Solidarity 3/6, 30 April 2002.
I attended a picket on Saturday 27 April outside the Israeli embassy in High Street Kensington. My previous experience of pickets there had been primarily of ones organised bv the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, but supported by other organisations who also take a two state position on the Middle East conflict. I was somewhat shocked by some of the things I saw and heard on this picket.
I arrived to see about 50 or 60 people, mainly from the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and the SWP, although there was also a Workers' Power stall at the back.
I was the only person there selling literature arguing for a two state position. I therefore expected some of the comments I received such as "I don't know how you can sell that ' and accusations of being racist. However I was surprised by the strength of anti-Jewish feeling: loud chants of "5,6,7,8, we want no Israeli state" and mutterings of "death to the Jews".
There was a man next to me (he had nothing to show he was from any organisation) who was selling "intifada scarfs". I had been there about half an hour when a woman from the SWP asked me if I would like to buy a scarf. I said simply, "no thank you". I began looking around and saw that the majority of the women on the picket had their heads covered. I thought little of this as I expected there to be a lot of British and Palestinian muslim women on the picket. However, many other women who did not appear to be muslim and who appeared to be members of the SWP also had their heads covered, with the "intifada scarf".
The SWP woman I had spoken to earlier then said to me, 'Don't you think you should at least cover your head as a mark of respect, this is a mainly Muslim protest?". I was too shocked to give much of an intelligent reply, and it was only a little while later that I left.
I do not want to make sweeping generalisations about the protesters present. I saw female Workers' Power members who didn't have their heads covered and have no idea if anything was ever said to them. Not every woman there had their head covered, and I cannot say that it was a uniform decision for those that did.
I can say that I spoke to a number of Palestinian women who listened and debated with me even if they didn't agree. I wasn't called "racist" by any of them, or asked why I didn't have a intifada scarf or my head covered. They seemed to want my solidarity. It was only this that made me feel in any way comfortable at the picket.
One last point: I found it very ironic that at the same picket people can shout "no Israeli state" and ask people to sign a petition against Le Pen as a fascist, in part for his anti-semitic views.