See also this posting, and for more photos, by Camila Bassi, see "attachment".
Basically it was the same story as last week, only with the levels of hostility ratcheted up massively due to the presence of a large contingent of SWPers (who were missing last week as 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 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 Anarchist Federation 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.
The 'vigil' was of a relatively good size again though maybe slightly less people. Like Dan notes the atmosphere was heavily influenced by the renewed SWP presence.
Having been in London last week, they resumed their position leading the rally, leading the whole thing on a fairly pointless march and coming down on us. It seemed they were tolerant of the two states banner, well enough not to try to chuck if off the demo, however the arrival of our 'no to the IDF, no to hamas' placard sparked outrage. At the last demo the PSC leaders had attempted to say we couldn't have the placard but conceeded in the end and let us stay. This time the SWP seemed to provoke them into being more vicious about it.
The main thing kicked off when two PR came over to me holding the placard to say they were disgusted by it, saying we were opposing the only resistance the Palestinians had and calling me a 'scab'. This drew the attention of others and the provoked PSC people came over to demand we leave, we calmly refused stating we were there to show our solidarity with the palestinians. At this point all our comrades were engaged in arguments and the PSC dragged the placard off me, ripped it up and stood on it to sickening applause from the SWP/PR.
I was very proud of all the Sheffield comrades who were more than willing to face the arguments of the SWP and PR and calmly refused to leave or back down. This paid off when people started coming over, with a mixture of apologies and slight disgust at the way the whole thing had been conducted, yet not agreeing with us politically and some coming to agree politically and taking papers and flyers (this included at least one PSC person and my university tutor, who I know is fairly close to the SWP's politics on this).
The SWPs arguments were typical and unsuprising, although I think its worth noting the arguments I had with PR. When challanged why saying 'no to US imperialism, no to the islamic regime' is ok for Iran and not for Palestine they said it is because Iran isn't a 'war situation'. When questioned if they would then drop 'no to the islamic regime' if Iran was attacked by the US, they fudged the issue a bit but basically said you have to support the 'resistance' in a 'war situation'.
Various play-outs of that scenario happened but their basic message was the same 'we will ignore the nature of Hamas and not advertise our political opposition whilst they are the Palestinian resistance'.
About 600 on the demonstration. I spoke. It just went very quiet. But afterwards I sold all the literature I had with me...
The demo and march was running very much to the pattern of the previous ones (albeit marginally smaller). The same apolitical or Hamas-supporting speakers, the same mixture of people and the same lack of union banners apart from the NUT one our comrade Pat brought.
But then the march reached Marks and Spencers and the police momentarily stopped the march. Immediately the Islamists, egged on by Workers Power and more regrettably Antifa, started shouting very dodgy slogans at it. Some people even tried to storm in.
It was all getting very ugly. However Pat with the NUT banner and some Socialist Appeal comrades decided to push to the front of the demo and lead it up the road. To be fair the people with LCAW were trying to push on as well and the march got moving again.
Afterwards I got talking to a lot of people on the march about there thoughts on what had happened. People tended to either be baffled by what had happened, or were annoyed that it made it look like they were carrying out a mad anti-semitic campaign against businesses with Jewish links.
As one Asian guy said to me, the story in the press will now be about protestors attack M&S for its 'Jewishness', not about what is happening in Gaza. Partly because of this episode we sold a fair few papers and in general the people who just turned up to the march often seemed receptive to what we were saying.
The protest on Saturday 17th was surprisingly small and low-key, with Trafalgar Square less than half-full.
On the big demonstration on Saturday 10th, I had the impression that many people had come not because they were "brought" by one organised group or another, but simply because they were outraged at the bloodshed.
True, the Israeli government had announced a unilateral ceasefire on Friday 16th, but that was very plainly a provisional and partial ceasefire, with Israeli troops remaining in Gaza. And in the intervening week the bloodshed had been terrible, so I expected many of those "unorganised" people to be out again, even if BMI, MAB, STWC etc. made no special effort to mobilise.
Why not? Maybe more of the 10 January demonstrators were "brought" than I thought. Maybe lots of people thought that having gone on one demonstration, they had done their bit. Maybe a lot of the "unorganised" people who came on the 10th had faith in the Israeli ceasefire and the prospect of a new US president intervening.
AWL, together with some Iranian and Iraqi comrades, was able to make a much more visible and audible intervention for a "two states" stance than on the 10th. We got a number of contact addresses at our stall, but the response of BMI, MAB, and SWP was generally to try to ignore us.
One odd thing about the 10 January demonstration had been that, despite the horrible actuality in the Occupied Territories, where the best plausible immediate outcome was just for the Israeli offensive to cease leaving the people still pauperised and ghettoised, much of the tone was triumphalist.
Hamas at the time was declaring that "victory" (meaning, apparently, continued ability for Hamas to fire rockets at civilian targets in Israel) was close. Many of the demonstrators seemed to pick up on that claim, chanting as if they expected Israel to be overrun and conquered any day now.
The 10 January organisers will have told the media that the demonstration was "for an immediate ceasefire" (for that is how the media reported it), and maybe many of the "unorganised" demonstrators saw it that way too, but the tone of the chants and speeches was different.
17 January was much more low-key, but from the platform this time a similar message had been mutated into the call to "make Israel pay". Again, the focus was not primarily on helping the Palestinians, but on doing down Israel - Israel as such, not specifically the Israeli government.
AWL will continue working to try to help the Palestinians and to bring closer peace, justice for the Palestinians, and workers' unity across the borders. Join the "two states" protest at the Israeli embassy on 19 January.
The Cambridge demo hovered at around 2-300 over the course of two hours: not many organised lefties, mainly town people and students, and a large local Muslim contingent.
Neither aggressive Islamist politics nor SWP Islamism-tailing dominated, although there were was one woman with an "Israel = Nazi" placard, and a few "Israeli Apartheid" placards. The chants were all secular and acceptable - no "from the river to the sea" or similar.
The three AWL comrades who intervened had a high profile and got a good response - there seemed to be a lot of interest in the meeting we're organising with the Worker-communist Party of Iraq next week, and people would come up to us to ask for our bulletins. We sold a lot of papers, and had some good conversations with people, most of whom were sympathetic to our politics - i.e. two states, oppose the IDF and Hamas.
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Proportional to the size of the demo at least, there seemed to be many more crazy Israel = Nazism type placards this time.
I took pictures of signs saying
"Zionism = New Holocaust (short of gas chambers)"
"Israel = Hitler"
"Zionism = Fascism"
The last was at the stall of the Revolutionary Communist Group/Fight Racism Fight Imperialism. I was surprised and asked an acquaintance of mine behind the stall what was going on. She said someone had given it to them; it wasn't particularly their slogan, but they'd endorse it. She also said that she thought Britain could be described as fascist; it's not a very scientific characterisation, but she wouldn't hesitate to say it etc. All I can say is it's not a very effective fascist state given that we were having a big demo and selling left-wing papers in the middle of its capital city!
I also argued with the "New Holocaust"-holding woman; she, I suspect like most of those who bring these signs, reserved the term for Israel ("I don't know much about Saudi Arabia").
Surreal and scary.
"Your reports suggest the war between the AWL and the rest of the left was the most important matter under consideration at the recent demos."
This is just rubbish. The reason why this 'war' has become such a point of focus is that Palestine activists in Sheffield felt the need to destroy one of our placards, and some on the far left, shockingly, felt the need to semi- or quarter-defend it.
In fact, we have been a consistent presence on the Palestine demos and pickets - eg last night in London, where no other leftists turned up. I would say, to be honest, that we've done a lot more about this issue than PR have.
PR's main contribution has been to chime in with the dominant tone of the demos, raising any criticisms they have very quietly. What would it benefit the Palestinians if we did that?
It is a matter of empirical fact - not of our "sectarian" assessment, or "parasitical" opinion, but fact - that the majority of big Gaza demos around the country, particularly in London, have been dominated (in terms of placards, banners, chants, slogans, speakers etc. etc.) by politics that are to greater-or-lesser extents reactionary. The application of such politics to concrete reality in the Middle East would offer no hope for liberation for the Palestinians, much less for class struggle for the working-class of the region as a whole.
Is it not therefore our responsibility as revolutionaries who believe that we have a programme that can deliver meaningful - working-class, internationalist - solidarity to the Palestinians to intervene on those demos not to simply swim along with the tide of those reactionary politics but to cut clearly against them and to attempt to relate to young people radicalised by this war and persuade them of our ideas?
We don't go on demos to make up the numbers. We go on (and organise, and build for) demos in order to use the politicised, radicalising atmosphere they create to talk to people about revolutionary socialist ideas.
If this is "parasitic" for you, then I think we have very different understandings of English words.
Well, the demo in Middlesbrough certainly wasn't dominated by politics that were reactionary or Islamist. It was, admittedly, predominantly religious in character -- mainly Muslims (called out by the local mosques) and also Christians (from the local churches) -- with a minority of socialists, trade union and peace activists, but by no means "Islamist". I don't know how representative this was of the country as a whole, but I imagine it can't have been too disimilar. As Dave Osler suggested on another thread, "religiously conservative" does not necessarily mean "Islamist", "clerical-fascist" or even "reactionary".
It is important to intervene in such movements and push a secular, socialist, 2-states agenda, which is why Workers Liberty's presence is important and its actions largely honourable. Lots of AWL material was in circulation at the Middlesbrough demo and I'm sure it was the same elsewhere around the country. What happened in Sheffield with the tearing up of the banner was a disgrace.
But penderyn2000 has a point. Elements within the AWL have hardly covered themselves in glory during the Gaza crisis.
Before any reports had even emerged about what happened in Sheffield, Sacha Ismail had already condemned Hannah Sell for allegedly proclaiming that Hamas' rocket attacks on Israel were "a failed tactic - they've only killed a tiny number of people". Now I don't believe for one second that this garbled, selective account is an accurate, true or even representative account of what Sell was getting at, but I do think this kind of misdirected self-righteous anger is representative of a trend within AWL which is itself reactionary. If the SP's previous record is anything to go by, more likely Sell was trying to make two seperate points about a) the futility and counterproductivity of individual acts of terrorism and b) the hugely disproportionate death toll resulting from Hamas terrorism and the state terrorism of Israel. Anyone with any basic knowledge of the SP's position would've known this, even if they were momentarily startled by how badly it was expressed, but to come away from a Gaza demo furious over something an SP speaker apparently said (and what they didn't say) isn't a great advert from the priorities of AWL comrades.
And then there's Matgamna, who is fast becoming a parody of himself, announcing in an article which makes some otherwise decent points that slogans or themes such as "stop the slaughter in Gaza" are tantamount to support for Hamas and Hamas's rocket-war on Israel, unless accompanied by "demands that Hamas stop its war". A truly astonishing statement which places most of the world in the "pro-Hamas" camp, including much of the Israeli anti-war movement (and probably some AWLers too), whose primary focus has been to condemn the war-mongering of the Israeli government, not Hamas. To say that Matgamna'a logic is one of 2+2=5 is an understatement; more like 2+2=50000. Richard Littlejohn really would be proud. But this seems to be typical of some within Workers Liberty whose zest for denouncing somebody/anybody/everybody as reactionaries is almost unlimited.