31 March 2021

Why does Stand Up To Racism refuse to stand up to racism when it comes to Israeli Apartheid?

 Racism Came to Britain with the Empire -  Colonialism is the handmaiden of racial supremacy 

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When a member of the SWP proposed that Brighton & Hove Trades Council sponsor a meeting on UN anti-racism day I was naturally in favour. UN anti-racism day was originally established in 1966 as a commemoration for the 60 Black Africans killed by the Apartheid police in South Africa in 1960. 

It was particularly appropriate because on January 12th Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem had declared that Israel was an Apartheid state. What made this statement important is that B’Tselem is the quintessential liberal human rights organisation. Founded in 1989 as a liberal Zionist organisation this declaration represented a break from the view that Israel was a flawed Western-style democracy.  In B’Tselem’s own words:

The Israeli regime enacts in all the territory it controls (Israeli sovereign territory, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip) an apartheid regime. One organizing principle lies at the base of a wide array of Israeli policies: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.

The anti-racist and anti-fascist movement in this country had always opposed Apartheid in South Africa. How could SUTR not adopt the same attitude to Israeli Apartheid? What was different?

But to SUTR and the SWP it was different. A majority of Jews in this country support the Israeli state whereas South Africa had few expatriates to support it. Another difference is that whereas South Africa defended the Apartheid political system the Israeli state and its Zionist apologists have always denied that it was an apartheid state. Israel boasts for example that Israeli Arab citizens can vote. Many British socialists used to see Israel as a socialist oasis in the Middle East. Generations of Labour Party left-wingers had been ardent Zionists.

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It was only with the war in Lebanon in 1982 that the scales began to fall from peoples’ eyes. Tony Benn and Eric Heffer resigned from Labour Friends of Israel. The 1982 Labour Party conference passed an emergency motion calling for a democratic secular state. But till then Israel had been virtually immune from criticism and what criticism there was came from the Labour Right, people like Christopher Mayhew and David Watkins

The events of the past 5 years, in particular the false anti-Semitism campaign which was devised to demonise and destroy Jeremy Corbyn have represented a political setback. Support for Zionism and opposition to the Palestinians have become the trademark of the Labour Right. Unfortunately some on the left too, like Jon Lansman and Owen Jones, have also ended up in the Zionist camp.

Many trade unions like UNISON and even UNITE tried to square support for the Palestinians and support for Israel and Zionism. The unions have supported the IHRA misdefinition of anti-Semitism uncritically. This campaign has also taken its toll on sections of the far-left, the SWP in particular.

Following the January meeting of Brighton & Hove trades council I attended two meetings of SUTR where I proposed that a meeting on UN Anti-Racism Day be devoted to Apartheid in Israel.

SUTR is, as most people know, a front for the SWP. It is owned, lock stock and barrel by them and is their main ‘front’ organisation today.  Despite this it often does good work and I have gone on their demonstrations and attended their meetings.

After I had made my proposal member after member of the SWP got up to propose that we do anything other than hold a meeting on Israeli Apartheid. Refugees were the favourite choice of topic yet no member of the SWP was honest enough to admit to why they were opposed to holding a meeting on Israeli Apartheid.

In response to this one of those in attendance, Aidan Pettit, sent an email to SUTR (which the SWP Secretary refused to distribute to other members) stating that

‘it's not logical to oppose the racism meted out to refugees when they're in the UK but not the racism that drives many of them here in the first place

At the following meeting I repeated my proposal. This time another SWP member, Jeremy, got up and explained that it was very ‘delicate’.

What Jeremy and other SWP members meant was that they didn’t want to offend or cut links with liberal Zionist like Rabbi Sarah (we have a gay rabbi in Brighton). The SWP calls itself a Marxist, indeed a revolutionary socialist organisation yet it wasn’t prepared to adopt a consistently anti-racist position for fear of offending a liberal racist.

A simple question arises. How can you fight racism if you are not prepared to confront racists and if necessary offend them? Rabbi Sarah may not want to face up to the implications of a ‘Jewish’ state for the Palestinian, a state that vaccinates half of the population (Jewish) and not the other half (Palestinian) but surely the point of a socialist organisation is that it doesn’t allow itself to be held back by the more reactionary, backward elements in society?

What happened in Brighton is not unique. In Scotland for 3 years the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland and Glasgow Friends of Israel, two far-Right Zionist organisations which have worked with fascists, have been allowed to take part in the annual SUTR march.

A wide variety of organisations such as Scotland Against Criminalising Communities condemned the SWP’s willingness to accede to the Zionist demands.

The reason for the SWP’s political cowardice was without doubt the ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign in the Labour Party and the involvement of trade union leaders who have gone along with the demands of the Zionists that they be protected from ‘anti-Semitism’. The SWP, which has never had a sophisticated understanding of how anti-Semitism has been weaponised ran a mile.

In London on Holocaust Memorial Day they actually withdrew an invitation to Glynn Secker of Jewish Voices for Labour to speak after the Board of Deputies sought and obtained from Tower Hamlets Council the cancellation of a meeting.

However Brighton & Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign took the decision that we would not allow the SWP/SUTR’s cowardice to prevail.  We are therefore holding on April 5th a meeting with a variety of different speakers.

Ronnie Kasrills is the Jewish former commander of the ANC’s military wing, Umkonto we Sizwe and a former government Minister under Nelson Mandela will be speaking as will Ramzy Baroud, a journalist, author and editor of the Palestine Chronicle.

Also speaking is well known Asian anti-racist and former Birmingham councillor, Salma Yaqoob. Salma has been the target of the Labour Right and former Labour MP Ian Austin in particular.

Rania Muhareb is another speaker. Rania is a legal researcher and advocacy officer with the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq. She is currently taking a PhD at the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway.

Rana Nazir, the Chair of the Kashmiri Womens Association, is also speaking. The situation in India under the Islamaphobic BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi is fast becoming similar to that in Israel. Israel is India’s major arms supplier and Modi is a member of the RSS political group that is the core of the BJP. Founded by supporters of the Nazis, the RSS aspires for India to become like Israel, an ethno-nationalist state.

Recently India has promoted legislation that for example excludes the immigration of Muslim refugees.It has also repealed Article 370 of the constitution whereby Kashmir is granted autonomy. Instead India has recolonised Kashmir in a similar way to that of Israel on the West Bank.

It is particularly appropriate as the trial of Derek Chauvin, George Floyd’s murderer, gets underway, that Kweku Martin Peprah of Brighton Black Lives Matter has agreed to speak.  BLM have organised a series of well attended marches in Brighton in protest against police racism.

And lastly I intend to say a few words on behalf of Brighton Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The meeting is sponsored by Brighton & Hove Trades Union Council and I hope that as many people as possible will be able to attend. (Register here)

One thing we should take away from the meeting is the idea that the fight against racism, be it in Kashmir, the United States, Britain or Israel is indivisible. Either you are opposed to racism or you are not. There are no special exceptions, no get out clauses which exempt people simply because they are Jewish or Hindu. Racism is a poisonous and pernicious evil, whose effect is to divide the oppressed. No socialist should, for one minute, turn a blind eye to racism simply because they see a sectarian advantage to doing so.

I hope to see you at the meeting.

Below is an Open Letter which I wrote to SUTR/SWP about what happened. It has been endorsed by Brighton & Hove PSC.

Tony Greenstein

Open Letter to Brighton & Hove Stand Up To Racism re UN Anti-Racism Day

Dear Nick,

I attended meetings of Brighton & Hove SUTR on January 20 and February 3rd in order to discuss plans for the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The Day was established after the Sharpeville massacre on March 21 1960 when South Africa Police opened fire killing 69 Black demonstrators against the apartheid “pass laws”.

On 12 January 2021 the Israeli human rights group, B’tselem, which was founded in 1989 as a liberal Zionist organisation, issued a statement THIS IS APARTHEID – A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea.

The past 30 years have convinced Btselem that democracy and a Jewish state are incompatible. In a carefully worded statement Btselem stated that:

The Israeli regime enacts in all the territory it controls (Israeli sovereign territory, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip) an apartheid regime. One organizing principle lies at the base of a wide array of Israeli policies: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.

Btselem is not alone. The foremost liberal American Zionist Pete Beinart reached much the same conclusion in an article in the NYT headed I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State.

When I proposed that SUTR hold a meeting on Israeli Apartheid to mark UN Anti-Racism Day it met with concerted opposition from members of the SWP. They suggested that refugee events be held instead. Such events can be held any day of the year. As Aidan Pettitt wrote in an email which you refused to distribute to other members:

‘it's not logical to oppose the racism meted out to refugees when they're in the UK but not the racism that drives many of them here in the first place

The real reason for the SWP’s opposition to making UN Anti-Racism Day into Israel Apartheid Day was made clear by Jeremy. The issue was, he said, ‘delicate’. I think we all know what he meant. SUTR is afraid of alienating liberal Zionists.

This is of a piece with Scottish SUTR’s decision to allow the far-Right Confederation of Friends of Israel to participate, with Israeli flags, on their demonstrations. As a Joint Statement from the Islamic Human Rights Commission and other organisations declared:

we are dismayed that Stand Up to Racism Scotland will be allowing organisations that actively support Israeli apartheid and racism to participate in its annual anti-racism march in Glasgow. We believe that their presence is incompatible with Stand Up to Racism’s intention of celebrating International Day Against Race Discrimination

In 2019 SUTR withdrew an invitation to a Jewish anti-Zionist, Glyn Secker, to speak at a meeting in Tower Hamlets on Holocaust Memorial Day, after a campaign by Zionist groups. There is a long history of SUTR refusing to oppose racism when perpetrated by Israel.

SUTR’s refusal to confront the issue of Zionism, Israeli Apartheid and its connections to British racism is because of a fear of being accused of ‘anti-Semitism’ Perhaps you will also refrain from opposition to the BJP’s anti-Muslim policies and its occupation of Kashmir for fear of being accused of ‘Hinduphobia’? SUTR is afraid that its Labour Party sponsors will abandon it if it takes a principled position.

SUTR appears incapable of recognising the connection between the Israeli state, Zionism and the far-Right today. Perhaps it has escaped your attention that on January 6th at Capitol Hill, amongst the Confederate flags and shirts bearing slogans such as 6MWE (6 million wasn’t enough) and Camp Auschwitz were Israeli flags.

In this country the EDL, Britain First and other fascist groups have long displayed Israeli flags on demonstrations. Tommy Robinson has stated that he is a Zionist. The neo-Nazi founder of the alt-Right, Richard Spencer, openly declares that he is a ‘White Zionist’.

The far-Right admire and love Israel precisely because it is the kind of ethno-nationalist state that they aspire to create. Fascists and racists support Israel for the same reasons as they supported Apartheid in South Africa.

The admiration of the far-Right for Israel is not all one-way. There has long been a link-up between right-wing Zionists and the supporters of Tommy Robinson. People like Katie Hopkins, a guest at the Israeli Embassy, combine anti-Semitism with Zionism. In return she has been supported by many Zionists for her Islamaphobia.

We have racist regimes such as Orban’s Hungary, which combine support for Israel with anti-Semitism. The anti-racist movement in Britain never hesitated to oppose South African Apartheid but when it comes to Israeli Apartheid you look the other way. Why?

The reason is obvious. The Israeli state is supported by a majority of Jews in the West. If a quarter of a million White South African émigrés had lived in this country would you have said that the question of Apartheid in South Africa was a ‘delicate’ matter?

Millions of people have seen how Israel has vaccinated its Jewish population whilst denying the vaccine to 5 million Palestinians living under occupation. That is what racist regimes do and that is what the UN Day Against Racism is about.

It is for this reason that Brighton & Hove PSC have decided that it will go ahead and organise its own meeting on Israeli Apartheid. It is to be regretted that SUTR refuses to stand up to one of the main sources of racism and Islamaphobia in the world today for fear of upsetting the British Establishment and its Zionist outriders.

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In Solidarity

Tony Greenstein

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