Yesterday I attended Ideas for Freedom, the annual summer weekend event of the Trotskyist group Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. One of the debates was between Sacha Ismail of the AWL against Michael Chessum, an executive member of the National Union of Students. Ostensibly the debate was on the left and Israel/Palestine, but in practice it was a debate on the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
Chessum, who was eating a packet of Iranian pistachio nuts from the platform, was arguing in favour of boycotting Israel. His position was vigorously opposed by AWL supporters at the event. They made the point that he was hypocritical to argue in favour of boycotting Israel if he used a modern mobile phone that contained any Israeli technology or went on visits to Israel as an activist as part of his campaign against the country. Chessum argued that it was different for activists opposed to Israel to visit the county and spend money there than for tourists to the country. He implied that these differences meant that BDS activists do not need to boycott Israel if on a fact finding mission to the country whereas other people should.
This bizarre logic reminds me of an anecdote that Ronald Radosh recounted in his memoirs (Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left, [Encounter Books, 2001], p127.) On a visit to Cuba, Radosh was given a tour of a psychiatric hospital in Havana. The doctor was proud to tell the tour group, “in our institution, we have a larger proportion of hospital inmates who have been lobotomised than any other mental hospital in the world.” One group member was horrified – but Suzanne Ross, a Castro loyalist, said, “We have to understand that there are differences between capitalist lobotomies and socialist lobotomies.”
Next Week: the SWP’s Marxism 2012. I can hardly wait.