Shame on the SWP
SUTR accepted the Zionist ‘anti-Semitism’ narrative, writes Tony Greenstein. Despite that the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland was finally kept off the march ... by unofficial action
Every year Stand Up To Racism - a front group which is politically controlled by the Socialist Workers Party - holds an anti-racist march in London and Glasgow. No harm in this, you might think, even if it is unlikely to have a great effect on racism. In 2017, supporters of the Confederation of Friends of Israel in Scotland,1 complete with Israeli flags, joined the march in Glasgow. But this year people were determined that supporters of the world’s only apartheid state would not join the March 17 anti-racist demonstration.
The SWP, which describes itself as anti-Zionist, refused, despite repeated approaches and requests from Palestinian and anti-racist groups, to bar COFIS from the march. The SWP actively canvassed labour movement organisations on the Scotland SUTR steering group in order to hold the line. On the 12-person SUTR committee only Sandra White, a Scottish National Party MSP, voted against allowing Zionists to join the demonstration.
It was left to direct action on the streets to do what the SWP’s political cowardice was incapable of. West Dunbartonshire Supports the Palestinian People hit on the idea of constructing a mobile ‘apartheid wall’, like the one in the West Bank which prevents Palestinians accessing their lands. The Zionists got a taste of their own medicine last Saturday, when they were prevented from accessing the demonstration. This was despite the best efforts of the SWP/SUTR leaders. The Zionists complained: “The rally was completely all over by the time we got to George Square. A really nice young guy, one of the organisers, came and apologised that we had missed everything and for the way we had been treated.”2
The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, amongst others, was sufficiently incensed by the arrogant and dismissive attitude of SUTR/SWP that it turned up in large numbers to prevent the racist Zionists joining the march. As the Jewish News put it, “Glasgow anti-racism rally descends into pro-Palestine demonstration”.3
The march itself was only a few hundred strong, but it set off almost immediately after the time scheduled for the marchers to gather. It is clear that the SWP/SUTR leaders realised the counterproductive nature of their decision to allow racists onto an anti-racist march and were determined to get it all over with as soon as decently possible.
How did all this happen? The SWP formed a ‘united front’ (in reality a popular front) against racism, appealing to the lowest common denominator politically, along with the Labour and trade union bureaucracy and just about anyone else who would have them. The SWP is anxious to keep their support at any price and is fully aware that much of that bureaucracy has fallen for the lie that being Jewish and being Zionist is one and the same thing.
When the question arose of the participation of Zionists the SWP took fright. If it were to tell COFIS that Zionists were not welcome on an anti-racist march it would mean the usual allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ and the possibility of the Labour bureaucrats withdrawing their support. So the SWP buckled, for all its nominal anti-Zionism - and claim to recognise the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. When it came down to it, it simply gave way.
This is, of course, not the first time that the SWP has demonstrated that its principles can be ‘flexible’. When it was in Respect it kept quiet about abortion. In the Stop the War Coalition it kept quiet about gay rights. Ten years ago the SWP gave its support to Gilad Atzmon, turning a blind eye to his open anti-Semitism and holocaust denial.4
Five years ago the SWP was embroiled in a crisis when a woman made allegations of rape against the national secretary Martin Smith. Instead of Smith being suspended and the matter investigated, or, if that were not possible, the police being asked to investigate, the woman herself was penalised and made to feel responsible. Another woman, a victim of serious sexual harassment, was effectively sacked for making such allegations.
In a series of articles that I and others wrote the question was posed as to how this could happen in an allegedly revolutionary organisation. My own view was that not only was the question of rape and sexism not taken seriously, but that the deformed internal political culture and lack of democracy in the SWP, whereby a self-perpetuating leadership slate is re-elected each year, resulted in an organisation which has no means of checking, still less analysing, its own behaviour. In short there was no democratic accountability.
In the front groups it sets up like Stand Up to Racism it replicates this lack of democracy. None of its previous groups - Globalise Resistance, Unite Against Fascism, the Anti-Nazi League, etc - have been remotely democratic. They have consisted of hand-picked sponsors from the Labour Party, etc, while SWP full-timers effectively control the organisation.
It is little wonder that, when Palestine supporters made demands on SUTR that an openly racist Zionist organisation should not be allowed to participate in the march, the SWP panicked. Knowing full well the way that the false anti-Semitism campaign had impacted on the labour movement, it had decided that COFIS could participate because otherwise SUTR would be painted as ‘anti-Semitic’. This was a deliberate concession to reformist and pro-imperialist currents in the Labour Party. It was a concession to social chauvinism.
Of course, the obvious way out was simply to declare that Jews, whoever they were, were welcome on an anti-racist march, but that supporters of Israel - and Israeli flags in particular - were not. Instead of confronting the Zionists’ attempts to conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism, the SWP had simply caved in.
Even worse the SWP then went to the leaders of unions like the Educational Institute of Scotland, asking them to back its decision, which unsurprisingly they did. Equally unsurprisingly, however, the Muslim Council of Scotland withdrew its support for the march. So the main representative of those who are hardest hit by racism, the Muslim community, was not represented and Zionists, whose sole raison d’être is support for the Israeli state, were welcomed.
One of the problems has been the crude equation the SWP draws between racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Racism is not merely a prejudice: it is about the exercise of power and the role of the state. Racism is closely related to the class division of labour in society. Jews do not suffer from state racism. Mosques, not synagogues, are attacked with firebombs. An attempt was recently made at the Finsbury Park mosque to run over worshippers, killing one. No such attack has been mounted on a synagogue since the 1960s, when fascists were targeting Jews.
The SWP’s understanding of racism equates anti-Muslim racism with anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism today is not directed by the state. Jews in Britain are not affected in any way by state racism. For example, there are no Jewish deaths in custody. Jews are not subject to stop and search or immigration controls or even fascist violence. Jews are not the subject of economic discrimination, such as low wages.
Because the SWP was not prepared to distinguish between Zionist false accusations of anti-Semitism and genuine anti-Jewish prejudice, supporters of the Israeli state were made welcome and allowed to participate on the march, whereas the victims of state and fascist violence, Muslims, were forced into a position where they felt unwelcome.
The bulk of state funding for the protection of religious premises goes to groups like the Zionist Community Security Trust, not Muslim organisations. Jews are not demonised like Muslims in the press. It is noticeable that all Britain’s racist papers - from the Express to the Mail and Sun - throw up their hands in horror at claims of ‘anti-Semitism’ in the Labour Party. Jews are not subject to the government’s Prevent strategy. Jews are, for the most part, a privileged section of the white population and anti-Semitism is a marginal prejudice.
This is borne out by the Pew Global Attitudes Survey 2016, whereby 7% of people hold negative attitudes about Jews, compared to 28% in respect of Muslims and a whopping 45% when it comes to Roma. The figures in the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden are similar. The failure of the SWP/SUTR to take this on board testifies to the crude simplicity of their anti-racist strategy. It is a simplicity that hit the buffers last Saturday in Glasgow.
The dunderheads of the SWP, who parrot their opposition to Islamophobia, fell at the first hurdle. Islamophobia is the consequence of imperialist interventions in the Middle East and Afghanistan primarily. A racism imported back to Britain, in the same way as the racism used to justify the British empire found is reflection in the anti-black prejudice of the 1950s and 1960s, as symbolised by Enoch Powell.
However, anti-Muslim racism is also integral to Zionist propaganda, with its notions of violent Muslims and their backward political culture. The Zionists have formed an alliance with neo-conservatives and some on the far right. Many leading Islamophobic groups, in Britain and internationally, love Israel and Zionism. Whether it is Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France or Heinz Christian Strache of the neo-Nazi Freedom Party in Austria, all are agreed that Israel is the first line of defence of the western world against the Muslim hordes. Indeed the founder of the alt-right in the USA, Richard Spencer, declares that he is a “white Zionist”.5
The defining characteristic of Trump’s supporters and Breitbart News, formerly edited by Steve Bannon, is that it combines anti-Semitism with ardent support for Israel and Zionism. In Britain a similar line is taken by the British National Party and Britain First - holocaust denial, plus support for Israel and Zionism. But the SWP’s sloganeering is too crude to understand all this.
What the debacle over the Glasgow SUTR march shows is that the SWP’s formal anti-Zionism and pro-Palestinian politics are a dead letter. When the crunch comes, it will simply abandon them in an opportunist and unprincipled attempt to retain the allegiance of the labour and trade union bureaucracy. Practically this means that the SWP’s credibility in the Palestine solidarity movement right now is just about zero. It has totally discredited itself.
Palestine Solidarity Campaign nationally sent a letter to SUTR asking it to issue a statement to the effect that organisations participating in its march “need to stand on a platform of opposition to all forms of racism - which includes resistance to or, at the very least, not supporting the policies and laws of any state that are clearly racist”.6 A pretty mild formulation.
By return it received a cursory, insulting response which addressed none of its concerns and completely failed to address the question of the participation of an openly racist, pro-Israel organisation in a supposedly anti-racist march. The SWP will pay a heavy political price for its complicity in the lie that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism.
4. See ‘Time to say goodbye’ Weekly Worker February 21 2008; and ‘“Anti-Zionist” holocaust denier’, March 10 2011.