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Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Report on PSC AGM 2016

PSC Executive - Conservative and Fearful of Its Own Shadow
Despite nominally opposing Prevent, PSC Executive opposed affiliating to the Together Against Prevent group
Below is a report on PSC AGM by Gerry Downing.  It is fine as it goes but fails to draw out many of the political conclusions from this year’s event.
video

I moved a motion on Prevent and the Counter-Terrorism Act 2015.  The Executive had presented a motion on the Counter-Terrorism Act which failed to mention anything about the Act or indeed Prevent.  To call it pathetically weak would be an understatement.   I therefore moved the following motion, which was seconded by Clayton Doyle of Manchester PSC.  It was supported both by Brighton and Waltham Forest PSCs.
The Successful Campaign to get John Lewis not to stock Sodastream goods

I am copying it below for people’s edification.

What were PSC Executive’s objections to our motion?  Well they objected to stating that Hamas, Hezbollah and the PKK weren’t terrorist.  No one of course believes that they are but they spuriously suggested that because the political wings weren’t proscribed, therefore everything was fine.  But there have been government attempts to proscribe the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.  Terrorism is being redefined as essentially any armed group that the West opposes.  There is no pretence at any objective definition.  Thus it was sheer political cowardice.

The most amusing objection came to affiliating to People Against Prevent.  ‘We don’t know who they are’ ‘we don’t affiliate to any groups’ proclaimed the Chairperson, Hugh Lanning.  As I said in reply, if we don’t then it’s about time we did.  Who Together Against Prevent are can easily be found here.  There are 3 PSC branches, a couple of UCU branches and the National Union of Students affiliated, plus numerous community groups.  It is true that there is a need for more trade union branches and unions but that is where PSC could help.  Instead it chose, out of total political cowardice and inertia, to do nothing.
Brighton PSC and Jews for Boycotting Israel Flags
The irony is that PSC’s main objective in the Conference documentation was to ‘Build alliances for political action’ yet the reality is that PSC Executive, which is dominated by the Socialist Action/Socialist League groups, is afraid of its own shadow and runs a mile from anything which is too controversial.  Despite being nominally Marxist groups in practice they are reformist of a particularly tepid kind.
I also spoke in the morning of the conference on the Annual & Action Plans.  They are basically a shopping list of the good and great.  The problem is that there is no underlying political strategy so PSC’s propaganda is limited to a human rights agenda.  PSC does not have an explicitly anti-Zionist politics and thus it has no analysis of the reasons why Palestinians are subjugated and the relationship between that and Zionism.
Brighton PSC's campaign against Sodastream, the fizzy drinks firm established on confiscated Palestinian land
I made a few comments about how we get the same Action Plan dressed up in a few contemporary events reappearing year after year.  There is no attempt at a critical self-assessment.  The Executive merely praises itself on a job well done and so we go on to the following year repeating what we did the previous year. 

The idea of asking itself where it went wrong and what it got right is alien to it.  Another problem is that the AGM as presently constituted is not able to get to grips with the specifics.  There are no amendments to the Action Plan nor any real discussion of the minutae.  What is need, as a minimum, is for the conference to break down in different groups to discuss different aspects of PSC’s work in the future.  In other words a radically different format from that which presently exists.
The Prevent Programme in Action
What was most interesting about the Palestinian ‘Ambassador’s’ Manuel Hassasian’s speech was his acceptance that 2 States are dead and his call for a unitary state in the whole of Palestine.  Of course this is not the official position of the quisling organisation, the Palestinian Authority, which he represents.
PSC Demonstration Outside in London
PSC however is frightened of even discussing the question of a single state or the fact that 2 states is as dead as a dodo.  Instead, for the sake of humouring MPs, it is wedded to the dead in the water 2 states solution.  For the same reasons it has no perspective on the wider Middle East despite the fact that without change in the Arab East there is no possibility of change in Israel/Palestine itself.
In short it was, once again, a disappointing AGM. PSC is the largest solidarity organisation in Britain, with over 5,000 members.  It should be spearheading the attack on Zionism in Britain.  Instead it is content to put over a broad but depoliticised human rights agenda on behalf of the Palestinians to  MPs and those in power.  It avoids like the plague all political questions such as the nature of the Jewish state and Zionism.
Trade Unions Join the Campaign Against Sodastream
Those to the left of PSC have been content to organise in direct action groups like the  Boycott Israel Network.  This is fine but it also avoids the central problem of PSC’s politics.  It is appealing to a constituency of MPs who are motivated, not by human rights or justice, but the foreign policy needs of the British State.
The successful Brighton PSC picket of Sodastream Shop
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign AGM on 23/1/2016

Report by Gerry Downing 24/1/2016

About 350 delegates attended the AGM, according to the PSC website but the only counted vote recorded 76 for and 116 against with several delegates holding two and, in one case I noted, three voting cards – apparently you got a red card vote as an individual member and one as a delegate from a local group or a blue vote additionally as a delegate from a national organisation. Don’t know what the three red card votes was about.

Financially the PSC is in very good shape, the global reaction at the mass bombing of Gaza in July 2014, Operation Protective Edge, was such that a very high level of donations and affiliations continues, unlike the fall-off after previous IDF outrages like Operation Cast Lead on 2008/9. PSC has recruited extra staff and ended the year with a healthy surplus.

There were only 6 motions from the 62 branches, not an indication of a very politically engaged base. No need for a compositing committee here, with all its bureaucratic implication. These motions were taken around the discussion on the 4 Objectives for the coming year, which was a good way of doing it.

Objective 1 was the colonial settlements, Nakba – a week for Palestine, culminating in a national event on Sunday 15 May, as in previous years, and the siege of Gaza.

There were two motions taken here, Motions 2, condemning Israel’s appalling attacks on their Bedouin citizens in the Negev desert. In particular the 90 times the village of Al Arakib was demolished only to rise again dues to the determination of its inhabitants, who are now forced to live in the cemetery, whose earliest gravestone prove that it has existed there since 1913. And the AGM pledged solidarity with the village of Umm el-Hiran, which is scheduled to be demolished and replaced by an Israeli Jewish village of the same name in the same place, despite the fact the Negev is 4,700 square miles; over half of area of Israel. Of course it is not a desert at all in places or people could not live there. One delegate condemned the developing practice of replacing road signs with the Israeli name in Hebrew and Arabic but the Palestinian name no longer appears, their very name for their own places is no longer recognised by Israel. This motion was passed unanimously with many moving speeches in favour and none against.  

The second motion here was the Red Card for Israeli Racism, with the attempt to get FIFA to suspend Israeli membership. The motion condemned restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players, staff and officials and egregious racism on the part of Israeli football officials and clubs. In particular the Israeli Football Association tolerance of the situation at Beitar Jerusalem FC, where a long-standing unofficial ban on Palestinians players is combined with violent fascism on the part of its supporters. This motion was also passed unanimously, although the suggestion of one delegate that Palestine be allowed into the Eurovision song contest went down like the proverbial lead balloon.

Then followed the elections for the Executive committee. All the existing Officer places were filled without contest and 8 were elected from the 12 nominations from the membership. One candidate apologised for being white but did point out that he was both gay and disabled so we should vote for him. I did not in a very politically motivated anti-sectionalism huff. And I did not vote for those who were not at the meeting or who made no political statement whatsoever apart from how experienced and good they were at their jobs. Of course one needs to know more about candidates but left with no other way of deciding and not yet being engaged in the internal politics of the PSC that was my only option. There was no obvious oppositionist like Tony Greenstein on the list.

Following lunch we dealt with Objective 2, to strengthen our campaigning. This noted that PSC campaigning (and others too) was under serious attack through the Prevent strategy and Extremism Bill. Moves by Israel and the US – including by TTIP – to undermine BDS (this motion, No. 6, fell off the end of the agenda and was referred back) were now being actively pursued. This was the only official muted criticism of the USA in the whole AGM, of which more later. It advocated the Boycott Divestment & Sanctions (BDS), anti-racism, challenging Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. But there was no mention or, let alone advocacy of, workers’ sanctions, no calls for direct actions by the working class globally in black-listing and hot-cargoing ships and air traffic cargo to Israel as the San Francisco dockers in the famous Local 10 did to Apartheid South Africa beginning in 1962 and famously in 1984 when Local 10 members refused to work South African steel and coal for ten days. And of course the great the world-wide labour protest of dockers and transport workers in July 2010 at the massacre of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and those on the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara.  Greg Dropkin reported on 09/07/10
“Three weeks after the massacre on the Freedom Flotilla, ILWU dockworkers in the San Francisco Bay area delayed an Israeli Zim Lines ship for 24 hours, the Swedish Dockworkers Union began a week-long blockade of Israeli ships and containers, dockers in the Port of Cochin, India, refused to handle Israeli cargo, and the Turkish dockworkers union Liman-Is announced their members would refuse to service any Israeli shipping. In South Africa, Durban dockers had already boycotted a Zim Lines ship in response to the invasion of Gaza last year.”[1]

Significantly this was the result of an appeal from the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), the General Union of Palestinian Workers (GUPW), the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (IFU), and eleven other Palestinian union and labour movement organisations.  It was a global labour movement action which showed their power. In fact there was no labour movement orientation and no recognition of the global working class as central agents of revolution and those with the direct potential to isolate and defeat the Israeli state.

Next came the major oppositional debate on Motion 1 on the Government attacks on solidarity – the Counter Extremism Bill. The motion itself was unobjectionable but very weak hence the amendment propose by Tony Greenstein and seconded by Clayton Doyle. This was opposed by the Executive on many counts but really what they found absolutely unacceptable was the sentences, “We reject the labelling of Hamas, Hezbollah and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) as terrorists. This does not mean that PSC agrees politically with any or all of the above organisations.” The PKK had nothing to do with Palestine so why should we bother with those? asked one PSC leader. Also objectionable was the proposal to affiliate to ‘Together Against Prevent’ – the PSC does not affiliate to any organisation, they said and the only way to fight Prevent was legally, we had already learned from the Objectives.

The implicit motivation for rejecting the label terrorists for Hezbollah was an event that happened at demo outside the Israeli Embassy on 17 October 2015.  The 5 Pillars website reported on the incident. [2] Here the PSC leadership objected to the presence of the flag of Hezbollah and some present attempted to remove it, the flag poles were broken. Subsequently the police were called, the two flag holders, Abbas Ali and Antonio Maniscalco, were arrested for disrupting the peace and for supporting a proscribed terrorist organisation. Ali said that the police had also raided his house and took PCs, laptops and memory cards. Mr Maniscalco’s residence was also raided.

Abbas Ali complained that:

“There were other flags at the demonstration such as pro-Morsi and Hamas symbols and someone actually broke our flagpole but the police didn’t do anything to them,”

I personally witnessed many flags on the protest. The PSC said that only Palestinian national flags would be welcome at the protest but only the Hezbollah met with such fierce opposition.  The PSC leadership have neither confirmed nor denied calling the police.

The amendment was fiercely attacked by the Executive and just as fiercely defended. The political issues were clear, although both Hamas and Hezbollah were legal political parties they both had military wings who were either ‘terrorists’ according to imperialist propaganda accepted by the PSC Executive or they were freedom fighters according to their opponents who had every right to use violence to defend themselves. The truly shocking notion that only the violence of the oppressor and the slave holder was legitimate and the violence of the oppressed and the slave was totally illegitimate and the actions of ‘terrorists’ was what the conflict was clearly about.

The amendment was lost by about 2:1 with no card count. The motion itself was then passed unanimously.

Motion 5, to condemn the Co-Operative bank was taken here and it was agreed to pursue legal action and to transfer either to the Unity Trust Bank or to the some other bank that offered a good deal. Passed unanimously.

Mustafa Barghouti, General Secretary of the Palestine National Initiative (PNI), a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council since 2006 and is also a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Council addressed the meeting through Skype with a moving expose of the shocking actions of the Israeli and the support the Palestinians were gaining for UN membership and rights as a state.

Objectives 3, to organise for growth and 4, to build alliances for political growth, were then outlined. One delegate here raised the project of setting up a Conservative (yes, Tory) Friends of Palestine group of MPs and the Executive indicated support for this. Another delegate asked for a fortnightly newsletter to assist activists in their work and the remaining motions were taken.

Motion 5, to expel Israel from the United Nations was the other controversial motion. It was moved by Blake Aklcott and seconded by Chris Burns-Cox. It had been referred back from the 2015 AGM by 134 to 74 and it was taken again here. The Executive strongly opposed with the same type of argument used against Tony Greenstein, they agreed with most of the sentiments but they had to build broad alliances and this would alienate the many of those who might support the cause. There was a lot wrong with the motion, its legalism and the illusion that the UN, which had recognised Israel and partitioned Palestine in the first place in 1948 (Joe Stalin first in with recognition there). This could not possible be the vehicle for the liberation of Palestine via a “motion to the Security council recommending that the General Assembly expel Israel in compliance with the Charter, Article 6.” But the motion did represent a progressive impulse to expel and defeat Israel and should have been supported on that basis. And wasn’t is contradictory to be for the inclusion of Palestine and the Expulsion, a PSC leader asked? Not it wasn’t replied a delegate later, both these should be taken together, this happened in 1971 when the United Nations General Assembly recognised the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and expelled Taiwan.

Notable in support of the motion was a young Palestinian woman in traditional dress who spoke eloquently and powerfully in support of the motion and a ‘new member’ who opposed the motion on the basis that it was not ‘reasonable or realistic’ – standard Blair-speak for defending the status quo.
Nevertheless it was supportable as a democratic demand but not to the PSC executive. This amendment was lost 76 for and 116 against in the only card count of the meeting, including all the multi-votes cast.

Amendment to PSC Executive Committee Motion on Government attacks on solidarity – the Counter Extremism Bill

Insert after “… introduction of a Counter Extremism Bill will take these measures even further.”

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 puts the Prevent duty on a statutory footing.  Education trade unions and Muslim organisations have rightly condemned the Prevent strategy as racist and divisive. It brands legitimate political activity as ‘extremist’, defined as ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values,’

 

The concept of unique ‘fundamental British values’ is racist in itself.  We uphold universal human values.

Prevent claims to ‘“prevent people from being drawn into terrorism” while erroneously attributing terrorism exclusively to ‘extremist’ ideologies. It effectively criminalises political support for liberation movements. It would have outlawed support for the African National Congress in its fight against Apartheid. 

The Terrorism Act 2000 definition of ‘terrorism’ includes:
(a)   serious violence against a person,
(b)   serious damage to property,
(c)   actions endangering a person’s life

If applied objectively and fairly, support for the Israeli state would be deemed support for terrorism, yet it is the victims of Israel’s terrorism who are branded as terrorists
The Government has proscribed organisations that they oppose politically by deeming them ‘terrorist’.  We reject the labelling of Hamas, Hezbollah and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) as terrorist.  This does not mean that PSC agrees politically with any or all of the above organisations.

Delete all after “not just the PSC” and substitute:
PSC will therefore:

1)           Challenge Prevent and the Counter Extremism strategy by forming broad alliances with individuals and organisations determined to defend democratic and civil rights, freedom of expression and the right to take ethical procurement and investment decisions. 

2)           Affiliate to 'Together Against Prevent' and encourage its branches, affiliates and partners to follow suit.

3)           Investigate legal avenues to defend our right to campaign for Palestinian rights.
Proposed:        Tony Greenstein, Brighton
Seconded:        Clayton Doyle, Manchester
Supported by:          Waltham Forest PSC
                             Brighton PSC 

PSC Executive Motion
Government attacks on solidarity – the Counter Extremism
Bill

This AGM deplores the measures being used in order to silence debate on Palestine and attack ways of demonstrating solidarity with Palestine and putting pressure on Israel – seeking directly to affect our ability to campaign.

The swathe of anti-democratic measures are being forced through by this government – from the Trade Union bill to the Investigatory Powers Bill and threats to the Human Rights Act. As part of this, the government’s introduction of a Counter Extremism Bill will take these measures even further.

The attacks reflect the significant growth of public support for Palestine amongst the British public and an indication of how much impact BDS campaign is making. The anti-Palestinian counter-offensives are trying to overcome the difficulty faced by pro‑Israel groups in winning people over to defend the policies of Israel. These policies are indefensible because they are in breach of international law and Palestinian human rights.

The most recent examples of the attacks are the Knesset proposal to ban BDS supporters from entering Israel and the Conservative Party announcing measures preventing local councils from choosing to divest pension funds or not to enter into contracts with companies operating in Israel that are complicit with these policies. These measures impact on a whole range of organisations, not just the PSC.

Therefore it is necessary to challenge by creating a broad alliance opposing these attacks – including anti-racist groups, trade unions, faith organisations and lawyers. The PSC should also work with local government contacts, trade unions and supportive councillors to defend their right to act ethically.

The PSC resolves to raise awareness of these attacks, campaign against them, and investigate legal avenues to defend our right to campaign for Palestinian rights.


Proposed by Executive Committee 

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