Debate: Glasgow, Zionists and racism

Submitted by AWL on 27 March, 2019 - 8:42

The UN anti-racism demonstration in Glasgow this year, as last year, faced a counter-demonstration by would-be left groups which refused to join it unless the Glasgow Friends of Israel were excluded from the march.

The pro-Israel group was about the same size as last year, 20-odd people. It carried no Israeli flags. It is unclear whether that was unintentional or by design. One argument last year was: they wave Israeli flags; Israel is a racist state; therefore, they should not be on the demo.

The “anti-Zionist” protest against the anti-racist demonstration was bigger than last year. It was the Revolutionary Communist Group, and others. They had the Fire Brigades Union Scottish Region banner with them, and a banner calling on people to lobby the Labour Party National Executive to oppose the International Holocaust Remembrance Association definition of antisemitism. There was no sympathy for the protest from people on the anti-racist demonstration, organised by “Stand Up To Racism”.

The “anti-Zionists” chanted while an imam recited prayers for the people killed in Christchurch. That did not go down well. They chanted “shame on you” as the demonstration set off. Last year the “anti-Zionists” were able to kettle the pro-Israel group and prevent them from physically being part of the demonstration. Glasgow Friends of Israel followed the same route but were never able to catch up with the demonstration. This year there were several hundred police, including mounted police. The pro-Israel group went on the demonstration (albeit at the end). The “anti-Zionist” group was blocked off from the demonstration by police. However, the “anti-Zionists” had decided not to take part in the demonstration anyway.

Ann Field

The Scottish committee of the Communist Party of Britain published a statement saying that it had decided “not to participate for the second year running in this year’s Stand Up To Racism Scotland event.

“This is due to the involvement of the Glasgow Friends of Israel which is affiliated to the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland.No evidence has been supplied that, like the network of Friends of Israel organisations across Britain, Glasgow Friends of Israel is not funded by the Israeli government.

“Glasgow Friends of Israel has made no statement condemning Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank, the building of the illegal wall or the establishment of new settlements as condemned by the United Nations... [etc.]

“If the Glasgow Friends of Israel was to make such statements, the Communist Party would have no objection to its presence on an anti-racist march. Our party supports the position of the United Nations for the resolution of the current conflict whereby a Palestinian state should exist within the pre-1967 boundaries, with its capital in East Jerusalem, beside the state of Israel”.

To me the issue’s pretty simple really. If the Glasgow Friends of Israel are a left/liberal group which supports an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories and discriminatory laws against Arab Israelis and economic, social and political links and co-operation between the two communities there, there should be no problem with them being on an anti-racism march, and the CPB, SWP and RCG should be opposed in trying to exclude them from it. But if they’re a right-wing group which doesn’t oppose those things, there should be a problem, even if our reasons are different from some of the others opposing their presence. I wouldn’t characterise the opposition to them on the part of anyone (including the CPB and RCG) as being because the group is Jewish — I presume that they wouldn’t have a problem with an anti-Zionist Jewish group attending. For most of the left, the problem is obviously that they’re Zionists, but for us it should be that they’re a pro-Israeli government, right-wing and anti-Arab racist outfit.

Tom Matthews

When the issue of the academic boycott first kicked off in the university lecturers’ union, as it then was, the late Norman Geras used the following analogy. You wander down a street of shops. The shopkeepers are all “at it”. They’re selling damaged goods. They’re selling goods past their sell-by date. They’re artificially inflating prices. They’re short-changing their customers. Outside one of the shops, and only one of the shops, there is a regular picket protesting about damaged goods, inflated prices, etc., etc. It is the one shop in the street owned by a Jew. That Jewish shopkeeper is certainly just as guilty as the rest. But why is his shop the only one being targeted for protests? I’m reminded of that analogy here.

Tom Matthews writes: “I wouldn’t characterise the opposition to them on the part of anyone (including the CPB and RCG) as being because the group is Jewish — I presume that they wouldn’t have a problem with an anti-Zionist Jewish group attending” (the latter criterion would, of course, exclude most Jews from participation in the demonstration: Jews welcome — provided that you’re not Zionists).

Another contributor wrote: “Disagreeing with barring them doesn’t mean we wouldn’t politically challenge them on the day, raise slogans at the demo against their reactionary politics, etc., etc.” No suggestion there about “raising slogans against the reactionary politics” of the various groups who wanted to keep Glasgow Friends of Israel off the march. Or the groups who physically backed the “anti-Zionist” bloc but had not added their names to its statement. Or groups whose anti-racism manifests itself in saying that the Hebrew-Jewish nation has no right to national self-determination. Or the STUC and affiliated unions (also represented on the demonstration) who have a policy of boycotting Israel, and, in the case of Unite, even boycott the Histadrut.

The 25 or 30 people on the Glasgow Friends of Israel contingent carried either no placards, or Stand Up To Racism placards, or placards saying “Antisemitism is Racism”, or, in one case, “Antizionism is Racism”. You could quibble or debate with the wording, but not the general point being made. They did not chant anything (they did not chant anything last year either.) By contrast, the “anti-Zionist” bloc which demanded the exclusion of Glasgow Friends of Israel from the march, and refused to join the march when they were not excluded, was chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. If they had participated in the demonstration, and they would not have been prevented from doing so if they had chosen to do so, they would have been chanting that on the demonstration itself.

People who carry Stalin banners on demonstrations or chant in support of Hamas and Hizbollah probably genuinely think that they are supporting the oppressed. Glasgow Friends of Israel also probably genuinely think that they are supporting the oppressed (Israel threatened with destruction, boycotts against Israel, growth of antisemitism, etc.). Using that as a criterion of what is excusable is therefore a non-starter. When did anyone ever justify their politics on the basis of saying: “I’m here to support the oppressor”?

Ann Field

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