Solidarity with the Palestinians — but don't line up behind Hamas!
ON 13 APRIL  there was a big London march "for Palestine". What happened was shocking from a socialist standpoint, and harmful to the Palestinian cause.
The core organising group — "The Muslim Association" — has strong Islamic-fundamentalist links. For example, its web site links to the Pakistani fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Islami.
The Trafalgar Square rally started with long readings from the Koran. Although speakers such as Labour left MP Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn were on the platform, their speeches were punctuated by chants — led by an Imam who used the stage microphone — of "Allah-o-Akbar" ("God is great").
"Allah-o-Akbar" was also one of the main chants on the march. Although the phrase "Allah-o-Akbar" is used by many non-fundamentalist Muslims in other contexts, to promote it as a political slogan on this march was a mark of fundamentalist politics, not Muslim culture or religion.
The organisers, marshalling the crowd at the start of the march, attempted to segregate the march along male-female lines. If the march had not been so large, and consequently so difficult for those stewards to organise, the demonstration might well have set off with men at the front, and women at the back. A smaller Hyde Park march on 9 December 2001 did that — and the segregation was obeyed by the SWP and RCG, who marched that day.
Leafleters freely gave out Islamist literature which called for "Putting the Jews to the sword". Other leaflets called for a boycott of "Israeli goods" while, in fact, demanding the boycott of businesses such as Marks and Spencers which have historically been owned by Jews.
Dominant on the march were banners equating Sharon to Hitler, Zionism to Nazism, and the Star of David to the swastika. Specific political demands such as "Israel out of the Occupied Territories" did not appear on the leaflet for the march, or prominently on the march itself. The dominant tone was simply hostility to Israel: "Death to Israel" and "From the river to the sea" (fundamentalists); "No compromise with Zionism" and "Two states, no solution" (from the SWP).
"Not antagonistic" to fundamentalists?
What did the left do? Workers' Liberty contacted the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) the day before the march to find out a little more about the organisers. We were told that the PSC did not know much about them, but they had been reassured that the march would not be "too Islamic". Despite not having been asked for their support or help, the PSC was backing it anyway.
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) were energetic in winning Socialist Alliance support for this demonstration. Rather than supporting slogans which would contrast with the general march themes, they won agreement from the SA to carry placards saying, "Victory to the intifada! Free Palestine!". At the Socialist Alliance Executive, SWP leader John Rees argued, "It is most important that our slogans do not appear in any way antagonistic to this march".
On the march the SWP presented themselves as the most militant advocates of "smashing Israel": using megaphones to announce, "No compromise with Zionism" and "Two states is no solution!" After the march a prominent SWPer wrote to the Socialist Alliance email list that this was "one of the best and most uplifting marches I've ever been on".
Israel, Palestine — equal rights!
Workers Liberty believes that the left has made a big mistake in blending itself into such a march. The Islamists are our enemies, not our allies, and we should not back their protests and campaigning. We should see our role in intervening into such a movement and winning to socialist politics those influenced by the fundamentalists (or simply marching because it was the best opportunity they saw to protest at the Israeli onslaught in the West Bank).
We also believe that the left's blending into the 13 April march was a step backwards from where it stood before this march took place.
Groups like the SWP stand for 'smashing Israel' and replacing the existing state with a single, Arab, "democratic secular state".
The Israeli Jews are surrounded by hostile Arab states. They will not freely allow themselves to become an unarmed minority in an Arab state. That could only come about after the forcible subjugation of the Israeli Jews. A merging of different nations into multinational states is very desirable, but must be done only on the basis of free consent.
The reasonable-sounding democratic secular state programme could only be completed against the wishes of the Israeli Jewish people. This "solution" is, in fact, not democratic. Such an outcome would replace the oppression of the Palestinians with the oppression (the murder or expulsion) of the Israeli Jews.
The left's programme is — in reality, and against the intentions of some of its advocates — for a war against the Jews of Israel.
The fundamentalist march organisers make hostility to the Jews of Israel quite explicit and aim to replace the Israeli state with a totalitarian, clerical state which would not only purge the Jews, but force women into "gender apartheid" and smash the left and the unions. That is the lesson from Iran, 1979.
Against the demand for "a Islamic theocracy without democracy", even calling "for a democratic secular state" would be positive! Yet even that slogan was not raised by the SWP on the march. Nothing like it. Their priority was not to be "antagonistic".
One of the odd assumptions behind this opportunism is the idea that the "Muslim" marchers all broadly agree with the fundamentalists. They don't! We found almost no hostility from Muslims to the demand for "Two states for the two peoples", almost no hostility to "Against Sharon! Against Hamas and the suicide bombers!". A number of marchers took our placards. Some helped us argue against the organisers' attempt to segregate the march. Some threw leaflets back at Hizb-ut Tahrir. Far from giving a lead to such people — the central ideological political role of the Marxists! — the far left tailed after obscurantist bigots.
Anti-Sharon — or anti-Jewish?
Why did the left disgrace itself in such a way? For two reasons: first the left, to its shame, shares some of the politics and ideas of the Islamists; second were opportunistic reasons — wanting to go with the flow, wanting to recruit a few Arab and Asian people without confronting prejudice.
The SWP-type left actually agrees that Sharon is like Hitler, and that what is happening in the West Bank is a "holocaust" or a "final solution".
Although it is true that Sharon is a murdering right-winger, he is no Hitler. The comparison is absurd.
Hitler was a fascist who abolished democracy in Germany, smashed the left and the unions, began an attempt at world domination and attempted the systematic extermination of Jewry, killing six million in factory-organised death camps. Sharon is a right-wing chauvinist in a democratic state which has an 18% Arab minority (discriminated against, but with voting rights, Knesset members etc), unions, and a peace movement. Sharon is not attempting Palestinian genocide. The scale and political intention of Israeli repression on the West Bank is utterly different. 1,500 Palestinians have died during the second intifada. That is a terrible, awful toll, but it is a war atrocity. It is not the equivalent of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust.
The left's use of such language is calculated to offend every Jewish person — even those many Jews who hate Sharon and who are sympathetic to the Palestinians. Very many will have lost family in the Holocaust. All know very well the difference between the Nazis and Likud.
This type of equation — of Sharon to Hitler — is hardly used in other contexts when the left condemns war atrocities. People rarely say, for instance, Bush = Hitler. The word "holocaust" is rarely used elsewhere. The parallels with the Nazis are more or less reserved for Israel. The implication is that there is something special about Jews which makes them parallel to Nazis. This is both deliberately offensive and aimed to obliterate the fact that the Holocaust is unique in history.
The SWP have also helped to picket M&S. That exposes the nakedly anti-Jewish drive in much "left" campaigning.
Generally the far-left avoids calling for consumer boycotts, instead advocating international workers' unity. The left knows that boycotts can alienate the very workers it is attempting to help (by making them unemployed). In this case, however, the left adopts the boycott campaign because it does not give a damn what the Israeli workers think; the left see the Israeli workers as "not real workers" and as part of the problem, not part of the solution.
The left should use the experience of tailing a Muslim fundamentalist march to reassess its own politics on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The PSC plans to march on 18 May under these two slogans: "Justice for Palestine" and "End the Israeli occupation".
These slogans must have been deliberately chosen for their ambiguity. "Justice for Palestine"? What is "Palestine"? The area of pre-1948 British Mandate? What do the organisers want? A Palestinian state alongside Israel, or across the whole of pre-1948 Palestine?
What does "End the Israeli occupation" mean? — Israel out of the West Bank and Gaza, or an end to Israeli "occupation of pre-1948 Palestine"?
A democrat or socialist might interpret such demands in a straightforward, democratic way. But the PSC march organisers and the left groups which will be dominant on this planned demonstration will give these demands an unpleasant, anti-Jewish character. They are not just for the Palestinians — as we are — but against the Israel too. They are not just against the actions of the Israeli government, but against the very existence of Israel.
This is not just speculation. This was the character, for example, of the Stop the War march on Palestine held in London on 26 January. It had no Islamists on it. This was a march of the left — organised by the same groups which will be marching with the PSC on 18 May. But the chants were similar — they sang: "Sharon, Hitler, you're the same/All that's different is the name." These are the reasons which we cannot back such protests. We have two choices: either to go with the flow of the left (and no-so-left) on this issue, or aggressively to assert the need for consistently democratic and socialist politics. We will take the second course.
We will be present at the 18 May march. But we will express our solidarity with the Palestinians using our own slogans, placards and banners. We will talk to the activists and fight to re-orient the left.
We will continue to organise protests for solidarity with the Palestinians and for Two States. We will not endorse marches which demand or imply the destruction of Israel.
For Arab and Jewish workers unity!
For reconciliation and democracy not chauvinism and revenge!
For two states for the two peoples!
this article or leaflet is simply excellent. i fully agree, and i was waiting since years, to finally see a group from the trotskyte tradition with a more differenciated point of view about the israel/palestine issue than the others have.
too bad that you dont have a branch in germany.