Monday, 30 January 2012

The Failure and Futility of BDS

As part of my very short series of reasons not to worry about the PSC I explain how the BDS campaign has been a failure and is now completely futile.

The BDS campaign in the UK is more than ten years old now. According to the UK Foreign Office, Israeli exports to the Britain have grown every year in that period except during the first couple of years when Israel's economy faltered and again in 2009 for similar reasons. In 2010 it was worth just under £1.5bn representing a little over 4% of Israel's exports.

The campaign certainly hasn't captured the imagination of the British public. The only times that I can recall it being discussed widely in the UK media was when the notion was being thoroughly lambasted from all quarters. It's true that some trade unions have called for or even demanded a boycott but it seems doubtful to me whether even those hundred or so delegates who voted for the motions actually intended to follow it. If the annual campaign against Israeli dates during Ramadan is anything to go by, the BDS supporters are struggling even to convince Muslims not to buy Israeli produce.

As the movement failed to work on the masses the PSC has changed tack, deciding to focus almost all of its energy on a completely futile campaign that is guaranteed to provide it with a never ending stream of "victories". This is the so-called Bin Veolia campaign.

The campaign aims to convince local authorities to exclude Veolia from public contracts. However, under European and UK law it would be completely illegal for any government body to exclude Veolia's bid for political reasons. The PSC likes to claim that companies can be excluded if they're guilty of "grave misconduct" and that that clause applies to any company operating in the West Bank. Unfortunately, the clause only comes into effect once a company has been convicted by a court or tribunal of breaking the law.

Leeds City Council told their local PSC branch as much, going further by pointing out that the company has never been excluded by any council. The branch refused to listen, claiming that Veolia had "lost billions of pounds worth of contracts" due to BDS.

And this is why the PSC loves the campaign so much - they're guaranteed victories. Most people would quickly realise that no company is ever going to win every tender process it enters. Its obvious, therefore, that Veolia will fail in numerous bids. But for the BDSers, every time it doesn't win they can claim credit.

This is what the BDS campaign has become - lots of energy spent to achieve nothing except the continual victory claims. For example, last year the PSC claimed a victory after John Lewis stopped stocking Ahava products. Unfortunately, John Lewis then called the claim "false and misleading" and declared that the boycott campaign had had no effect on the sales of the products.

The national PSC must be aware that the campaign against Veolia winning public contracts can never achieve anything, so why do they spend so much effort on it? One possibility is that it's a very good way of appearing active, appearing to win and keeping the activists happy. Regardless, its good to note that if all the PSC can do is call for something that councils know to be illegal, then friends of Israel needn't get overly concerned.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

PSC's Impact on Public Opinion

Imagine that the PSC was a significant organisation, taken seriously and respected as an important voice in the pro-Palestinian camp. Would it be reasonable to assume that its opinion would be sought on the topic of the Arab-Israeli conflict? Might its senior members be invited to contribute to the debate? Would the media report some of its activities?

Judging by what I found when I looked, the PSC is virtually ignored by the mainstream press. Even the Guardian.

In the last 10 years the Guardian have published over 7,500 items on Palestine and 35,000 on Israel. During the same period it has printed a whopping 109 items mentioning the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Here's a closer look at them.

56 are letters, of which 2 just mention the PSC in passing and 3 are signed by someone who is a committee member of a local branch. 16 are letters with numerous signatures including some from the PSC. They can claim credit, though, for 7 letters whose signatories are either exclusively PSC or were almost certainly gathered by them. There are a further 28 letters signed by someone from the national PSC, virtually all of which are from Betty Hunter.

Of the 53 non-letters 26 are news articles and 14 are comment pieces. The rest are a mixture of local news reports (7), profiles (1), obituaries (1), diary entries (2) and running stories (2).

The news articles break down as follows. 6 mention the PSC in passing, 2 report in negative terms about an activity of the PSC, 1 in neutral terms, 1 is about their interruption of the proms and 2 are references to them inviting the anti-Semitic Raed Salah. In 14 other articles a quote is provided by the PSC, though 5 of these are quotes from Sarah Colborne about her being on the Mavi Marmara and in all likelihood would have been given without the PSC existing.

What is more interesting is the comments pieces. 5 of the 14 only mention it in passing. The other 9 are all hostile or negative towards the PSC. So far as I can tell, no member of the national PSC has been a contributor to CiF.

Perhaps the importance of the PSC to the UK's discourse is best summed up by the following two comments on the live coverage of the Mavi Marmara incident.
10.38am:
A source from the Free Gaza Movement has told the Guardian that 19 people are believed dead.
There were 27 Britons on board the ships, the contact says, including Sarah Colvin from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign

11.08am:
Ben Folley has emailed to point out that I've erred in my 10.38am post, naming a couple of Britons on board. Sarah Colvin should read Sarah Colborne – she is director of campaigns at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign
When the journalist for the definitely anti-Israel Guardian who is live blogging a major event doesn't even recognise the name of the Director of the PSC - perhaps its fair to suggest that they're not that important really.

Keeping Things in Perspective

One of the dangers of focussing on a single issue is that you can lose perspective. Since I've spent some time rather focussed on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign I think its good to take a little time to remind myself of how the world really looks. So here are three reasons why the PSC shouldn't make anyone quake in their boots. In the coming few days I'll elaborate on each one.

1) The PSC has little impact on public opinion and when it does, it is often detrimental to the anti-Israel campaign. (Read more)

2) The BDS campaign, which the PSC spends such effort on, is a failure and its main element is a sham. (Read more)

3) The PSC will become increasingly toothless and incapable of de-legitimising Israel. (Read more)

Bristol PSC and Gilad Atzmon

Last November, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign was forced to distance itself from Gilad Atzmon. Its director, Sarah Colborne, told the Jewish Chronicle:
PSC has made clear ... that we have no links with Gilad Atzmon, and that Palestine Solidarity Campaign does not work with him.
You can read more details on the background here, here and here.

This message, though, didn't appear to get through to the Bristol branch who organised a meeting with Atzmon for this afternoon. Then, last week, a comment appeared from a representative of Bristol PSC stating:
Gilad is well known for his outspoken criticism of Israel and Zionism which will be of interest to many people. However his book focuses primarily on Jewish identity and is not directly relevant to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. For this reason this event is now organised independently. 
I think it's fair to say that the statement is far from being a denunciation of his anti-Semitism. It doesn't enlighten us as to who is now organising the already organised event. The only people involved in the original arrangements were Bristol PSC, why did they not cancel the event?

More interestingly, it appears that nobody told Gilad that Bristol PSC was no longer organising the event. After an article written (published yesterday) by Atzmon, defending expelled Holocaust denier Francis Clark-Lowes, he makes the following comment (left today):
Interestingly enough I give a talk today at Bristol PSC. I will probably end up discussing those issues…
 It certainly seems like an odd situation. First the PSC claims that it has nothing to do with Atzmon and then one of its branches organises an event entitled "Tea with Gilad Atzmon". Then the branch apparently has a change of heart but doesn't cancel the event, instead telling everyone that it is being organised by someone else. Yet Atzmon still thinks he's talking to the PSC.

Would it be going too far to suggest that the organisers of the event are still Bristol PSC and the attendees are still going to be PSC supporters and members and the only thing that has changed is that the PSC has tried to pretend that it isn't organising it. 

Maybe someone from Bristol PSC can clear this up?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Holocaust Denial at the PSC AGM

Yesterday the Palestine Solidarity Campaign held its Annual General Meeting. One of the first things it had to deal with was the expulsion of former National Chair Francis Clark-Lowes. Last year he admitted being a Holocaust denier and, after some pressure, was expelled. Mr Clark-Lowes had a right to appeal at the AGM and you can read his speech here.

What was the reaction in a room full of people claiming to be anti-racist when they were told:
"Put simply, the idea that Gentiles have an anti-Semitic gene, the story of Jewish suffering, the ‘Holocaust’ myth, Zionism, Jewish chauvinism, and anti-racist rhetoric have combined into an ideology which, because it is virtually unsinkable in its own terms, is immensely powerful."
or that:
"Instead of  cowering in fear at the use Zionists might make of what we say, and desperately scouring every word uttered on this subject to root out supposed anti-Semitism, we should be challenging Jewish ideology."
The condemnation was less than inspiring. According to Tony Greenstein:
People literally gasped as they heard him describe the holocaust as a ‘myth’
But Jeremy Moodey says that everyone just listened politely (although the room cheered when they were told that the Occupy movement had taken over another site). When he finished speaking there was modest applause according to Paul Eisen who was apparently outside the room.

After the speech the AGM was asked to vote on whether this Holocaust denier should be expelled from the self-proclaimed anti-racist campaign. 1 in 5 of those present couldn't bring themselves to vote yes. The AGM went on to back a motion endorsing the following statement from the executive:
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign exists to build a mass solidarity movement on Palestine. It is founded on principles of justice, human rights, and opposition to all forms of racism. 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.
Words are cheap and in this case meaningless. When 20% of your organisation won't vote to expel a man who denied the Holocaust to their faces, you don't have much credibility claiming that such denial "has no place" in your movement.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Did the PSC Lie to Caroline Lucas MP?

In June last year Caroline Lucas MP released the following statement to the Jewish Chronicle:
It has been brought to my attention that the PSC logo appears to reflect 1917, pre-creation of Israel, borders and as such could be open to interpretation by some as implying non-recognition of Israel's right to exist. I am following this up with the director of the PSC since I am quite sure that PSC does indeed recognise Israel's right to exist, and it is unhelpful and damaging if any other impression is given.
I did not see any update to this so emailed Ms Lucas in October and was told that she had given a follow-up statement to the JC:
After raising the issue directly with PSC, I am satisfied with the assurances I have received that the organisation does indeed recognise Israel’s right to exist – as I had expected – and that it remains committed to a two state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
According to an article in the Morning Star also from June, the PSC was criticised at a TUC meeting for not supporting the two-state solution and Hugh Lanning (Chair of the PSC) responded.
He stressed the need for two states based on the 1967 borders - a demand recently backed by US President Barack Obama but consistently rejected by Israel.
However, in November Lauren Booth launched an attack on the PSC in which she quoted Sammi Ibrahem as saying:
I feel they (the PSC) have no right to represent the Palestinians’ he says, ‘Their policies are pro the ‘two state’ solution.
Obviously concerned by this, a member of the Bristol branch emailed the head office for clarification and received a reply from Betty Hunter, the President of the PSC. In her email she said:
We do not take a position on the 2 state/ one state solution as that decision must be for all Palestinians. 
One possibility is that there is a real split in the PSC between those who support Israel's right to exist and therefore support the two-state solution; and those who aren't fussed and think it's up to the Palestinians (not the Israelis) to decide whether Israel can continue to exist or not. If this is true then it would be difficult to claim that the organisation is committed to a two-state solution.

Another, more worrying possibility, is that the PSC doesn't, in fact, take any stance on the issue as their President affirms. However, in order to gain support from trade union officials and Members of Parliament, they are willing to lie and tell them that they are fully committed to a two-state solution.

So did they lie to Caroline Lucas MP? Or is the PSC lying to its members?

Sunday, 1 January 2012

A (small) Thank you to anti-Israel Jews

If for every two Jews there are three opinions, it is hardly surprising that there is a distinct lack of unanimous support for any policy decision from any Israeliadministration. But, while most British Jews prefer to leave the public criticism to Israel’s many willing opponents, some feel the need to state their disagreements loudly and “as Jews”. Their apparent willingness to lend support to the complete delegitimisation of the Jewish state leaves the rest of us unsure how to respond and it is tempting to simply label them “self-hating Jews”. However, the truth is never so straightforward.
In many, perhaps most, cases the motivation to publicly denounce Israel is the desire to fight antisemitism. As the CST has observed, the number of antisemitic attacks in the UK is directly related to tensions and actions in the Middle East. Some believe that the support Israel receives from Britain’s mainstream Jewish organisations is a cause of antisemitism and the only way to fight that is to create Jewish anti-Israel organisations.

The founding declaration of Independent Jewish Voices, for example, places the fight against antisemitism at the heart of the organisation. Likewise, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) state that they “extend support to Palestinians trapped in the spiral of violence and repression” because they “believe that such actions are important in countering antisemitism”.

Unfortunately, these campaigns are na├»ve and counter-productive. Racists are generally not entirely rational people. The egg-throwing thug is unlikely to weigh up the probability that the man walking home from synagogue might disapprove of settlements. Nor is the desecrater of cemeteries going to check first that his victims haven’t signed an anti-Israel letter to the Guardian.

More likely is the attitude shown in a comment allegedly left by a member of the Reading Palestine Solidarity Campaign on a website that “not all adherents to the Torah are enemies of humanity” because Neturei Karta are not. By opposing any and every action by Israel, the impression is given that anyone not joining the public denunciations is fully supportive of all these policies. Far from destroying the impression of Jewish support for Israeli actions, their opposition reinforces it. And all this is aside from the impact of delegitimisation on our fellow Jews in Israel.

Nevertheless, very few anti-Israel Jews are self-hating. We should recognise this and make sure to keep them within the big tent against antisemitism rather than making them pariahs. They may be opponents of Israel but they can be our allies in the struggle against antisemitism.

An example are the Jews of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). The PSC is a leading force in delegitimisation, using trade unions to advance its call to boycott all things related to Israel. Its public meetings are often attended by Labour MPs and it invited the banned Sheikh Raed Salah to speak at one such meeting to be held in the Houses of Parliament. Many believe the organisation is incapable of distinguishing between criticism of Israeli actions and antisemitism.

However, during 2011 there has been something of a mini-purge of the organisation with some previously important members forced to resign because of their antisemitism. Those effectively expelled include a former national chair, the chair of one branch, the secretary of another and the webmaster of a third. Behind all these resignations appear to be rank and file Jewish members with support from a Jewish member of the Executive Committee. While the PSC itself may be unable to work our what antisemitism looks like, its Jewish members certainly can.

We have enough enemies already that we shouldn’t be looking to create more.

So long as anti-Israel Jews retain their sensitivity to antisemitism we can be sure that they are neither self-hating nor hate us. They remain allies in our struggle against antisemitism and in some ways are capable of achieving results in it that the rest of us cannot. We should thank them for that. If we don’t make enemies of them, we may find that we have more friends than we thought. May 2012 be a year of reconciliation and greater unity in our small community. We will all be better off for it.

This piece was published in the Jewish Chronicle.