Palestine Solidarity Conference 2017 — The Carthorse Continues on its Leisurely Pace
Conference Strongly Critical of Lethargy Over Anti-Semitism Campaign but Executive Survives with Union Block Vote
I’ve often thought that Lowes cartoon description of the TUC as a lumbering carthorse was also a good description of PSC Executive. Its inability to react in a crisis, to map out a strategy or indeed do anything other than sloganise perfectly exemplifies Lowes slow-witted animal.
For example PSC Exec. continues to describe the Zionists’ anti-Semitism campaign as being directed at the Right to Protest. It is not, or this is not its main purpose, which is to attack politically the Palestine solidarity and anti-Zionist movement by making certain criticisms of Israel, as a Jewish state, beyond accepted bourgeois discourse. E.g. the decision of the Home Affairs Select Committee [HASC] to recommend the criminalisation of certain discourse i.e. abusive or accusatory uses of the word ‘Zionism’ seem a case in point. The equating of anti-Zionism i.e. opposition to Israel as a Jewish state with a ‘hate crime’ is not an attack on the right to protest so much as an attack on freedom of speech. PSC though seems incapable of reacting politically to political attacks on the movement.
The HASC’s recommendation was that ‘For the purposes of criminal or disciplinary investigations, use of the words ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zio’ in an accusatory or abusive context should be considered inflammatory and potentially antisemitic.’ This has nothing to do with the ‘right to protest’ but is a direct political attack on those would critique Zionism. The political blinkers and caution of PSC Executive dictate that everything has to be filtered through its own political myopia.
PSC Conference is notoriously reluctant to censure the Executive for two main reasons — firstly the Executive can rely on ‘block votes’ from trade union affiliates who possess 3 votes in addition to a personal vote. Secondly because activists, especially from northern branches, find it difficult and expensive to get to a London conference starting 10 am in the morning. Most delegates therefore come from London and the South-East. For many delegates, attending PSC Conference is their main activity of the year.
Nonetheless the Executive came under heavy criticism for having done virtually nothing during the year to stand up to the false anti-Semitism campaign mounted by the Israeli Embassy and its surrogates in this country, Labour Friends of Israel and Jewish Labour Movement. The Zionist organisations have been invigorated by a large chunk of the $50m dollars allocated to them by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.
As the third in the series of 4 programmes by Al Jazeera showed, Labour Friends of Israel received over £1m for freebies and trips by Labour MPs to Israel. It does not cost £1m to send a group of Labour MPs over to Israel and it must be assumed that Joan Ryan MP has other plans afoot.
PSC Executive in the form of Ben Soffa, the National Secretary, admitted to having done nothing all year. The first time they reacted was when they managed to get a question and answer sheet together on why supporting Palestine was not anti-Semitic. That was in May 2016, a cool 5 months after the fake anti-Semitism campaign had begun with Oxford University Labour Club. In fact it had started much earlier when Corbyn himself was accused of associating with holocaust deniers. Yet despite the pathetic nature of PSC Executive’s response, the crucial motion on this was defeated by 89–112 votes.
The vote on abandoning support for a 2 States Solution in Palestine was lost by about 2–1 and the call for a more thorough going Review of PSC’s multiple failures during the year by a similar margin. Although we lost the vote it was clear we won the debate. No one could answer the simple question, how can we support a 2 State solution which 2/3 Palestinians have lost faith in? How can we support a ‘solution’ that every Zionist organisation in this country purports to support? The political incoherence of PSC is staggering. It is addicted to settlements to the exclusion of everything else.
The same old stale argument that it is up to the Palestinians to decide what solution they want was trotted out. In fact the motion didn’t call for a 1 State solution but it did call for the explicit abandonment of a 2 State Solution. Today only the Quisling Palestine Authority, which is a sub-contractor to the Israeli state, supports 2 states. The reason why we should be quite clear is that people ask us what we would like to see. If PSC Executive have their way we will answer that we don’t know or have no answer or tell people to ask the nearest Palestinian they can find.
I stood for election and received a surprisingly high 130 votes but was not elected. No doubt to the relief of the current Executive who wish to continue a life of indolence and inactivity for another year. However there were a couple of people elected who did seem good, in particular Jenny from Halifax Friends of Palestine. However PSC this year has demonstrated all its political and organisational failures in its inability to make any impression at all on the Zionist offensive.
PSC is in the hands of what might be called the political remnants of the old International Marxist Group — in particular Socialist Action, a group which operates beneath the political radar and another group Communist League, which again publishes nothing. I have no problem with people belonging to either organisation but when their political perspectives affect the direction of PSC and lead to the organisation become hopelessly ineffective then it is a matter of concern.
PSC has some excellent branches, one of which — Brighton and Hove — I belong to. But the national organisation is less than the sum of its parts. The Executive is out of touch and for the most part inactive. The new Director Ben Jamal does show signs of trying to get the organisation to overthrow its old political habits and I wish him success but I am pessimistic that he will manage to achieve this.
When Al Jazeera brought out a series of programmes ‘The Lobby’ on the dirty tricks of the Zionist groups, PSC even managed to fluff its response to that. PSC put up a petition calling for an inquiry on its web site. I told Ben to put it on either change.org or the Parliament web site as that way it could have an impact. A real campaign could have been mounted to get 100,000 votes and the possibility of a debate. In fact a petition to that effect has been put on Parliament’s web site by others.
By way of compensation there were two good guest speakers this year. One Haneen Zoabi, a member of Israel’s Knesset, is probably the most vilified and loathed member of the 13 strong Joint List that was elected last year. The Zionist parties, including of course the Israeli Labour Party has done its best to prevent her standing at all and it was only a Supreme Court decision that enabled her to stand.
Haneen described the level of racism in Israeli society. The Expulsion Bill which went through the Knesset late last year enables the Jewish majority to expel an Arab member and in fact they are in the process of doing just that. Balad member Basel Ghattas is at the moment under threat of expulsion for having apparently smuggled in phones to Palestinians serving long sentences in Israeli gaols. When one of those he is alleged to have given a phone to is serving 37 years for having killed an Israeli soldier and Elor Azaria, the Kahanist soldier who executed a comatose and wounded Palestinian is not expected to serve any gaol time when he is sentenced in the near future for manslaughter (not murder as he should have been charged), you understand the ingrained nature of Israeli racism and apartheid.
The other speaker was Leanne Mohammad. Leanne is a 16 year old Palestinian school girl who won the regional contest of the Jack Petchie speaking context for her wonderful speech ‘Birds not Bombs’ with reference to Gaza. When news of her victory emerged, vicious Zionist trolls did what they normally do. They racially abused her calling her ‘little Miss ISIS’. Disgracefully and as often happens in this situation, the Jack Petchie Foundation backed down and removed her from the contest and initially her performance from the Web. I reported on this earlier but Leanne was on fine form when she spoke to the Conference and I have no doubt she will make a fine orator and addition to the Palestine solidarity movement in the future.
We live in times when not only the right-wing and Zionists are on the offensive but the Left in the Labour Party as represented by Jeremy Corbyn is on the retreat when it comes to Palestine. Corbyn has disgracefully spoken at two successive Labour Friends of Israel meetings at Labour Party conference and bought wholesale into the new IHRA definition of anti-Semitism which conflates anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism.
It is therefore welcome that Corbyn, who used to be a regular fixture at PSC Conferences, at least sent greetings to Conference delegates but it doesn’t make up for his backsliding all year and his retreat in the face of the Zionist attacks. He has supported the Jewish Labour Movement rule change to the Labour Party’s constitution which would equate criticism of Zionism with anti-Semitism. The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is either Corbyn’s long support for the Palestinians was skin deep or that he doesn’t have the backbone or the political strength to withstand the Zionist attacks. In fact if he had stood up to their blackmail they would have backed off. As it is Corbyn made a rod for his own back by repeatedly condemning anti-Semitism but not realising that the ‘anti-Semitism’ that the Zionists talked of was criticism of Israel not hatred of Jews.
Corbyn’s use of Chakrabarti to kick the whole affair into the long grass rebounded badly on him and Chakrabarti’s Report, which was a mixed bag, was bad on Zionism, telling people that Labour had a ‘rich tradition’ of support for Zionism and that people should be careful of even using the term. If Chakrabarti had known anything about Zionism then she would know it is in common usage amongst Zionists, for example the JLM’s director, Ella Rose was captured by Al Jazeera saying ‘I’m, a Zionist shoot me’. Likewise the part of Chakrabarti’s Report that said ‘Zio’ was racist was a product of her ignorance, made even worse by Corbyn’s remark that it was a ‘racial epithet’. ‘Zio’ is short for Zionist which is a political not a racial epithet.
This has been a year when the International Law Conference at Southampton University was prevented from going ahead, when Norwich and Nottingham PSC’s had to move meetings because the original venues had been cancelled as a result of Zionist pressure, when any church holding an event involving Palestine can expect Zionist pressure, when even PSC’s own blog with the New Statesman on the web was taken down as a result of Zionist pressure. Yet PSC Executive is incapable of mounting any campaign on these, reducing the anti-Semitism offensive to ‘the right to protest’ which it isn’t and believes the odd legal action is an adequate substitute for an effective campaign.
Unfortunately the Free Speech on Israel group, which was set up to oppose the Zionist offensive, has been paralysed by its own inability to draw up an effective strategy aimed at tackling the JLM and Labour Friends of Israel. It was almost completely absent at the Conference making no intervention. Instead despite my having parted company with it, I was left to tackle the issue it was set up to campaign on whilst just one FSOI member, Glyn Secker, spoke and then only to say that FSOI didn’t need any help from PSC!