Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign activist Kishore Lennon attacks the campaign to criminalise ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’, which he argues is being enabled by Police Scotland. He says socialists need to be bolder on Palestinian solidarity and in calling out the advocation of Israeli state atrocities…
In 2002, over 600 people disrupted a Scotland v Israel football match in Hamilton. They protested inside the ground for at least two hours, causing the match to be broadcast without sound in Israel. Sports boycott has been an effective method of protest stretching back to South African apartheid, yet Police Scotland took the unprecedented step of banning the Palestinian flag from the match.
The call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) arose from Palestine two years later and has seen varying degrees of success ever since. In Scotland, cultural boycott has been particularly successful, with sustained protests against Israeli state-backed fringe acts doing undeniable damage to the nation’s ‘brand’. We’ve seen companies operating in the apartheid state booted off bidding lists for council services following organised pressure. We’ve seen thousands take to the streets to oppose the massacres carried out against the Palestinians in 2014.
Earlier this year, Al Jazeera aired “The Lobby”, which exposed the Israeli government’s attempts of to shut down discussion of the Israel–Palestine “conflict”. The series exposed what has been entirely apparent to the BDS movement for a long time: having lost the ability to build any political support for Israel, the Zionist “grassroots movement” and the Israeli state has no option but to criminalise dissent.
In 2014, when Israel used toxic gas to kill Palestinians in Gaza, bombed schools and hospitals and targeted little boys playing football on a beach, thousands of people came out to demonstrate against the massacres. And yet, we heard no overt rhetoric defending war crimes or genocidal policies.
Instead, the Zionist movement attempt to shut down meetings, threaten venues and pressurise police into arresting individuals for as offences as minor for saying “Viva Palestina”. Most recently, Police Scotland requested a picture of an Israeli soldier murdering an unarmed Palestinian to be removed from a display following a complaint from a supporter of Israel.
For the left, the implications are clear: racism is one of, if not the, primary divide and conquer tactic used to break the working class. The state of Israel is the only apartheid state in the world, a key ally for western imperialism and a model of societal organisation pointed to by fascists to justify their desire to build further apartheid states. A significant proportion of the left has vacated the field on the issue of Palestine.
The likes of Corbyn and the SNP have been forced to: you simply cannot hold office in the British state and universally oppose Britain’s support for American imperialism, a venture in which Israel is of vital importance. However, the radical left has not recognised the central importance of this issue either and some have even become intimidated by the tactics mentioned. Opposing political suppression is a vital part of ensuring issues of importance to our class remain on the agenda. The issue of Palestine is of vital importance to the wider working class struggle, just as Karl Marx came to recognise the importance of Irish national liberation from Britain.
Marx believed when studying Britain, the most advanced capitalist economy at that time, that the people of Ireland would have to wait for the English working class to have a revolution. This was disappointing given Marx’s other arguments, but he later revised this by saying the liberation of Ireland was vital to undermining the power of the British ruling class, who held great power over the proletarians of both nations.
Palestine is that same country today and supporting its liberation is not merely an act of charity. The ability of America, the EU and the British state to oppress the people of Palestine and maintain a “loyal Jewish Ulster” in the Middle East is vital for maintaining their leverage over working class people in the west.
This is not a complex concept: the people who will suppress our demand to end the destruction of NHS, welfare state, workers’ rights etc are the same people suppressing our solidarity with the people of Palestine, whose oppression is vital for American imperialism in the middle East. As working-class people, we cannot shape our society in isolation, in a world in which capital is international. The importance of Israel as an ally to western imperialism makes it central to the class struggle at home.
Moving forward, we on the left must take Palestine seriously as an issue rather than merely expressing outrage at the occasional massacre. Why? Because ultimately, any section of the left that isn’t taking or believes itself unable to take, an explicitly anti-Zionist position will render itself irrelevant to the class struggle.