This is a cross-post from Tony Greenstein’s blog.
The 30th Conference of PSC promised to be one of the more controversial PSC AGMs and it certainly lived up to it. Entering the conference, who was there giving out blue badges commemorating the massacre at Deir Yassin, but the eminence grise of the holocaust deniers, Paul Eisen – neo-Nazi apologist extraordinaire.
Despite his fulminations against what he calls ‘Zionism’ Eisen is remarkably similar to them. The Zionists exploit the holocaust for their own purposes and Eisen exploits the massacre of Palestinians for his own purposes, i.e. denial of the holocaust and rehabilitation of the Nazis.
The first item on the agenda was a closed session at which the appeal of Frances Clarke Lowes against his expulsion was to be heard. Last April, Francis declared on the Brighton & Hove PSC Discussion List that he was proud to be a holocaust denier. For his pains he was expelled from Brighton PSC and not one voice was raised in his defence in Brighton PSC. I reported his statement to the Executive and sometime in May he was also expelled from national PSC. Francis however had the right of appeal to the national conference and chose to exercise that right.
The speech is printed, in a highly edited version, on (who else?) Gilad Atzmon’s site.
It is fair to say that Clarke-Lowes speech did him no favours. It was extremely anti-Semitic, talking about the ‘Jewish narrative’ and speaking about Jews as a group with common properties. He openly stated that the holocaust was a myth (something Atzmon has not included in his version of the speech). People literally gasped as they heard him describe the holocaust as a ‘myth’ and a number of people told me that if he hadn’t been expelled they would have resigned.
The speech from the Executive, from Hugh Lanning, was superb, moving and to the point. It ended by asking conference not to let evil enter our hearts. Conference upheld the expulsion by 165 vote to 35 with 6 abstension. A couple of days ago I had sent an e-mail to the Secretary of PSC, Ben Sofa, saying that in my opinion a majority was not good enough, we needed at least a 3-1 majority. In the end we got 5-1. In fact it was considerably more because I had not realised that the zany Communist Party of Great Britain – Marxist Leninist, the followers of the hereditary oligarchy otherwise known as the ‘socialist state of North Korea’ had taken a decision to oppose any condemnation of holocaust denial. Their amendment to the Executive’s Motion 2 read:
‘This AGM resolves that PSC’s chief focus shall remain that of building support for Palestine and Palestinians and against zionism and imperialism. It is not the PSC’s job to act as thought police on behalf of zionism and imperialism, and we refuse to ask the Palestinians to bend their narrative to one that is acceptable to zionist ears.’
That so-called communists, led by Harpal Brar and his daughter Joti Brar, think that the Palestinian narrative includes holocaust denial or that there is any contradiction between opposing the denial of the holocaust and opposing imperialism and Zionism is truly amazing. But as Harpal Brar made clear in a subsequent speech he cast no doubt on the fact of the holocaust.
In other words most of those who voted against Clarke-Lowes’ expulsion, did so despite his views on the holocaust and primarily as part of a wider disagreement with PSC Executive. And since they brought virtually all of their membership of about 20 to the conference, it is clear even that that stage that those who had any sympathy with Clarke-Lowes were a tiny handful.
After the lunch break we had a guest speaker, Omar Barghouti from the Palestinian Boycott National Committee. He detailed the increasingly open racism of the state, its attacks on the memory of the Nakba, which has been made unlawful, the shameful decision of the Supreme Court to uphold the Citizenship Law which prevents Israeli Arabs from living with their spouse in side Israel.
It must have been a shock when Omar went out of his way to make it clear that anti-Semitism and holocaust denial were no part of the politics of the Palestinians. ‘Ours is an anti-racist cause’ he stated, in case anyone had failed to decipher the meaning of the speech. He generously paid tribute to PSC as the world’s most effective solidarity organisation and to Britain for leading the way in Boycott. It is a compliment that are indebted to honour and repay.
After Omar’s speech the Executive motion 2 and that from Naomi Wimborne Idrissi were taken, along with all 3 amendments from Gill Kaffash/Rosemary Earnshaw, Exeter PSC and the CPGB-ML (above). All the amendments were heavily defeated with less than 20 votes out of over 250 delegates (the votes in the Executive elections indicate there must have been an increase in people arriving by at least 50). Harpal Brar was the only person to speak with any passion or conviction for the amendments. And to his credit he made it clear that of course he accepted that fact of the holocaust without reservation but that there were a number of other acts of genocide we should condemn – that of the Armenians for example, the Iraqis and others. In other words he was speaking agains the Zionists’ holocaust exceptionalism – the idea that the holocaust of Jews is unique. I agree.
Even Gill Kaffash chose not to mention anything to do with holocaust and instead mounted a free speech argument, coupled with the assertion that we stick to Palestine not extraneous issues. But speaker after speaker, with the exception of Exeter PSC’s constitutionalist Dave Chappell (FBU), made it clear that it was not possible oppose the racism that Palestinians suffer from and yet tolerate holocaust deniers and their associates. A member of the Communications Workers Union, whose name I didn’t catch, made this clear in a particularly impassioned contribution, as did Roland Rance from Jews 4 Boycotting Israeli Goods and other speakers.
In the end both the Executive Motion and the one from J-Big were passed with barely 10 votes, if that, against. A humiliating and crushing defeat for the Atzmonites and holocaust deniers in the movement. In my own speech I quoted Atzmon’s statement that Jews who speak as ‘ethnic’ Jews, i.e. who are Jewish simply reinforced Zionism. I asked how is it that people agreed when UNISON passed boycott policy in 2007, that I should speak as someone who is Jewish precisely in order to take head on the Zionist lies that to support the Palestinians is anti-Semitic? I never received an answer from Atzmon’s few supporters. Nor will I. Because the growing number of Jews who are breaking from Zionism, partially or completely, has been growing, especially in the United States. Only the Zionists and the Atzmonites deplore this phenomenon.
It is the Zionists’ supporters – be it the EDL and BNP in this country – or John Hagee of Christians United for Israel – who described Hitler as god’s messenger sent to drive the Jews to Israel, who are the real anti-Semites, and on this of course Harry’s Place is silent.
Many other motions were also passed including one on the disgraceful attacks on Palestinian children by the Israeli military. It is to the eternal shame of the West that they have nothing to say about the shackling and torture of children even, to say nothing of the shackling of Palestinian women prisoners, even while they are giving birth.
There were discussions about the growing successes of the boycott movement, in particular the loss of a £500m contract for Veolia in West London and tribute was paid to Angus Geddes for his sterling work in this area. The closure of Ahava, the Israeli store that traded in stolen goods was also highlighted as was the Judaification of the Negev. Bernard Regan in particular spoke well on the latter and his experiences when visiting Israel with a delegation.
This is also the 30th anniversary of the foundation of PSC and a motion was passed mandating the Executive to organise series of fundraising activities and celebrations. When you consider what we have had to battle against to build an organisation that has now achieved over 5,000 members, then this is indeed a success and tribute was paid to faithful stalwarts like Jeremy Corbyn MP, Baroness Jenny Tonge and Bruce Kent. It is a measure of our success that when I first became involved in Palestinian politics Gerald Kaufman and Tony Benn were both members of Labour Friends of Israel. Today Gerald Kaufman has sponsored an Early Day Motion with Jeremy Corbyn on the racist Jewish National Fund.
And conference also made us, including myself, realise, that whatever disagreements we may have with the Executive, what we have in common is far greater than that which divides us. For the first time ever I even voted for Bernard Regan for the Executive and he accused me of stealing his lines! A special mention should be made of Ben Sofa, the Secretary, who has never wavered in his support for tackling the issue head on.
Because the Executive realised that if the holocaust deniers had got their way, the trade unions – with their history of fighting fascism – would have disaffiliated and we would be a cacophony of noise without influence. Those who argued that we should concentrate on Palestine and Palestinians failed to recognise that that means you must politically engage with the mainstream of society and that you have, at all costs, not to hand your opponents weapons to attack you with.
People were angry at the constant misrepresentation of Palestinian activists you see on sites like Harry’s Place, a place where only rabid Zionists with cloth ears venture. However it was important when attacked by such people to recognise that whilst their accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’ may be libels 99 times out of a hundred, there are occasions when we have to sit up and take notice.
So it is that Nahida, an Atzmonite in Liverpool branch, where there have been problems, could write that:
‘The crusade against PSC was ignited by Zionists from outside the movement beginning in September, following an article published on the Zionist hate-website Harry’s Place (HP), and a letter from the Board of Deputies of British Jews” (BODBJ), accusing PSC and its branches of publishing anti-Semitic articles and linking to Holocaust denial websites, which arguably is a crude lie. However, the crusade was sustained, promoted and amplified by insiders with questionable loyalty, who roam freely within the Palestine solidarity movement.’ Following those attacks and demands by BOD of British Jews, certain elements inside the solidarity movement picked up where Zionists stopped. Since then they have initiated a campaign of defamation against Palestinian activists (including myself) and numerous other supporters.’
We, i.e. me and members of groups like J-Big, are the ‘inside’ Zionists as opposed to the honest ones. The problem with the Atzmonites is that their arguments and terms of reference are merely an echo of the Zionist argument. They are the reflection of Zionism in much the same way as Zionism was a reflection of anti-Semitism. And as I pointed out, to most Jews, in the pre–holocaust period, Zionism was considered a species of anti-Semitism.
All in a all a very good day for PSC and the Palestinians and an abject defeat for the apologists for Atzmon and Eisen.
Because I was heavily involved in the debate on specific motions, comments would be welcome both on this and the other issues debated at the conference.