"When the Palestinians see themselves reflected in the struggles of the victims of racism around the world, how can we in the UK see the Palestinians as a divisive issue and exclude our struggle against racism from the struggle against state-enforced racism, i.e. apartheid, in Israel/Palestine that is backed by the UK government?"
25 March 2018
We have never been here before. The Confederation of Friends of Israel in Scotland (COFIS) is an extreme racist group committed to Jewish supremacy in Palestine, the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people, and support for Israeli massacres, one of which led the Scottish Government to call in 2014 for an arms embargo against the apartheid state of Israel. COFIS was allowed by the organisers - Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) - to take part in an anti-racist march in Scotland on Saturday March 17th.
This unprecedented situation led the various Palestine solidarity groups to respond in different ways; SPSC alerted anti-racists across the UK and beyond to pile substantial but unavailing pressure on SUTR to avoid the disaster they have marched towards. On March 17th we expected a sizeable march of genuine anti-racists (which did not materialise) as well as the COFIS crew. We chose to concentrate on informing the majority of marchers as to the depraved nature of COFIS, an active agent of the apartheid State. We were keen not have our flags and banners seen flying alongside the Israeli flags and pro-Israel banner on Glasgow streets. We respect the reactive tactics of all those who were put in an intolerable position by SUTR's acceptance of extreme racists onto an anti-racist march.
COFIS Facebook pages posted (March 4) Daily Mail smears on Jeremy Corbyn as an antisemite: "Labour – and the army of racists that now call Labour their home – successfully achieved the normalisation of antisemitism within the UK".
There was a post the following day from the Gatestone Institute; whose chairman John Bolton is now Trump's National Security Advisor, and author of How to Block the Palestinian Statehood Ploy.
The same Facebook page, the same day, recommended "Rather a long read but extremely interesting - Why the Arab world hates the Palestinians", whose author, Dr Mordechai Kedar, wrote in July 2014 that threats to kill or imprison Palestinian resistance fighters were not enough: "The only thing that deters them is if they know that their sister or their mother will be raped in the event that they are caught."
The rape promotion is posted from the Arutz Sheva website, whose founder Zalman Baruch Melamed wants Arab citizens to be stripped of their citizenship rights and Muslims to be forbidden to visit the Haram Al Sharif.
The rationale for the monstrous and absurd decision to admit such a racist group was the need for the widest possible unity of progressive forces against the rising tide of racism in Britain. Members of the SUTR steering committee concede that COFIS are extreme racists. From a purely practical point of view, defending the right of this tiny organisation representing an apartheid state to join an anti-racist demonstration, thereby repelling supporters of Palestinian freedom, the Association of Palestinian Communities in Scotland, their supporters across the political spectrum, and Scottish Muslims is a disastrous way to build the broadest possible unity.
In terms of a strategy for fighting racism and the principles that should guide us, we have a choice between throwing the Palestinians under the bus to build an alliance that will be able to confront 'racism in one country' or to adopt an internationalist stance that aims to build international(ist) alliances to confront an international alliance of racist movements and regimes, pre-eminent among whom stands the genocidal regime in Israel.
In the days after March 17th defenders of the SUTR decision continued their refusal to engage or even to acknowledge the concerns of those who felt unable to march alongside Israeli flags and the banner of an organisation which violates everything SUTR publicly stand for.
Far from Palestinian freedom and Israeli state-enforced racism being a divisive issue in an anti-racist milieu, it is an intrinsic and core aspect of any struggle against racism anywhere.
The Palestinian call for BDS is supported by virtually every group of Palestinian civil society. In its programme and its consistent practice the Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BNC) situate the Palestinian struggle within the international struggle against racism.
Unsurprisingly, the Palestinian understanding of racism and how to struggle against it is far more sophisticated and effective than that of SUTR.
The Israeli Government and their agents such as COFIS benefit from powerful political support and corporate complicity, despite British public opinion registering as hostile to Israel and broadly supportive of Palestinian aspirations.
Resisting against overwhelming odds at home, the Palestinian BNC has forged principled alliances with significant anti-racist movements around the world. In the US, Black Lives Matter and Jewish Voice for Peace are successful examples. Following the recent racist murder of Brazilian politician Marielle Franco, the Palestinian BNC message to Brazil based their solidarity on Brazil's "deep military and security relations with Israel's regime of occupation and apartheid", a system of killing Brazilian "Black and poor... which were field tested on our bodies". And such internationalist anti-racism is reciprocated; the Black Lives Matter coalition calls for an end to US aid to the "apartheid state" waging a "genocide" against Palestinians.
One prominent Palestinian campaigner, Jamal Juma'a, locates internationalism at the core of the Palestinian struggle against the racist State of Israel, and shares the guiding principle of US black solidarity with Palestine - "When I see them, I see us!" - to express his view towards the oppressed Dalits ("Untouchables") struggling for their rights in India, and victims of state-enforced racism everywhere:
Over the years I have had the opportunity to meet with oppressed people resisting injustice across the world and it has taught me how important it is for our daily effort to build hope and resilience to know that our struggles are not isolated but global and interconnected...It is the commonality of our oppressors, their structures, and regimes, that today are more unified than ever. Solidarity, then, is not only an ideal but a concrete aspect of forwarding our struggles.
When the Palestinians see themselves reflected in the struggles of the victims of racism around the world, how can we in the UK see the Palestinians as a divisive issue and exclude our struggle against racism from the struggle against state-enforced racism, i.e. apartheid, in Israel/Palestine that is backed by the UK government?
SUTR references the rise of the antisemitic extreme right in Eastern Europe but has nothing to say about the rise of a genocidal extreme right in Israel that sees most of these European far right regimes as natural allies. The genocidal elements include government ministers. The Chief Rabbi calls Black Americans "monkeys", the Army Chief Rabbi condoned rape of Palestinian women in wartime, and government-financed mobs harass any Jewish-Palestinian couples they hear of. So prominent are such genocidal voices that Israeli figures, including an army general, have drawn comparisons between Israel today and developments in Germany in the 1930s.
In the USA, White supremacist Steve Bannon was a guest speaker at the Zionist Organisation of America (ZOA) annual gala. The antisemitic Orban regime in Hungary currently working to rehabilitate the leader of the pro-Nazi World War II regime Admiral Hardy, is strongly pro-Israel and favoured by Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister ignored the views of the Jewish community in Hungary and defended the antisemitic campaign of the Oban regime against billionaire George Soros' liberal educational institution in Budapest.
Here in Scotland, COFIS is allied with the UK branch of Christians United for Israel, an extreme right wing, pro-war, antisemitic outfit whose leader, John Hagee argues that Hitler was chosen by God to carry out the Nazi Holocaust in order to drive Jews to the only place where they should live - Palestine.
From Glasgow to Budapest, Washington and beyond, an alliance flourishes between pro-Israel groups and the worst antisemites, an alliance on which pro-Israel groups and SUTR organisers are silent. Acknowledging this widespread phenomenon would invite a critical rather than a simple acceptance of claims of rising antisemitism, and would be able to distinguish between real antisemitism to be fought and the toxic fruits of the Israeli Government campaign to impute antisemitism to anyone who campaigns actively in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
But SUTR Scotland is shtum on the issue of malicious allegations of racism designed to silence voices in support of Palestine and critical of Israeli apartheid, although this is a core priority of COFIS. More worrying is SUTR's insistence that COFIS is a 'Jewish group', a conflation that will harm our anti-racist work in Scotland.
Pro-Israel groups have a long record of exaggerating and inventing antisemitic incidents in order to generate fear in Jewish communities conducive to emigration to Israel. It is not rocket science to see that those who assert that antisemitism is both an eternal human condition and an incentive for Jews to leave Scotland will welcome and even fabricate examples of antisemitism - just as the sinister Christians who lead COFIS welcome disastrous portents of the end of the world.
Those of us who support Palestinian rights and their call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the state of Israel (BDS) are in the cross-hairs of COFIS and the Israeli government, who work to get Palestine solidarity activists sacked in their workplaces and tried on absurd racism charges.
SPSC will readily give a presentation and answer questions from SUTR affiliates concerning the series of trials in Scotland where our members have faced years of court appearances and spent a lot of funds to repel malicious charges of racism/antisemitism for criticism of Israeli massacres of Palestinians.
As things stand, the racists of COFIS, having been given a green light by the organisers of the March 17th demonstration against racism, will probably try to join other marches against racism as part of their war against the Palestinian people. Since most SUTR organisers are unrepentant, are attacking their critics, the divisions they have sown among the wider anti-racist milieu in Scotland (and the rest of the UK) will need to be discussed and a way forward found on the basis of the widest, principled unity of all anti-racists.
As citizens of the country that birthed and enforced the colonisation of Palestine and now stands foursquare with the apartheid state, it makes the world a more dangerous place when Scots march alongside Israeli flags, all the while vital arms are flowing from Scotland to that bestial regime. While our comrades ask for our solidarity, are we to march with their oppressor? It would be shameful.
What is clear from this whole debacle is that many cannot support an "anti-racist" initiative that provides a platform for genocidal racists who discuss the "euthanising" of Palestinians.