By Bruce Robinson
'Victory to the Intifada', a campaign dominated by the Revolutionary Communist Group, has held a picket outside Marks & Spencer in Manchester for more than three years calling for a boycott of the store and more generally of Israeli goods. The picket has recently come under attack from two directions.
Marks & Spencer management are reported by the Manchester Evening News to be seeking Anti-Social Behaviour Orders against pickets. Anyone breaching such an order, which can bar individuals from entering specified areas, can be jailed for up to five years. To get these orders, they need the active support of the police or council.
The council has been actively seeking to remove political stalls and pickets from the city centre for some time and the use of ASBOs - only used once before against protesters - would mark an important further step towards the illegalisation of peaceful political protests on the streets.
Since July, the picket has also been the object of counter-demonstrations and, on occasion, attack by right-wing opponents organised by the British wing of Israel's ruling Likud Party, who wish to pose as defenders of the Jewish community. Their aim may be to get the police to take action by causing a major disruption around the picket.
The left should defend free speech and the freedom to picket peacefully. However, the AWL cannot positively respond to VTI's call to everyone opposed to these developments to take part in the picket, which is focused, not on the issue of free speech or even generalised solidarity with the Palestinians, but rather on the 'Boycott Israeli Goods' campaign and the politics of the RCG.
Leave aside general issues over the effectiveness and desirability of boycotts. Bigger problems are indicated by the fact that the leaflets handed out by the picket have to claim explicitly that Marks & Spencer is not being picketed because it is a Jewish-owned shop. The perception that this might be the case is not surprising in a city with a large Jewish community, given the history of the use of such boycott calls by the Nazis and others. It is bolstered by the fact that 'Boycott Israeli Goods' calls can be found on fascist and Islamist websites and that, in some areas, it has been the Islamists who have organised similar pickets to the RCG's.
The problems extend to the explicit politics of those calling the picket. The RCG is outspoken in its support of a single state replacing Israel instead of creating a Palestinian state alongside it, chanting on demos the chauvinist slogan 'Palestine must be free, from the river to the sea'. This cannot serve to build a broad campaign in support of the Palestinians.
The left should not fall in behind the RCG's politics.