High on rhetoric, low on solutions
Tina Becker reports on the Stop the War Coalition's July 17 conference on the situation in the Middle East
Around 500 people attended the July 17 rally, 'Israel out of Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank', organised by the Stop the War Coalition - considering the heat and the short notice, not a bad turnout.
As could be expected, the majority of those present were members of the Socialist Workers Party. They were, however, joined by a few dozen islamists.
A number of speakers from the main platform agreed that Israel's actions in Lebanon and Palestine were "racist". Betty Hunter from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign thought that "we will have to show the Israeli public that they'll pay a heavy price if they continue like this".
Jeremy Corbyn thought it was "not surprising that people in Palestine and the Lebanon are angry. It is not surprising that they want change". He thought the "Hamas government really tried to move forward".
A speaker from the Lebanese Welfare Community praised the "peace-loving British people" and announced that "we will liberate our country again". Obviously, he fully identified with Hezbollah - as did quite a few of the other speakers.
Surprisingly enough, the only speaker to indicate that our forces are separate from Hamas and Hezbollah was the SWP's Lindsey German "¦ sort of. She said that, "whatever disagreements I have with Hamas and Hezbollah, I would rather be in their camp". And if she lived in Palestine or Lebanon, she probably would be - quite literally. She condemned the language of imperialism, which pretends that "they want democracy. Democracy in the Middle East is Hamas, is Hezbollah".
Dr Azzam Tamimi from the Institute of Islamic Thought was the most extreme speaker of the night. "The Israeli government could have exchanged the soldiers for Palestinian prisoners that they have been holding illegally for years. I cannot find any other explanation than this: Israel cannot exist in peace with anybody. They cannot deal with anybody. Well now Hezbollah and Hamas are dealing with you!"
There was semi-hysterical applause from the audience, with a few muslim women in the audience weeping. At this point, the SWP was still cheering, though not quite as loudly. "Hezbollah is fighting for freedom and liberation. Hamas are legitimate mujahedin fighters." He went on to promise that "something will be done about Israel. We will fight until they are no more there."
Although that might be the SWP's position, too, they certainly made sure not to clap at this point and some of them were looking rather uncomfortable. That changed, though, when Tamimi started to rage against the "miserable official Arab position" of the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other countries. "They want to make the region into tourist attractions, with casinos and with nightclubs that they and all the corrupt people will be going to." He received a standing ovation, though most SWP comrades restricted themselves to mere wild clapping and cheering.
George Galloway picked up on Tamimi's theme: "The Arab masses, in opposition to the casino-loving kings, will not accept the occupation of their land. We will fight and fight again. Most muslims are not blinded by those Arab puppets and tyrants. New forces are coming forth, new forces are feeling their way towards the day - and that day will come."
While there was plenty of such rhetoric, nobody proposed any kind of resolution to the Palestinian /Israeli Jewish national question. There was no mention of the position formerly championed by the SWP - a unitary 'democratic, secular Palestine' - and certainly not one that could potentially unite the two nations under the leadership of the working class: two democratic, secular states to meet the immediate national aspirations of both peoples.