The story in photos by Camila Bassi.
The banner is disagreeable to members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and the SWP, so it is soon blocked in an attempt to homogenise the ‘politics’ of the rally, i.e. to silence the demand “Two Nations, Two States”.
Members of Permanent Revolution gather around my younger comrades shouting that they are disgusting equivalents to scabs in the Miners’ Strike. Two members of the PSC grab the placard and proceed to rip it up, stamping on its remnants. They also attempt to take my camera. With the SWP on the loud hailer encouraging the action, the majority of the rally starts clapping, and it is declared that Hamas are the democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people and that we are not welcome. The speech after is taken by a leading member of the Socialist Party, who says nothing of the action.
I collect the pieces of the placard, and we stay for the remainder of the rally and march. A small number of brave, politically sympathetic people approach us to state their distress. These people seem to have no trouble understanding that political solidarity with the Palestinian people should not equate to political solidarity with Hamas.
Actually Louise isn't a student, she's a worker. Never mind the facts though...
- Stuart equated the Sheffield AWL comrades to scabs in the Miners Strike and stated that he would be the one the following week to tear up the placard.
- Stuart said that the placard's destruction was fully justified, he was pleased by the action and it was equivalent to socialists tearing up BNP placards.
- Please do not retrospectively pretend that Permanent Revolution were against the censoring of our politics, because actually you collectively played a complicit role. Stuart behaved in an outrageous, testosterone-charged manner. Alison H, you should have brought him into line.
- People did argue in a heated and passionate way on Saturday, but I'm afraid to say that Stuart lost it in openly supporting the placard's destruction, in openly supporting political censorship.
Yes, the point of the placard is to "raise arguments"; we want people to ask us why we are the only voice in the Palestine solidarity movement who appears capable of combining opposition to the Israeli state with opposition to Hamas. We want people to ask us why we think this is important. We want people to ask us why we, unlike many people on the demos, don't hold up placards equating Israel to apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany. Yes - we want to "raise these arguments" because they are the means by which we can convicne people that meaningful solidarity with the Palestinians can only be made on the basis of working-class internationalism, and not on the basis of vicarious pro-Islamism. As for the email addresses... well, it's nice to keep in touch with people you meet on demos who're politically interested in your ideas, isn't it? Don't PR produce literature, make placards, etc. in order to attract people to their politics?
The "arguments" we wanted to have were ones we expected to end either in the other person saying "you're wrong" and walking off, or in them saying "yeah, you've got a point; let's keep in touch." That's rather different from Belboid's conception of an "argument", which seems to involve being screamed at for "scabbing", told to leave the demonstration immediately and having your placard ripped up.
Every slogan is necessarily a broad-brush stroke and can't express an entire programme. That's why we had leaflets. Was the slogan the best in the world? Perhaps not. Was it politically wrong, and did it amount to "equating" the two forces? Certainly not, as I've explained at length elsewhere. Even notwithstanding all of this, though - the simple reality remains that anyone who defends what happened is inescapably implying that they believe support for Hamas (or at least refusal to criticise them without first deferring to their "courage", as PR's leaflets did) should be a prerequisite for even attending the demonstrations.
Is this kind of movement - one where dissent, discussion and "arguments" are not tolerated - really going to be capable of delivering any meaningful solidarity for the Palestinian people?
You think it's "trivial" that an atmosphere is being created in the Palestine solidarity movement where no dissent is tolerated; we don't.
Guess we'll just have to part ways, eh?
PS: Your "prolier than thou" posturing is fucking pathetic, by the way. Of the eight AWL people on last Saturday's Gaza demo, only two were students and one of the students (myself, as it happens) is also an active trade unionist.
PPS: You have, on another thread, refered to us as "bigots" and "parasites". You are also, let's remember, engaged in this debate to defend an attack on free speech in the Palestine solidarity movement. So you are not, I don't think, in any position to moan about it when we "chair" comments on our website as we would chair them in a meeting.
- even if the AWL comrades were students (which Dan has explained they arent) but if they were would older "wiser" workers have the right to tell them to shut up and silence there opinions? Do we think this is healthy? Is this the way we build a movement and real solidarity? In the "real" world of workers are there no principles for socialists or ways we treat others who disagree.
- Do you think it was right or wrong what happened. Should we be banned (or self censor for fear of it)
- You say the placard Camilla shows is not the offensive one (but then say well it is but she showed the other side of it) Well its a two sided placard, they ripped it up. It said solidarity with Women, Workers and the left, No to IDF, No to Hamas.. thats the 2-sided placard they ripped up. I don't get how this is evidence of falsification as you say. Because you don't seem to say its false, just that its two sided placard, and you think we shouldnt be showing both sides, just the the bit object to? Is that because the full picture undermines the view you appear to be defending
- You say the AWL have not attended all demos as Caroline says? Well that is possible. I am sure comrades in Newcastle may say i had no right to propose a motion opposing Israeli assault and also opposing Hamas, as i wasnt at a demo in Newcastle a few weeks back (i was on London demo) or this Saturday (i am in Manchester). I don;t know how many protests there have been in Sheffield, or elsewhere. AWL as a small group are taking part in the protests, are opposing the attack on Gaza! If we have missed a protest, presumably you never have! But what is your point! "Look they are liers because on wed 12th nov in 2003 they didnt turn up to a protest", or even if it was last thursday? What does this prove?
- And you again say its irrevelant that someone ripped up our placard, that you think we shouldn't have, and that others cheered or encouraged?
- Lastly the atmosphere. On a coach to london from manchester a leading SWP who didnt know me on a coach where i only knew one other person, tried to turn the whole coach against me for handing out a leaflet with our political position explained. No he didnt read it. He knew what we thought, we were zionists and did not support the palestinians, we were racists as we supported the right of israel to exist and all israelis are racist, after this others gave the leaflets back without reading them - whipped up into thinking i was supporting israel (presumably a plant on the coach?). It took an hour of being attacked by people who didnt read my leaflet or know anything about me politically to convince others that i wasn't supporting israel and wasnt a racist, but eventually most people in the section of the coach agreed that i was welcome on the demo, that two states was a valid position (they didnt all agree but i was told that the discussion had made people think)
- On leaving the coach i was told by 2 leading SWPers that i had to no right to an opinion, that we should be with Hamas because that was the role of socialists and my view was not welcome. These organised socialists would not discuss to me, the young women on the coach not in left groups were more willing to discuss and more welcoming of difference in opinion. I think this is evidence that there are people in this movement in this case SWP trying to prevent dissent, I was shouted at so i would shut up! They lied about me so people wouldnt read our leaflets. Fortunately I did not shut up. We should not shut up, it wouldnt help the left, workers, or the palestinians and israelis in achieving a just solution.
... for a shot of the other side of the placard. "No to IDF, No to Hamas". And why weren't there more shots by me of the other side of the placard, because shortly after it was ripped up. A few shots of the ripped fragments though.
...The recent bombing campaign in Gaza was grossly and inhumanely disproportionate. No one is disputing that the Israeli state military has inflicted far greater damage and a far, far larger number of deaths than Hamas. But what is the hypothetical consequence of militarily supporting the so-called 'resistance' in this recent conflict, i.e. Hamas? Is it hypothetically wishing that Hamas could get its hands on bigger bombs so it could kill loads more Israelis? What would Hamas do if it (again hypothetically) got it hands on a nuclear bomb? It would wipe Israel off the face of the earth.
Opposing the IDF and opposing Hamas DOES NOT mean putting an equal sign between them. What it does mean is assessing the POLITICS on all sides flowing from this war and ongoing siege.
The recent, brutal bombing campaign by Israel on Gaza represented a mini colonial war, and is part of prolonged siege. Gaza is an “open air prison”. It forms part of long term attack on the Occupied Territories (for example, it’s carving up into bantustans so as to deny Palestinians any kind of effective, meaningful nation-state). Israel is a sub-imperialist power (btw so is Iran). Kadmina/Labor (in run up to elections likely to be won by Likud) were demonstrating their toughness, and sought revenge for the 2006 defeat.
Solidarity with the Palestinian people must NOT mean solidarity with Hamas. Hamas is not in favour of a democratic two-state settlement, it is against the existence of Israel. It is an enemy to the democratic rights of workers, women, LGBT people, religious and national minorities, secular and ex-Muslims. When Palestinian workers have striked, Hamas has suppressed them. When Palestinian women have refused to wear the hijab, Hamas has suppressed them. That Hamas was democratically elected is no more reason for us to support Hamas, than the corrupt, ineffective Fatah, or any reactionary ruling government for that matter. Both the Israeli ruling class and military wing and Hamas must be condemned politically.
The only democratic resolution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict long-term is a two-state settlement – an independent Palestinian state in areas where the Palestinians are the majority, Gaza, West Bank, East Jerusalem. This means immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlements and the dismantlement of the checkpoints. A future Palestinian state must be fully independent, not a series of bantustans; with international reparations from Israel and aid from EU, US etc. A two-state settlement contravenes PSC's and large sections of the organised left's call for one democratic secular state of Palestine. One cannot go back in history and undo parts of it one doesn't like. In 1948 an Israeli nation-state was formed. Palestinians were concurrently denied a nation-state of their own. Then and now in 2009, Israel is a fait accompli. Justice for the Palestinians, something I would desperately like to see, cannot mean the dissolution of Israel.
"Robin - if you want to put such a slogan on a placard to show your disgust with both sides in a way that is justified by the level of violence each side has shown, how about just using font sizes related to the number of 'civilian' dead on both sides? Using the Israeli state figures, that would mean that 'No to Hamas' should be roughly 0.5% the size of the 'No To IDF.'"
Which is why the cutting edge of our campaigning has been against Israel's war - why, for instance, our posters are dominated by "Israel out of Gaza and the West Bank"; why the Sheffield comrades made a big banner saying "Israel out of the Occupied Territories"; and why the meeings we have organised have been pitched as anti-war meetings in solidarity with the Palestinians, not simply 'peace' meetings.
On "equivalance", there are two sides to this question. One is that Israel is the occupying, colonial power, inflicting a casualty rate of more than 100:1 on the Palestinians (hence the paragraph above). The other is that Hamas, if they were strong enough, would undoubtedly do worse to the Israelis, as a number of comrades have pointed out. In the circumstances, the first consideration is more important, but the second should not be forgotten either.
Lastly: what is incredible about the arguments of the PR members is not that they vehemently disagree with our slogan, but that they think it was acceptable to suppress it through force (or at least that we should not be defended). On the 17 January Trafalgar Square rally, there were a number of people walking around with "Israel = Nazism" type placards. No one much seemed to be taking them up on it, let alone ripping their placards out of their hands. Yet the words "No to Hamas", alongside anti-war slogans including "No to the IDF" immediately above, were apparently so outrageous that they made it acceptable to destroy our placard. Comrades should consider not just the political issues in dispute, but what this stance says about their basic commitment, as communists, to democracy and freedom of speech.
Luckily not all 'one state' comrades, and not all PR comrades, are taking this unbelievable position.
“An open letter to Sheffield’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Left and socialists committed to Palestinian solidarity” by Sheffield AWL Branch
The AWL is a socialist organisation which is completely opposed to the ongoing siege on Gaza. The recent, brutal bombing campaign by Israel on Gaza represented a mini colonial war, and is part of this prolonged siege. Gaza is an “open air prison”. It forms part of long term attacks on the Occupied Territories (for example, it’s carving up into bantustans so as to deny Palestinians any kind of effective, meaningful nation-state). Kadima and Labor (in the run up to elections against their main rival Likud) were demonstrating their toughness, and sought revenge for the 2006 defeat. This was done in a grossly disproportionate, inhumane war. We are for solidarity with the Palestinian people, and for full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. We support a viable and consistent democratic solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict which in our view means an independent Palestinian State alongside Israel (and with the same rights as Israel). This political position is highly unpopular with some on the British left. Groups such as the SWP advocate a different political perspective and are opposed to the continued existence of Israel. Within the wider Palestinian solidarity movement and within the labour movement there are many varied political perspectives on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We support the view that debate and discussion of these differences is a necessary part of our solidarity work. We also consider it important to highlight the struggles that do take place of working class organisations in both Israel and within the Occupied Territories. We support those in Israel who oppose the actions of the Israeli state, for example, the Refuseniks and the anti-war movement.
We believe our main job at present is to make solidarity with the Palestinians against the Israeli siege. We also believe that solidarity with the Palestinians should not mean solidarity with their Hamas leaders. Hamas rejects a democratic solution on the lines set out above. Their goal, instead, is to destroy Israel and deny the Israelis national rights. Hamas is an Arab chauvinist, Islamist chauvinist, anti-Semitic movement. Hamas are part of an extreme rightwing movement that has played a highly reactionary role throughout the Muslim world, threatening the democratic rights of workers' movements, women, gay people, secular and ex-Muslims, national and religious minorities and others. We believe that to support them, or fail to criticise them, is a betrayal of the Palestinian workers whose strikes they have suppressed; the Palestinian women they have attacked for refusing to put on the hijab, and so on. That is why we included our opposition to Hamas on the placard that was ripped up at the demonstration outside the Sheffield Town Hall on Saturday 17th January 2009. There was no intention to imply any sense of proportionality in the Israeli government's brutal bombardment of Gaza. It was simply to make clear that we continue to criticise Hamas.
There must be no political censorship of the Left by the Left on demonstrations.
We realise that many people will not share our political perspective. There are also many who do have sympathy both with our 'two states' position and our opposition to Hamas. We brought placards and a banner which demonstrate our solidarity with the Palestinians and our opposition to Hamas. We did not in any way disrupt, or attempt to disrupt, the demonstration which we were there to participate in. We do however feel obliged as socialists to be true to our political perspective and raise criticisms even if they are unpopular. We accept that not everyone will agree with everything we say just as we do not agree with the politics of all the other placards present. We are not opportunists that simply and crudely desire to stand apart from the crowd - we are committed to our politics, and will (if necessary) bravely enter a politically hostile milieu uncompromised in our politics.
Members of the AWL have been involved in demonstrations and actions for years and never have we experienced what took place on Saturday 17th January 2009 in Sheffield. A placard which read "No to the IDF. No to Hamas" was forcibly removed from a young woman's hands and torn up and stamped on in front of the crowd, a majority of whom cheered and clapped (including members of the Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the SWP and Permanent Revolution, who are all very hostile to any 'two states' position). This is a disturbing level of intolerance and censorship. Some argued disingenuously that we were equating the two, but it was very clear to anyone who chose to speak to us or read our literature that, we oppose the two for critically important political reasons but in no way consider the two equal. We hope that activists in Sheffield will take a serious look at this incident. This is no way to deal with political disagreements amongst us. This kind of censorship and the intolerance it breeds is unacceptable. We are not asking you to agree with our political perspective but we are asking you to support our right to raise criticism of Hamas on demonstrations. This is a basic democratic principle and we would uphold it for others. Already one anonymous posting on Indymedia has said we were "lucky not to be beaten up" and another, they would join in "chasing us off". Someone claiming to be a member of Sheffield's Palestine Solidarity Campaign called "Steve" has written: "maybe simply ripping down and stamping on their banner is not going far enough. Maybe they need a stronger disincentive, preferably undertaken away from the glare of those on the demo where so they can't go bleating on about their 'rights'. This wouldn't have to necessarily be violent." This needs to stop now.
We are for solidarity with the Palestinians and will continue to participate in actions and demonstrations in Sheffield and elsewhere.