner ("Israel out of the occupied territories/two nations, two states") was tolerated, but things really kicked off when Louise Gold arrived with one of our placards ("solidarity with workers, women and the left" on one side and "no to the IDF, no to Hamas") on the other.
A fingers-in-faces screaming match ensued, with Permanent Revolution people the most vociferous. They claimed the slogan was equivalent to even-handed condemnations of the violence during the miners' strike, screamed that we were scabs and demanded that we leave the demonstration. I found this particularly amusing given that they were distributing HOPI leaflets bearing the headline slogan "no to US imperialism, no to the Islamic regime." (Apparently it's different because there isn't actually a war on in Iran at the moment.)
In the midst of all the fuss, the main PSC organiser (a Palestinian guy called Mushir who's been around the Sheffield left for years) grabbed the placard out of Louise's hands and tore it to pieces. The gathered SWPers, PR people and most of the other demonstrators cheered loudly. The lone A-Fed member tried to defend us but didn't have much of an impact.
The upside for us in all of this is that it drew a great deal of attention to us, and several people did come over to express their sympathy and opposition to what had happened to our placard, if not their political support.
Alistair Tice, the local SP full-timer, spoke at the rally and made a very mealy-mouthed, low-level speech that was sort of two-states-ish. When I questioned him about what happened to us, he said that obviously he opposed it and basically agreed with the sentiment implied by the slogan but also intimated that we should've expected such treatment because of how "crassly" we'd posed things. This was a common refrain in arguments we had (or tried to have) with people about the issue - i.e. that we'd only made the placard to "cause trouble". On a certain level, I guess that's true; we raise the slogan to make people think about the politics of the matter and if that equates to "causing trouble" then fine, that's why we did it. But the Stalinoid nature of people's reactions - i.e. anything that swims in any way against the current of the hegemonic politics arbitrarily and undemocratically imposed on the demo by the forces that happen, by sheer weight of numbers more than anything else, to control the movement, must be physically crushed - was still pretty shocking.
We got a few email addresses out of it, gave out lots of leaflets and sold lots of papers so all in all, another reminder of how terrible the political "common sense" of the Palestine solidarity movement is and how necessary our interventions continue to be.