<< back to Newsletter
By Rob Marchant, New Statesman,
October 28, 2011
Oh, how fashionable it is all becoming. A month ago, enfant terrible designer John Galliano was fined over an anti-Semitic tirade at a Paris restaurant. But his drug-addled ramblings were just the latest signs of a wider trend.
There are numerous recent incidents -- ranging from an unpleasant flavour of anti-Israeli activism to straightforward racism -- that should sound alarm bells for the liberals among us. For example, take the odd promotion of renowned Jewish conspiracy theorist Gilad Atzmon's book on the Times' website. Or the "ugly" barracking of Israeli musicians during a London concert for the heinous crime of, er, being Israeli. Or a racist incident involving a Jewish student at St Andrews University.
But there's a new twist on the ideological catwalk. We can visualise far-right thugs indulging in this kind of thing but somehow we don't expect it from our comrades on the supposedly liberal-left.
And I am afraid that the final two incidents referred to above, and others beside, are connected with a small knot of campaigners purporting to further the cause of the Palestinian people. They go by the name of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). Not only was the St Andrew's student a member of the Scottish PSC but it was then the PSC who condemned the conviction, according to Stephen Pollard writing in the Daily Telegraph.
If you need a primer on the PSC let's start here. This is the organisation that invited Raed Salah - accused by a Jerusalem court of anti-Semitism - to speak at the Houses of Parliament. Its defence? Jaw-droppingly -- as the London Evening Standard reported -- it was because "he denied completely he was an anti-Semite" (despite views expressed in this video and others attributed to him here). Salah is now likely to be deported following a tribunal ruling reached earlier this week.
Moreover the PSC has members who have been quoted making troubling and making conspiracy-fuelled attacks about the role of Jews and the state of Israel (see this list on the dubious activities of ten separate local branches). And it was one of the PSC's close union allies, UCU, which decided to reject any formal definition of anti-Semitism, so as not to limit its pronouncements against Israel, and which now has its Jewish members leaving in droves.
Meanwhile, it was Viva Palestina, a group linked to PSC, whose organiser Carole Swords, was caught on camera shouting "go back to Russia" at a man outside the Israeli cosmetics store Ahava in Covent Garden and who was later arrested -- in a separate incident -- for using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour.
And which mainstream group is unthinkingly giving succour to this new vogue? Step forward, Britain's trade unions, once the reliable ballast of the Labour right, who are increasingly being influenced, in their wilder conference pronouncements at least, by the far left.
So much so that the Trades Union Congress recently tried to break links with their counterpart in Israel, Hisradut, a largely progressive grouping which has sought to cultivate links with their Palestinian brethren. Observer columnist and a defender of unions, Nick Cohen, cancelled his speaking date at a TUC rally in protest at what he calls a "foul smell in Britain's unions".
While they also operate on Labour's fringes, the far left knows that the TUC's resolution-based democracy presents a far better opportunity to effect action because if a resolution is passed it becomes policy; even if that resolution is the work of a small number of nutty, but well organised, activists.
The TUC needs to wake up and challenge the toxic effect of its association with the PSC. (There is an honourable exception to this near-universal backing for the PSC -- the union Community backs the non-partisan Tulip, which reaches out to both sides).
Last weekend, there was a scheduled PSC-organised trade union conference,. I'd like to think that this was because the unions involved finally saw sense but find myself believing the reason given by the PSC -- namely, the TUC was too busy preparing for the 30 November day of action. The accompanying statement states that, in supporting the PSC, "the TUC has voted to . . . oppose racism". Have these people no sense of irony?
Yet the worst culprit of all, in the propagation of this twisted fashion, is us. You and me. We of the Labour Party and the labour movement, because we are content to sit back and let it happen.
It blights our society, it hurts the Palestinian cause and, in the end, the latent toxicity of the PSC and their fellow-travellers will damage us on the left, too. Tolerance of the viewpoints of a broad church is fine. But this fashionable tolerance of racism, in imagined support of a cause, is unacceptable and must not go unchallenged.
Rob Marchant is a political commentator and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left. You can follow him on Twitter @Rob_Marchant
UPDATE: The PSC has asked us to point out that they take a firm line on racism and that the front page of the organisations website says: "Any expression of racism or intolerance, or attempts to deny or minimise the Holocaust have no place in our movement. Such sentiments are abhorrent in their own right and can only detract from the building of a strong movement in support of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.
"Our campaign is a positive one, working to ensure the freedoms enjoyed by people throughout the world are not denied to the people of Palestine. We seek to build a movement where all those who are in support of our core demands can take part. Join us, and let us create a world free of occupation, free of racism and where the human rights of all are protected."
Further the PSC has asked us to point out that 1. The protest against Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra was based on the IPO's close association with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and 2. The Scottish PSC is an entirely distinct organisation to PSC. It has its own membership, officers, structure and policies. More