In the light of Lauren Booth’s remarkable and outspoken attack on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, it is clear that the leadership of the PSC are facing a moment of choice: as a mainstream political movement that supports Palestinian self determination, or as a racist movement, whose membership promote and support antisemitism and Holocaust denial. The problem that the PSC faces, is that it is clear that a large and important section of their activist base simply does not support them, and prefers Holocaust deniers and antisemites to its Socialist Action dominated leadership. This article considers the limited options open to the PSC.
I hope you’ll forgive a short diversion. I became interested in anti-Zionist politics in the United Kingdom, not because of concern for Israel, but because I was astounded by the extent to which parts of the Left were not only “in solidarity” with genocidal antisemitic movements like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, but had also allied itself with domestic far Right racists. The promotion of Gilad Atzmon by the Socialist Workers Party, and the denial that he was an antisemite, was a moment of clarity for me. That was the point at which I realised that there are parts of the Left which are not to be trusted on the question of anti-racism: which are not only silent about antisemitism, but which play an important part in normalising and promoting racism against Jews.
The leadership of the PSC knew full well that a certain percentage of its membership are attracted to pro-Palestinian politics because, to be frank, they hate Jews. The Socialist Action leadership have no enthusiasm for Nazi style antisemitism for reasons of both principle and tactics. However, until the last few months, the PSC have failed to address racism in their own movement. Indeed, the PSC voted down a motion opposing Atzmon’s friends, the Holocaust deniers Paul Eisen and Israel Shamir, proposed by Sue Blackwell, Tony Greenstein and Roland Rance. Remember, Greenstein and Rance are opponents of Israel’s existence in any shape or form, and were a faction within the PSC who openly spoke out against Fatah’s historic agreement with Israel at Oslo.
As far as the PSC is concerned, the important thing is to build the movement. In doing so, they have gone for quick growth by encouraging semi autonomous local branches. Those local branches, at Lauren Booth points out, contain activists who are openly racists and supporters of Gilad Atzmon. The PSC leadership, to its credit, have responded by expelling a number of its high profile activists who are racists, including their former Chairman, Francis Clark-Lowes.
But there will come a point at which the PSC leadership loses control over its branches. Lauren Booth’s article indicates the extent to which members are unhappy at the sudden crackdown on antisemitism. How many more activists can the PSC leadership expel, before they have a full scale rebellion on their hands? For example, will they expel the officers of Exeter PSC who hosted Atzmon at a horrific meeting, at which he made a series of racist “jokes” and declared that he could imagine people saying “Hitler was right”? Will they expel Atzmon supporter and Bradford PSC organiser, Karl Dallas? How do they feel about their supporters attacking Hope not Hate, this country’s foremost anti-racist campaigning organisation?
More to the point, when push comes to shove, who will their members follow? The anonymous and grey Socialist Action leadership, or the outspoken and high profile Lauren Booth?
The choice for the PSC should be an easy one. It is entirely possible to campaign for Palestinian self-determination, without invoking antisemitism. The PSC could emerge from this mess as a movement which does not tolerate racism or support for racists in any form. In doing so, it would lose a number of its lunatic and antisemitic supporters: but if it openly embraced both Palestinian and Israeli self-determination, then it would find itself fully in the political mainstream, and would end up a larger and stronger movement.
That will not happen, for a simple reason.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is a “solidarity campaign”, not a campaign for a Palestinian state. To those on the far Left, solidarity politics is driven by anti-imperialism: in which the worth of a cause is judged by the extent to which it is an ally in the class struggle against capitalism. These days, they’re happy to line up with Palestinian factions and individuals – including Hamas supporters – many of whom are antisemites and Holocaust deniers: as long as they’re seen to be “fighting imperialism”. However, as a “solidarity” campaign, the PSC does not see it as their obligation to criticise these hatemongers.
We saw this politics in action, with the PSC’s championing of the racist hate preacher, Raed Salah
This dynamic puts the PSC leadership in a double bind. As they expel members for supporting Atzmon and other antisemites and Holocaust deniers, their disciplined activists can fairly ask them why they’re being punished for saying things which are unproblematic when said by Hamas (and in some cases, Fatah) politicians. As Gill Kaffash notes:
‘How long do you think it will be until the Jewish Chronicle demands that PSC unreservedly condemn Hamas? And how long before PSC complies? After all, Hamas is obviously ant-semitic – most of the people it attacks are Jewish’.
By the nature of its politics, the PSC will never oppose racism within Palestinian politics. They will continue to tour racists around Britain. They will similarly attack any anti-racist who opposes that racism. While doing all this, they will attempt to keep a lid on the evidence that a significant portion of their own membership is fiercely antisemitic.
But when it comes to opposing racism within the PSC activist base, the leadership is caught between a rock and a hard place; in part of their own making. They will be attacked and condemned, as “Zionist tools” by some of the stars of anti-Israel politics. It is far from clear that the PSC will win this battle. After all, it is the PSC who has told its membership, repeatedly, that antisemitism is a mirage, cynically raised by “Zionists” in order to prevent criticism of Israel. Is it any surprise that, now the PSC had got around to accepting that antisemitism exists, that some of its activists have decided that it, too, must be “Zionist”?
It will be interesting to see what the PSC leadership does next. It has few options. I’d imagine that to keep as quiet as possible and hope that the issue goes away.
That is most unlikely to happen.