Solidarity and SWP's favourite anti-semite

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign wants to have it both ways over saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and the Deir Yassin Remembered group. Tony Greenstein (a founder member of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and a member of Jews Against Zionism) reports on the annual general meeting

Readers of the Weekly Worker may recall that in the summer of 2005 I wrote about the picket of Gilad Atzmon, the Socialist Workers Party's favourite anti-semite, who was due to speak at Bookmarks in London.

Atzmon had written a number of articles, notably 'On anti-semitism', in which he explained that "We must begin to take the accusation that Jews are trying to control the world very seriously "¦ I would suggest that perhaps we should face it once and for all: the Jews were responsible for the killing of Jesus who, by the way, was himself a Palestinian Jew". In response to SWP pressure, Atzmon replaced mention of 'Jews' in a few places with 'Zionists', but the meaning was plain.

Atzmon also described the article 'Holocaust wars' by Paul Eisen, British director of the Deir Yassin Remembered group (DYR), as "a great text". 'Holocaust wars' was a devoted portrait of neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel, as well as a tribute to Hitler, who was described as having been loved by millions of Germans.

Eisen has since come out as a full-blooded holocaust-denier. In his most recent article, he states: "Although I stopped short of coming out in definite agreement with revisionists, I did (and do) find their case compelling." And he now says that "the evidence for the use of homicidal gas chambers is not good at all. The evidence against it is much, much stronger".

As a result Jews Against Zionism (JAZ) has sought the exclusion of Atzmon and DYR from the Palestine solidarity movement. Contrary to Eisen's suggestion that "it is Jewish interests that they [JAZ] will ultimately defend", our concern was precisely the opposite. Holocaust-denial and anti-semitism in the Palestine solidarity movement does not affect Jews, but Palestinians. It plays straight into the hands of the Zionists, who are always eager to 'prove' that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-semitism.

It was to this end that members of JAZ and Sue Blackwell (just elected to the executive of the University and College Union) moved two motions at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) annual general meeting last Saturday. The motions, which were almost identical except for the fact that only one mentioned DYR explicitly, were a systematic critique of the relationship of anti-semitism to Zionism and the role that imperialism plays in supporting Zionism.

The PSC executive, however, prefers that motions to its AGM should be solely to do with activism. Political motions are frowned upon. The aim of the campaign, as they see it, is to pressurise governments, flatter trade union leaders and not rock the boat diplomatically. Support for a two-state solution is taken for granted and the idea of a unitary or even a binational state is dismissed, as is deZionisation of the current Israeli state. Not surprisingly the JAZ motions were about as welcome as a ham sandwich at a Jewish wedding!

The executive was clearly put out by the pre-conference publicity, which included an article in the Jewish Chronicle and another by myself on The Guardian's 'Comment is free' blog. Unfortunately, at the AGM in Conway Hall, London, they reacted in the manner of all bureaucrats: viz, they vigorously opposed our motions and proposed a 'delete all and insert' amendment which, whilst condemning anti-semitism, failed to refer to DYR. It took a subsequent executive statement to make it clear that PSC has never had nor does it have any links with DYR.

The problem was that the executive, in the form of its general secretary, Betty Hunter, chose to demagogically attack JAZ rather than DYR and Atzmon. Based on a misreading of the Jewish Chronicle article, Hunter alleged that we had criticised PSC as anti-semitic. The JAZ resolutions were heavily defeated, but ironically our major demands re Atzmon and DYR were accepted - with all the ill grace that annoyed bureaucrats can muster!

What was, however, defeated was an analysis of Zionism and anti-semitism which located both in the context of the politics of imperialism. Above all, it is any class analysis of the nature of Zionism and anti-semitism and the role of imperialism which was rejected.

Zionism did not just arise of its own accord. It was a reaction to anti-semitism and was itself fostered and supported by these very same anti-semites. Even today the headquarters of the Zionist Federation in Britain, Balfour House, is named after the anti-semitic British prime minister who introduced the 1905 Aliens Act, with the aim of preventing Jewish refugees from tsarist Russia from entering Britain.

The PSC wishes to support the Palestinians whilst not opposing imperialism, and it wants to oppose the racism of the Israeli state without opposing Zionism! The result is a membership which has an extremely low level of political consciousness, in which ideas of a 'Jewish lobby' and 'Jewish power' can take root amongst some people as an explanation of US support for the Israeli state.

Ironically the executive also announced to the AGM that this was the 25th anniversary of the founding of PSC, without mentioning that the only two founder-members present were Roland Rance and myself, both of JAZ.

Unsurprisingly, given the bureaucratic and apolitical approach of the executive, they thought their main task was to defeat JAZ (who were supported throughout by delegates from Scottish PSC). What they had forgotten was the outside world.

Immediately the resolutions from JAZ were defeated, both the Zionists and Atzmon/DYR proclaimed that there had been a famous victory for anti-semitism. On the Engage website David Hirsch wrote an article entitled 'Palestine Solidarity Campaign almost unanimously rejects two motions against anti-semitism'. It must be the first time ever that a Zionist site has reprinted resolutions condemning Zionism as a form of racism and apartheid and then described these same resolutions as being opposed to anti-semitism! Normally they argue the exact opposite.

The anti-semites, however, did not have to engage in these verbal gymnastics. Gilad Atzmon posted that "PSC members saw these three to five idiotic (third category) crypto-Zios running around them and handing out flyers. They basically saw their civilised solidarity movement becoming a branch of ADL [the US Anti-Defamation League]. They felt sick and they vomited collectively."

Another poster was even more explicit: "I just thought I'd pop in and offer my congratulations to Gilad et al. It must be clear to you that you are pushing at an open door with the PSC, who are clearly not hostile to your theories of the essentialist nature of the 'Judaic mindset' and the need to resist 'Jewish power', etc."

However, there is little doubt that the organised anti-semites around DYR have been completely marginalised in the Palestinian solidarity movement and they would be hard pressed to find anyone in PSC who is prepared to come out publicly and defend them. But what is also clear is that, in the absence of clear and consistent anti-Zionist politics, people will be susceptible to arguments that the American government supports Israel not for reasons of geo-political strategy and oil, but because of a Jewish lobby.

SWP members in PSC like Sabby Sagall voted to support the executive, whilst Ray Sirotkin of Socialist Action and Ben Soffa of the soft-Zionist Jews for a Just Peace for Palestinians spoke in its support. They all provided a fig leaf of Jewish support for their crass tactics. Having never once raised the issue of DYR or anti-semitism, keeping their heads down in the tradition of the Jewish misleadership, they played the role of Judas.

It has only been through the persistence and determination of Jews Against Zionism, which has been implacable both in its opposition to both Zionism and anti-semitism, that the elephant in the room - the issue of anti-semitism in the Palestinian solidarity movement - has been raised. For that we have no apologies to make. As the Palestinian, Ali Abunimah, has stated, the fight against anti-Palestinian racism cannot afford to be sullied by anti-Jewish racism.