Members of the AWL attended recent demonstration in Sheffield against carrying placards that said, on one side “end the siege of Gaza” and, on the other, “no to the IDF, no to Hamas.” We had to have an extremely heated argument with the organisers of the demonstration merely in order to be permitted to stay: we were told that, as many people on the demo were “sympathetic” to Hamas, our presence would be “contentious and divisive.”
Several angry “leftists” also berated us for “equating Israel with the Palestinians.” The incapability of these individuals to develop a politics that rise above cowboys and Indians schemas is more than a little depressing and, in fact, the reactionary and offensive equations are theirs, not ours. Hamas is a highly organised politico-military party funded by Iranian capitalism that represents a particular tendency within Palestinian politics; the word “Hamas” is not interchangeable for the entire Palestinian people and it no more “represents” them than any government of democratically-elected reactionaries has “represented” its people throughout history.
For the record, comrades, expressing opposition to both the IDF and Hamas does not mean equating the two. It does not mean that we believe the forces are equally weighted or that the conflict in Gaza is in any way symmetrical. It clearly does not mean that we think Hamas's rocket attacks against Israeli civilians have been as devastating as Israel's assault on Gaza; this is manifestly not the case.
But just as most human beings are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, one hopes that most activists are capable of expressing more than one idea simultaneously without having to make strict equivalences. For us, Clausewitz's old adage still rings true and war is still the continuation of politics by other, that is forcible, means. We therefore oppose Israel's war in Gaza because it is the continuation of the regional-imperialist, colonial politics of the Israeli ruling-class. But we also oppose Hamas's war against Israel because it is the continuation of its anti-Semitic and theocratic politics and its project to destroy the Israeli-Jewish nation. The fact that Hamas is incapable of wreaking the same level of slaughter that Israel has delivered in Gaza does not make it any less worthy of opposition. And the fact that the two sides are not equally weighted or direct equivalents of one another should not prevent us from expressing our opposition to both in the same sentence. The fact that Hamas is the party democratically elected to power in Gaza is no more a reason to silence our opposition to them than the fact that Israel's government is also democratically elected is a reason not to oppose their actions.
If revolutionary working-class socialism is to have any hope for the future, we must be able to express our opposition to conflicts such as this on the basis of opposing all anti-working class forces involved, regardless of their relative power. No, this does not mean equating them and yes, clearly – Israeli sub-imperialism is “the main enemy” here. But the existence of a “main enemy” does not magically transform other enemies into friends. Palestinian workers, women and LGBT activists who manage to combine fighting the Israeli occupation with courageous opposition to Hamas seem to have no problem with this idea; it's time that British leftists learnt it too.