The logic of absolute anti-Zionism played itself out on the streets of Glasgow during last Saturday’s Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) demonstration.
For absolute anti-Zionism, Zionism is not just another nationalism. On the contrary, it is a monolithic and uniquely evil ideology, pro-imperialist by nature, inherently racist (if not outright fascist), and necessarily genocidal.
By the same token, Israel is not the expression of Hebrew-Jewish national self-determination. Instead, it is the product of ethnic cleansing, a settler state which is inherently expansionist, and an apartheid state incapable of reform. As such, it has no right to exist.
In previous years this absolute anti-Zionism has resulted in demands that Student Unions refuse to fund Jewish Societies which fail to disavow Zionism (because Student Union funds should not to be used to fund racist organisations).
More recently it has resulted in a campaign of boycott, disinvestment and sanctions directed at Israel, including a boycott of the Israeli trade union movement by some British trade unions (by analogy, albeit a misplaced one, with the boycott of apartheid South Africa).
Last Saturday the focus of this absolute anti-Zionism was the participation of members of Glasgow Friends of Israel and the Confederation of Friends of Israel (Scotland) on the SUTR demonstration.
The two Friends of Israel (FoI) groups defend not just Israel’s right to exist but also the policies pursued by its governments. They vaguely advocate peace between Israel and Palestinians, but that is no more than a sub-text to their overall politics.
It seems that all their members are Jewish (or at least the vast majority are). Like most Jews, they are Zionists and they support Israel.
For absolute anti-Zionists, it was therefore a matter of principle that they should have no place on an anti-racist demonstration, not even one which included condemnation of antisemitism amongst its slogans: they were Zionists, and pro-Israel.
In the weeks leading up to the demonstration there was a concerted campaign to push the demonstration organisers into banning the FoI groups from marching on the demonstration.
This was the demand of, among others, the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, the Muslim Council of Scotland (MCS), the Communist Party of Britain (Scottish Committee), the Association of Palestinian Communities in Scotland, and eight “Scottish Jewish anti-racists”.
From further afield SUTR was lobbied by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (signatories to its open letter included Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker and Moshe Machover), Brighton and Hove PSC, Sheffield PSC, York PSC, and Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods.
SUTR is Scotland is dominated by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Logically, given their own position on Israel and Zionism, the SWP should have backed the ban on participation by the FoI groups.
But the SWP’s own absolute anti-Zionism, like all other aspects of its nominal politics, is overshadowed by its shameless opportunism.
Backing a ban on participation by the FoI groups could have cost it allies in the ‘broad coalition’ which the SUTR supposedly consists of (i.e. paper sponsorship by a lot of trade unions) and opened it to accusations of antisemitism.
Thus, when the SUTR Steering Committee met a week before the demonstration only SNP MSP Sandra White backed the demand for a ban on participation by the FoI groups. (Sandra has form on this kind of thing.)
The various organisations which had been calling for a ban subsequently announced that they would be boycotting the SUTR demonstration. As the Scottish PSC put it, in its own inimitable language:
“Throughout the world an Israeli flag is seen as a symbol of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people and the genocidal siege of the people of Gaza. Flying such a symbol of apartheid on a demonstration makes it impossible for most Palestinians and Lebanese, as well as many Scots to participate.”
“Yet SUTR turns a deaf ear to all these concerns and seems determined to turn the march tomorrow into a dark farce by excluding Palestinians and their supporters (for how can we betray our principles of consistent anti-racism by marching alongside those who would ‘euthanise’ Palestinians?”
(The ‘principled’ ‘anti-racist’ decision of the MCS to join the boycott was marred only slightly by the fact that at the very same time its vice-convenor was attending an international conference in Beirut at which the virulent antisemite Gilad Atzmon received an award for his services to the Global Campaign to Return to Palestine.)
As demonstrators began to turn up for last Saturday’s SUTR demonstration members of the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG) turned up with their own sound system.
While SUTR stewards (mostly members of the SWP) looked on passively, the RCG speaker declared:
“Zionism is militant racism. It is a complete fabrication that Zionism is not racism and Israel is not a racist state, committing genocide in Gaza. By ten votes to one SUTR voted last weekend to open the door to the Zionists to march today. But the Zionists will not be allowed to march today.”
The RCG speaker did not have a lot of time for Jeremy Corbyn either: “Jeremy Corbyn met with the Zionists, with the Labour Friends of Israel, and said that he admired the Israeli state.” Diane Abbott too was denounced in similar terms by the RCG speaker.
An RCG leaflet, headed “The Zionists Shall Not Pass” (a variation of a Stalinist anti-fascist slogan from the Spanish Civil War) likewise argued:
“Zionism is a racist ideology which serves to defend the Israeli colonial-settler state against the Palestinian people. … We stand here today to say: Not In Our Name! The Zionists Shall Not Pass! Free Palestine! Boycott Israel!”
When the FoI groups arrived, they were hemmed in against a wall by members of the RCG, the Scottish PSC (who turned up despite their call for a boycott), the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), the Red Front Republic, Class War, and miscellaneous other ‘Palestine activists’.
The stewards did nothing. They did nothing to ensure that the FoI groups who had not been banned from attending the demonstration were allowed to take part in it. They did the opposite. Twenty minutes early, the demonstration set off, leaving the FoI groups kettled in by ‘anti-Zionists’.
Eventually, the cluster of members of the FoI groups (about 25 strong) and their opponents (whose numbers fluctuated between around 60 and 90 in the course of the morning) set off, following the same route as the SUTR demonstration.
Chants from the latter included: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”, “Boycott Israel”, “From Glasgow to Gaza – Victory to the Intifada!”, “1, 2, 3, 4 – Occupation no more; 5, 6, 7, 8 – Israel is a racist state.”
The FoI contingent was repeatedly blocked from advancing by the various brands of ‘Palestine solidarity’. By this time the SUTR stewards, who might have been expected to ensure that the agreed right of the FoI groups to join the demonstration was implemented, were nowhere to be seen.
The repeated blockages and delays meant that a demonstration route normally covered in less than half an hour took nearly two hours to cover. By the time George Square had been reached, the SUTR post-demonstration rally which had been taking there had already finished.
Speeches at the SUTR post-demonstration rally – nominally being held against antisemitism and other forms of racism – were peppered with exactly the same denunciations of Israel and Zionism as those of the RCG.
The only difference was that they were followed by the words: But that is no reason to boycott today’s event. And one speaker even generously promised: “Jews who do not fully share our opinions will be protected against antisemitism.”
But protecting Jews against antisemitism requires an understanding of how contemporary antisemitism manifests and expresses itself. That was certainly on display in Glasgow last Saturday. But instead of opposing it, SUTR colluded in it.