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Statement by International Socialists: The solidarity Palestine needs

Ariel Sharon’s murderous assault on the Palestinian people has rightly provoked outrage around the world and an outpouring of sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians. Several thousand people have demonstrated in various parts of Ireland, and the Dublin rally on April 27th looks set to be the biggest demonstration yet. But human sympathy is not enough. What is urgently needed is a political strategy with the potential to end the long nightmare of the Palestinians.

Such a strategy could not restrict itself to calling for an end to Sharon’s current offensive. Israeli offensives have come and gone with great regularity over the years. We must call for an end to the occupation in its entirety. That requires opposition to the Oslo “peace process” which committed the PLO to police the occupation. It also requires opposition to the tinpot regime of Yasser Arafat. Having betrayed the first intifada and accepted the presidency of the Palestinian bantustan, Arafat has distinguished himself in recent years by imprisoning, torturing and killing opponents of Oslo at the behest of the Israeli state. A symbol of resistance he may be, but Arafat is part of the problem, not part of the solution. In the end, the only real solution for the agony of Palestine is for a democratic and secular state where Jews and Arabs can live together in peace and equality.

You would search in vain for anything resembling these ideas in the programme of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC). For a start, the IPSC has no programme. It has no political stance beyond offering sympathy to “people in Palestine”. Where it should have been making political demands – for the Irish government to break off links with Israel or to use its position on the UN Security Council to highlight the issue – the IPSC has been content to endorse the Boycott Israeli Goods campaign. This is not good enough.

Not surprisingly, the IPSC is dominated by Sinn Féin. In so far as SF has a coherent line on Palestine, it is to argue that Palestine needs a peace process like Ireland, and that Oslo should be implemented. It obviously hasn’t occurred to them that the Oslo process led us to this point. But then SF aren’t all that committed to the Palestinian cause. Adams’s statement in New York that the IRA stood in the tradition of Menachem Begin is proof of that. It is apparent that SF’s recent waving of Palestinian flags is mainly to do with keeping a veneer of radicalism and covering up their increasingly criminal political record in Ireland. Sending their youth wing to run solidarity campaigns for Palestine, Cuba or Euskal Herria not only gives the kids something to do but also provides a prop for those republicans still deluding themselves that they belong to a revolutionary movement. For all the good these campaigns do, that may as well be their only purpose.

This might not be so bad if it wasn’t exerting an unhealthy influence on the Irish Anti-War Movement (IAWM). Since the Afghan war wound down and in the absence of Bush’s threatened invasion of Iraq, the IAWM – and the anti-war groups in the North which for some reason never affiliated to it – have found themselves at something of a loose end. Meanwhile, the dominant component of the IAWM, the Socialist Workers Party, has seen there is an audience around the Palestine issue and thinks it can fish for recruits. On the initiative of the SWP, the IAWM has undertaken a sharp turn towards the IPSC without having an agreed stance of its own. It agitates for “Justice for Palestine” without being able to say what that means. The outcome is the not unfamiliar sight of the SWP acting as a tail on Sinn Féin.

The reason for this lies in the SWP’s politics. Over a number of years the party has cultivated a Masonic culture in which revolutionary politics is reserved for party members while crass reformism will do the business for the outside world. The SWP has an intensely annoying habit of adopting a formally correct position and then doing something completely different. So SWP members will argue against Oslo and Arafat in branch meetings or in conversation with other socialists, but you would never guess that was their position from what they say on public platforms. This approach of course dovetails perfectly with their stance on Northern Ireland of claiming to oppose the Good Friday Agreement while in practice acting as its critical left-wing supporters.

Take for instance the recent protest at the US consulate in Belfast, currently being trumpeted by SWP members as an example of them “standing up to SF”. The essence of the disagreement was that SF wanted to stand outside the consulate, while the SWP wanted to go inside and sit in a corridor. That was it. No sign of any political argument. Even worse is the party’s reaction to the disturbing level of anti-Semitism in the campaign. While fundamentalists rail against “the Jews”, we are treated to a shocking display of moralistic hand-washing – of course, we aren’t anti-Semitic. Anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism. Perfectly correct, and perfectly inadequate. Any socialist party worth its salt would condemn the anti-Jewish filth that crops up on a regular basis instead of running for cover.

All this is important because an effective campaign needs to be built on strong political foundations. Members of the International Socialists have played an active role in the anti-war movement, and have deliberately refused to pick a fight over the arrogance and bureaucratism of the SWP – because to us the political issues are more important than organisational grievances. We accepted that the SWP would always put its narrow sectarian interests first, but we took part in building the movement because it was a worthy cause. But we cross a Rubicon when the SWP uses its numerical strength to police the anti-war movement on behalf of the Provos. We’ll be damned if we play along with that. It isn’t too much to ask for a campaign to be honest, principled and useful. Unfortunately, the IPSC and IAWM are none of these things. The suffering people of Palestine deserve better than this shocking display of cynicism from the republicans and socialists of Ireland.

Issued by IS, 19th April 2002.



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