Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign - statement
True solidarity means standing up to those who oppress,
those who defend the oppressor, and those who shelter the defenders
those who defend the oppressor, and those who shelter the defenders
In 2018, Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign (GPHRC) urged Stand Up To Racism - Scotland (SUTR) to issue an unequivocal statement denouncing the Confederation of Friends of Israel - Scotland (COFIS) and Glasgow Friends of Israel (GFI) as organisations which offer intensive and unapologetic support for Israel's illegal, apartheid and racist treatment of Palestinians, positions and views which should negate their welcome participation in any credible anti-racist community or event.
As this year’s SUTR march approaches, SUTR's executive body have still provided no such statement.
Consequently, GPHRC again call upon all left and progressive-minded organisations to condemn the views and positions of COFIS/GFI, relinquish their affiliation/association with SUTR, and take no part in any SUTR march likely to include COFIS/GFI until SUTR adopt a formal statement rejecting COFIS/GFI and declaring them unwelcome.
Any observation of COFIS/GFI campaign stalls, social media platforms, and public literature - notably that supplied by US right-wing/Christian Zionist lobby group StandWithUs - will confirm how readily these organisations openly defend and excuse Israel’s crimes, while showing unremitting disregard for occupied, besieged and suffering Palestinians.
As part of a wide, well-funded and vociferous pro-Israel lobby, COFIS/GFI utilise the same normalisation agenda to disguise Israel's state crimes, adopting 'Brand Israel' and 'pro-peace' appeals as smokescreens for their true hasbara activities.
COFIS/GFI insist that they are opposed to racism, and scorn the idea that Israel is an apartheid state. Yet, Adalah, a legal rights group for Palestinians in Israel, have a database of over 65 apartheid-related laws, showing how the state of Israel works to deny Palestinians equal political and civil rights. (1)
Among a wide literature, Ben White (2) and Jonathan Cook offer notable accounts of Israel's apartheid state, racist-rooted laws, and discriminatory treatment of Palestinians. (3)
COFIS/GFI's blatant denial of Israel's apartheid and racist system sits alongside its protective blindness to every human rights violation carried out by Israel. Just as Israel stands in brazen defiance of international law, COFIS/GFI dutifully defend the illegality of the West Bank settlements, fail to condemn the apartheid wall, deny that Gaza is under a brutal, inhuman siege, and ignore the multiple UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights.
GPHRC have published a bullet-point leaflet helping to illustrate GFI's support for Israel's multiple human rights violations and reactionary positions, while exposing the deceit behind its 'pro Palestinian, pro-peace' claims.
COFIS/GFI hold other distinctly right-wing positions. They have praised Donald Trump and his decision to site the US Embassy in Jerusalem, against the views of almost every UN member state. They have routinely lauded Netanyahu and his ugly provocations, including his close associations with far-right President Bolsonaro in Brazil, and fascistic, anti-semitic Prime Minister Orbán in Hungary. They have consistently backed Netanyahu's disturbing war games against Iran, and even commended the 'dose of reality' on the 'Iranian threat' issued by unhinged US Vice President Mike Pence. (4)
In addition to openly-approving Israel's criminality and its right-wing friends, COFIS/GFI indulge in a hate-infused and dehumanising language towards Palestinians and anyone supporting the Palestinian cause for justice.
COFIS/GFI have maligned and vilified Palestinian child Ahed Tamimi as a 'terrorist', after she was imprisoned for nine months by an Israeli military court (West Bank settlers, in contrast, are subject only to mainstream Israeli courts) for mildly slapping an occupying soldier.
COFIS/GFI have consistently defended the mass shooting of defenceless Palestinian protesters along the illegal Gaza fence, condemned the peaceful protests as 'terror actions', and mocked the injured as 'Pallywood' actors. They also suggested that Palestinian paramedic Razan al-Najar, murdered by an Israeli sniper while assisting injured others, had been raped and coerced by Hamas to be a human shield. (5)
COFIS/GFI even peddle the deeply racist claim that 'Israeli children are taught to love. Sadly Palestinian children are only taught to hate.'
COFIS/GFI are also engaged in virulent social media attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, damning him as an 'anti-semite'. (6)
One particular GFI retweet, suggesting his intention to 'kick out all the Jews', provides an indication of the outright lies and animosity directed at Corbyn, a long-time campaigner against all forms of hateful racism. (7)
Aiding the witch-hunt, COFIS/GFI has now given its outright backing to the ‘Independent Group’ of Labour defectors - including Joan Ryan, a proven fabricator of anti-semitism charges - and endorsed the Tom Bower/Daily Mail gutter piece on Corbyn. (8)
Whatever one's party/political affiliations, or none, such endorsements, mendacious language and repeated slandering of Corbyn as ‘a racist’ (9) should, in itself, invalidate COFIS/GFI as a legitimate participant in any serious anti-racist event.
Such smears also reflect the many observed and reported instances of COFIS/GFI’s malicious denigration and intimidation of opponents on the street and across social media.
GPHRC also note the dark irony of having GFI campaign close to a Glasgow landmark honouring Nelson Mandela, a resilient advocate for Palestine, and the particular shame of COFIS/GFI attempting to march in a city that stood with Mandela against decades of apartheid. It is even more embarrassing that, having gained apparent 'approval' this year, they will now 'walk shoulder-to-shoulder with SUTR', a grouping supposedly dedicated to opposing all forms of racism.
How shameful that we should even be having this kind of discussion while suffering Palestinians ask for our support.
In cringing mitigation, SUTR insists that it 'does not take a position on the Middle East'. This staggering claim will be news to all those refugees who have fled Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and other lands devastated by Western invasion and interference.
Is the vast colonial crime visited by Britain and the West on Palestine, the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 by Zionist forces, and the ongoing plight of occupied Palestinians also 'outwith the regional concern' of SUTR? Are we really being told that this imperialist history and continuing human calamity does not fall within SUTR's moral or political 'remit'?
GPHRC have long-admired the fraternal support and sponsorship offered by the Fire Brigade Union - Scotland to Palestinian firefighters. We recall, in particular, the welcome visit of Nablus firefighters, accompanied by FBU colleagues, to our stall in Glasgow.
Before last year's SUTR march, we witnessed the indignity of SUTR asking other visiting Palestinian firefighters to join the same demonstration as COFIS/GFI, organisations which were flying the very flag of their oppressors. They, of course, refused.
Following SUTR's failure to issue a statement opposing the presence of COFIS/GFI on last year’s march, every Palestine solidarity group in Scotland, including GPHRC, formally boycotted the SUTR rally, as did the Muslim Council of Scotland, Communist Party - Scotland, and many other political/civil groupings. That position was backed by the UK-wide Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Similar statements have again been published by Scottish Friends of Palestine, Palestine Alliance, Scottish Jews Against Zionism, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, and Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, while Fight Racism Fight Imperialism - Glasgow, and West Dunbartonshire Supports the People of Palestine have, once more, taken active roles in challenging SUTR and organising a counter-demonstration against COFIS/GFI’s participation on their march. (10)
Repeated reference should also be made here to another open statement signed by various artists (including Ken Loach and Paul Laverty) in 2017 urging a boycott of COFIS/GFI's 'International Shalom Festival' as an exercise in Brand Israel whitewashing. (11)
As GPHRC advised in 2017, a similar kind of statement could have been made by SUTR, condemning CoFIS/GFI and declaring it unwelcome at its event, thus removing SUTR from responsibility for any subsequent COFIS/GFI appearance. Why, we must ask, has SUTR still refused to heed such advice?
As leading voices within SUTR, particular note should be made here to the role of the Socialist Workers Party - Scotland (SWP) in its ongoing failure to challenge and exclude COFIS/GFI.
The SWP have published a statement (12) which includes the following:
"The SWP is anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian rights. We think Israel is a racist state. We are proud of our record in playing a significant part in building solidarity with the Palestinians over many decades. It is not antisemitic to criticise the Israeli state's treatment of Palestinians. We oppose the adoption of the IHRA and slanderous accusations that Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite. These accusations are designed to undermine and weaken Palestine solidarity and the left."
All seemingly solid. Yet, if the SWP are so "pro-Palestinian", why aren't they listening to what Palestinian civil and solidarity organisations are saying on this matter? If they really "think Israel is a racist state", why are they unwilling to partake in any formal statement resisting and seeking to exclude a body which does everything in its power to defend and promote that racist state? And if they are so determined to oppose the "slanderous accusations" against Corbyn, how could they fail to condemn and exclude COFIS/GFI as a grouping actively engaged in that smear campaign?
The SWP claim: "by insisting that they [COFI/GFI] are excluded from participating on 16 March and constantly playing up their supposed “links” to Stand Up To Racism, sections of the Scottish left are simply willingly falling into a carefully laid bear-trap."
This is a remarkable inversion, blaming those prepared to stand up to entities openly supportive of Israel's racist state as helping to subvert left anti-racism. It is also, by association - and very typical of COFIS/GFI's own ugly deflections - blaming Palestinian victims for drawing attention to their own victimhood.
The SWP further argue that "sections of Jewish people may be sympathetic to Israel but still want to oppose the fascists. We may see the contradictions. But it is only by uniting that we can win a space to debate and argue. This in no way means dropping or curbing support for the Palestinian people."
Alas, it is that very contradiction the SWP patently fail to see. And by refusing to stand resolutely against COFIS/GFI, SWP/SUTR have most certainly undermined the Palestinian people.
No one for a moment is suggesting any kind of prohibition or ban on any Jewish people. The issue here is not about individuals, of any religion or belief, it's about whether SWP/SUTR are willing to stand up to COFIS/GFI as an organisation.
In terms of any statement, SUTR could clearly say: 'We, as a collective anti-racist body, find the positions and views of COFIS/GFI antithetical to our own core principles, and, therefore, unwelcome as a formal organisation at any of our events.'
Again, having made their rejection plain, SUTR/SWP would be under no obligation to 'police' any unwanted COFIS/GFI appearance at their march.
Yet, instead of any such statement, the SWP offer the spurious excuse that it "cannot build a united anti-racist movement if the politics of the Middle East are imported into the movement. Divisions exist over Israel/Palestine."
This is a particularly disgraceful evasion, again completely contradicting the SWP's "pro-Palestinian" claim. Nor does it say much for the SWP's 'internationalism'. The excuse that "divisions exist over Israel/Palestine" also panders to the worst kind of liberal hand-wringing and 'two-sides' normalisation.
Other such appeasement here includes an SWP member asking COFIS/GFI if they could "come on the demo without the Israeli flags". Yet, while the flag of Israel at such an event would, indeed, be deeply offensive, such lamentable appeals only highlight further the SWP's failure to oppose COFIS/GFI outright.
Another SWP backer argues that "to officially exclude, and try to police [COFIS/GFI's] exclusion, would directly play into the hands of those pro-Israel activists who want to expand the current campaign of slandering left-wing anti-Zionists as anti-Semites."
On the contrary, it should be obvious to any serious leftist that this position is playing precisely into the hands of COFIS/GFI and the wider pro-Israel lobby. The SWP are sadly deluded in trying to placate and accommodate a body not only dedicated to protecting Israel's racist state, but to the destruction of the left itself.
Rather than take a decisive stand against COFIS/GFI, SWP engagement has only emboldened such forces. How do SUTR/SWP intend to 'police' that growing problem? How can SUTR/SWP reconcile giving political shelter to such organisations?
For the last sixteen years GPHRC's street campaign has sought to advance the Palestinian case direct to the public, by encouraging support for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) and other practical forms of solidarity. Unlike COFIS/GFI, we stand resolutely with the oppressed, not the oppressor. We march for the occupied, not with those helping to prolong their occupation and suffering. We do not see it as our task to 'engage' or 'embrace' organisations which serve to perpetuate Israel's colonial-settler state and institutional racist system. Like other serious solidarity groups, we see through the whole 'peace-process' charade, a specious and contrived 'two-sides' narrative, long-used by Israel and its supporters as a stalling device and cover for international inaction while even more Palestinians are murdered, imprisoned and displaced. And we see, quite clearly, COFIS/GFI's own pretence part in this 'pro-peace advocacy', serving to obscure the issues and sanitise Israel's crimes.
It is equally obvious that COFIS/GFI are running with the same establishment smear campaign being waged against Corbyn, joining with Blairite coup-makers and other right-wing forces in charging anyone even nominally critical towards Israel of 'anti-semitism'.
How dispiriting to see SUTR succumb to such McCarthyite fear and blackmail, rather than stand in honest, resilient rejection of this malign campaign. Like the entire pro-Israel network, COFIS/GFI will never be satisfied with any 'concessions'. As we've seen with the assault on Corbyn, the aim is to inhibit, intimidate and eliminate all opposition to Israel.
COFIS/GFI's ambitions and methods with regard to SUTR are similarly calculating: to court attention, gain entrance, and utilise SUTR as a 'respectable' platform for proclaiming its 'anti-racist credentials', while advancing its real pro-Israel agenda.
It is no attack on any person's race, religion or beliefs to say that Israel is a racist endeavour, and that any organisation which supports and promotes that racist, apartheid state must also be confronted and exposed.
By the same token, we have a duty to call-out any supposedly anti-racist organisation giving such racist-supporting bodies political cover.
True solidarity with Palestinians means standing up to all those responsible for, and complicit in, their suffering.
GPHRC will continue, in good conscience, to challenge those who oppress, those who protect the oppressors, and those who shelter the protectors.
Notes and references
1. Adalah: The Discriminatory Laws Database: https://www.adalah.org/en/content/view/7771
2. Ben White, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide (second edition), Pluto Press (2014).
3. Jonathan Cook, Why Israel is an apartheid state, March-April 2018, https://www.jonathan-cook.net/2018-03-18/why-israel-is-an-apartheid-state/
As Cook comments:
"Not surprisingly, Israel’s supporters have been keen to restrict the use of the term “apartheid” to South Africa, as though a political system allocating key resources on a racial or ethnic basis has only ever occurred in one place and at one time. It is often forgotten that the crime of apartheid is defined in international law, as part of the 2002 Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court at The Hague. An apartheid system, the statute says, is “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”. In short, apartheid is a political system, or structure, that assigns rights and privileges based on racial criteria. This definition, it will be argued in this essay, describes the political regime not only in the occupied territories – where things are actually even worse – but in Israel itself, where Jewish citizens enjoy institutional privileges over the 1.8 million Palestinians who have formal Israeli citizenship. These Palestinians are the remnants of the Palestinian people who were mostly dispersed by the 1948 war that established a Jewish state on the ruins of their homeland. These Palestinian citizens comprise about a fifth of Israel’s population."
7. https://twitter.com/jhoffman1/status/1093803780242657280 retweeted by GFI 8 Feb 2019.
8. See Tommy Sheridan's discussion of such slander against Corbyn: https://sputniknews.com/columnists/201902191072547650-uk-corbyn-labour-party/
10. Palestine Alliance: https://www.facebook.com/notes/palestine-alliance/palestine-alliance-position-statement-on-cofis-and-normalisation/2290135621221848/
Scottish Jews Against Zionism:
Scotland Against Criminalising Communities: http://www.sacc.org.uk/articles/2019/who-are-friends-israel
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign: http://www.scottishpsc.org.uk/rise-and-rise-of-the-fascist-right/racist-filth-from-glasgow-friends-of-israel
FRFI - Glasgow:
11. Artists For Palestine: https://artistsforpalestine.org.uk/2017/08/10/israeli-cultural-whitewash-fails-to-impress-at-edinburgh-festival-fringe/