Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s 2021 Virtual AGM was exactly that – completely divorced from reality
PSC’s leadership showed its contempt for members when it refused to support either David Miller or Palestine Action
On Saturday PSC held its AGM, delayed from January because of COVID. Holding the conference online was an opportunity to involve people who normally would not have been able to attend. It also provided a chance to fightback against the ongoing attacks by Zionist organisations against Palestine solidarity activists and support for the Palestinians.
Needless to say PSC’s leaders were determined to squander the opportunity just as they have done for the past 5 years. It was clear from the start that the main concern of PSC Executive was to ward off criticism. The first thing they did was to rule out of order two emergency resolutions.
Despite being attacked itself PSC refused to respond to Zionist attacks
There were 2 possible formats for the AGM. Either a webinar, in which no member of the audience can see another member or a normal zoom session where everyone is equal. Clearly equality with the membership was the last thing PSC’s leaders had in mind so they used the webinar format in order to tightly control proceedings.
One of the few good things about PSC AGMs previously has been that you get to meet different people. The chat feature replicates that. People chatting amongst themselves without being supervised was the last thing that Ben Jamal, Ben Soffa, Kamel Hawwash and Louise Regan wanted. The ‘chat’ feature was therefore disabled. I asked repeatedly in the Q&A feature why this was so but of course no answer was forthcoming. I was simply told not to use the ‘Q&A’ feature for discussing such matters!
It is clear that Socialist Action, the clique that controls PSC, was determined that PSC would maintain a façade of democracy whilst at the same time clamping down on members’ ability to communicate with each other.
Learning from the past
Members were presented with an Annual Report and an Annual Plan. Unsurprisingly no mention was made of the Zionists’ 5 year long ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign which led to the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party’s only pro-Palestinian leader. Nor was any mention made of the actions of Labour’s new Zionist without qualification leader, Keir Starmer, in suspending Corbyn for comments made about the trite and flawed EHRC Report. Indeed the EHRC Report itself was not mentioned. The only mention of the Labour Party was in the following objective:
Lobbying, with allies, the Labour Party regarding the protection of space to campaign for Palestine, at various levels within the Party.
That is the extent of PSC’s ambition. Meaningless verbiage.
For over 5 years the Zionists and the British Establishment, led by the BBC, waged a campaign alleging that Labour was an anti-Semitic party. During that time PSC sat on the sidelines like a frozen rabbit. It believed if it got on with business as normal, then it would all blow over. In fact the crisis has become deeper as PSC sinks into political irrelevance. The adoption of the IHRA and attacks on dissident and anti-Zionist academics is one part of that. As I predicted at the time the war in the Labour Party has spilt out into wider society.
In April 2016 I wrote a letter to the current Secretary of PSC, Ben Soffa, arguing that PSC should not be abstaining from the Zionists’ political attacks. Ben’s response oozed with complacency.
PSC Conferences in Previous Years
We have since seen the IHRA being wielded by the Zionists and their supporters. A Stand Up To Racism meeting with a JVL speaker Glynn Secker was banned from meeting at Tower Hamlets town hall and to prevent a Big Ride meeting in the same borough.
Despite 14 trade unions being affiliated to PSC, there has been an adamant refusal to raise the issue of the IHRA in the unions. Since the unions effectively control the Labour Party this would have been a means to combat the adoption in 2019 of the IHRA.
Pal Action activist Huda Ammori being arrested
What is Missing from the Annual Plan & Report
The Annual Report was more interesting for what was not in it than what was in it.
For example there was no mention of the fact that 4 members of PSC Executive resigned in the last year. This followed on from the forced resignation from PSC of a staff member, Huda, who claimed she had been bullied and harassed out of her post by PSC’s Director.
Huda went on sick leave with depression. Before going she had submitted a Grievance. Instead of investigating it PSC Chair Kamel Hawwash pressurised Huda to withdraw the Grievance. Huda was also forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement as part of a settlement. In this time of #metoo PSC members might want to ask questions about the ethics involved in this.
Emily Thornberry telling Labour Friends of Israel that Israel is a beacon of democracy in the Middle East – PSC nonetheless put her on its platform
Last year Adie Mormech from Manchester PSC was overwhelmingly elected as Campaigns Officer displacing the person who had held the post for a decade without seeming to do anything. Adie was a long standing activist. Kamel Hawwash’s first comment to him was that the post was being abolished the following year!
Apart from the fact that there had been no discussion on this proposal it shows the depth of bitterness felt by PSC leaders at the removal of one of their own. Suffice to say shortly after Adie resigned along with the others, thus demonstrating that in practice ordinary members of PSC Executive don’t control the organisation.
Propaganda blast from the Jewish Chronicle – PSC sees no need to defend the victims of the Zionists
Emergency Motions on David Miller and Elbit
Brighton & Hove PSC proposed 2 emergency motions – one supporting David Miller, the Bristol University academic under attack by the Union of Jewish (i.e. Zionist) Students. The second one was in support of Palestine Action, which has been conducting a series of high profile actions against Elbit Systems arms company in Britain.
Suffice to say the Executive has given PA no support. But instead of the Executive and Ben Jamal defending their refusal to give support they simply ruled out both motions on the grounds that they weren’t emergencies, which they clearly were given that both motions referenced events occurring since the closing days for motions.
The reason for this political cowardice was that their behaviour has been indefensible. There is a refusal to be honest with members about PSC’s leaders unwillingness to have anything to do with issues or groups involved in direct action which might lead to conflict with the state.
The motion on Palestine Action extended support and solidarity to a group formed last July. PA has engaged in a campaign of direct action against Elbit Arms factories. PA has done more in its short history than PSC has in the past decade to make the issue of Elbit into a live campaign.
In the Annual Plan there is one passing reference to Elbit, to:
Work with key partners including CAAT and Drone wars to look at building strategic campaigns focussed on arms manufacturers complicit in the arming of Israel with a presence in the UK, including Elbit Systems.
In other words PSC plans to do nothing. Yet instead of supporting Pal Action PSC has done its best to undermine it.
Scottish PSC is an example of a Palestine solidarity group which doesn’t compromise on its principles and abandon its friends
Why? A combination of sectarianism towards any other solidarity group on Palestine coupled with an aversion to direct action that may mean that PSC ends up supporting those who break the law. The fact that Elbit is actively complicit in war crimes in Gaza, supplying 85% of Israeli drones is irrelevant. This is the price of ‘respectability’.
Earlier this year PSC distributed the gist of a legal opinion (but not the opinion itself) to the branch forum. The opinion was based on a far-fetched scenario whereby the Police would target those who gave money and support to Pal Action. This has never happened before and is highly unlikely. Not content with this PSC contacted the Boycott National Committee to get them to join in the attack. Unfortunately the BNC made the mistake of believing it had the right to tell activists in this country, of which they have no knowledge or experience, how to conduct solidarity action.
In March I wrote to Omar Barghouti of the BNC. Omar hasn’t replied which suggests that both he and the BNC are embarrassed by their stance. It is particularly unfortunate because Omar promised me two years ago that he and the BNC wouldn’t get involved in internal differences with the solidarity movement in Britain. I wrote:
Under the guise of ‘discharging its duty of care to members’ PSC branches were told of “possible legal consequences of their association or support for Palestine Action’s activities.” The legal advice is hypothetical and extremely unlikely to materialise in practice because of the difficulty of proving any causal link between support in general for PA with a particular action. To my knowledge such a prosecution has never been attempted before by the State as a way of attacking direct action campaign groups.
The advice of Hawwash and Jamal can best be characterised as irresponsible scare mongering whose primary motive is to harm PA rather than protect individual members of PSC. The advice is irresponsible because, if it were adopted, it would cut off the source base of direct action groups from sympathisers. Not just PA but Extinction Rebellion, anti-road groups such as the HS2 campaign and Greenpeace.
The motion on David Miller recognised that the attack on him, like a similar attack on Ken Loach was not because of ‘anti-Semitism’ but because both of them were anti-Zionists. The motion declared
its full support for David Miller and any other anti-Zionist academics who are attacked by the Union of Jewish Students. This AGM sees any attempt to discipline David Miller as an attack on academic freedom and in particular the freedom of academics to research the links between Zionism, its organisations, and Islamaphobia and British racism
Zionist Establishment academic David Feldman sticks the knife into David Miller in Haaretz
This was too much for PSC’s leaders who had previously issued a mealy mouthed statement Protecting Palestinian Rights and Academic Freedom. The crucial part of the statement read:
This month saw the IHRA being cited by groups campaigning for an Oxford college to deny space for celebrated film maker Ken Loach to discuss his career. More recently we have witnessed calls from a range of groups, including student groups, for the sacking of David Miller, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Bristol. This followed Professor Miller condemning Zionism as a racist ideology, describing the role of the state of Israel in promoting and coordinating efforts to delegitimise activism for Palestine globally, and outlining the links between some pro-Israel groups and the promotion of Islamophobic narratives.
When addressing such issues, it is crucial to apply depth, context, and clarity, and to avoid narratives that oversimplify the interlinks between groups which oppose actions in support of Palestinian rights, and Israeli state actors. Doing so obscures our understanding of the way political actors’ function. At worst, it can risk drawing on anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish power.
Whilst some have criticised Professor Miller for lacking such depth and clarity in the way he has couched his remarks, those leading the call for Professor Miller to be sacked are straightforwardly asserting that to define Zionism as a movement and political ideology that is racist is inherently anti-Semitic.
Far from giving full support to David, who was subject to a vicious attack by the Israeli funded Union of Jewish Students and over 100 right-wing MPs and Peers, PSC joined in the attack suggesting that David Miller’s writings on Zionist groups and their links ‘risk(s) drawing on anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish power.’
There is one word for this and it is scabbing. Ben Jamal, PSC Executive don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘solidarity’ in PSC’s name.
Why did this occur? Because PSC Executive refuses to see the links between Zionism, the movement and ideology that formed Israel, and the racism and human rights abuses that Palestinians experience. It take a particular kind of stupidity to make this arbitrary distinction.
PSC believes if it concentrates on human rights and ignores Zionism then it can continue as usual. This is like a group campaigning against human rights abuses under Apartheid in South Africa refusing to take a stance on Apartheid.
Zionist attacks on Professor Miller stem from his expert witness evidence in the attempted deportation of Raed Saleh, who won his case. PSC in 2011 organised Saleh’s speaking tour. They have shown their gratitude to Miller in the way that only Socialist Action knows.
The Zionists are not stupid whatever else may be. They know very well that accusations of anti-Semitism have had a chilling effect on free speech on Palestine. You don’t have to take my word for it. The author of the IHRA misdefinition Kenneth Stern, in testimony to the House of Representatives admitted that ‘Congress has enshrined a definition that can only help to chill, if not suppress, their political speech.’ referring to Palestinian students. What Kenneth Stern can see Ben Jamal, Kamel Hawwash and the rest of the PSC leadership cannot see. If the ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign had no effect on support for the Palestinians the Zionists wouldn’t undertake such campaigns.
I know of at least 4 universities where academics are under attack from the Union of Jewish Students who claim that Jewish students (not anti-Zionist Jews of course) fear for their safety if academics are allowed to speak freely on Zionism and Palestine. PSC is determined to repeat its mistakes of the past four years. It has neither learnt nor forgotten anything.
After the defeat of attempts to debate the 2 emergency motions I moved remitting back of the whole Annual Report. My arguments rested on PSC’s refusal to support Miller and Pal Action. I began by noting that it is useless having a plan if you have no strategy.
All PSC does is organise routine activities. It initiates no political initiatives of its own. It never takes the offensive against the Zionists. Uf you do a word search of the Annual Report and Plan you will not find a single instance of the words ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zionism’. PSC presumably believe that Israeli Apartheid fell out of the trees, an accident of nature (or god).
PSC seeks a spurious legitimacy from the political establishment despite the fact that they are regularly spurned. Apart from Jeremy Corbyn there is not one parliamentary patron of PSC. PSC got rid of Baroness Tonge after the Zionists kicked up a fuss.
The only reason that Thornberry and Nandy speak on PSC platforms is because PSC never questions the right of the Israeli state to exist as a Jewish state
In their desperation to seek recognition PSC has put open Zionists such as Emily Thornberry and Lisa Nandy on its platforms. At one meeting Nandy left the meeting before Omar Barghouti could speak in order that she would not be seen to be associated with BDS! PSC’s leaders think that this kind of appeasement actually brings results!
It was reported that after Stephen Kinnock had called Israel’s behaviour on the West Bank “tantamount to profiting from the proceeds of crime”.
Nandy told the Jewish leaders that Kinnock, a consistent and long-standing critic of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians, had been given a “dressing down” for his remarks made during the Commons debate.
“Lisa made no secret of the fact she and the leader were angry with Kinnock,” the source is quoted as saying. “Especially after all the work that has been done to try and restore Labour’s relationship with the Jewish community.”
It is a fact that PSC has made no impact on politicians. It has no sponsors or supporters. Its timidity and caution (some would say cowardice) invites contempt not respect.
But today as activists from Palestine Action face prison for closing down Elbit factories and causing them £2m losses, PSC runs a mile from confrontation with the British state. In so doing PSC ignores the mass movement that has sprung up against the Police Bill. It seeks to influence opinion makers in the British Establishment oblivious to the fact that support for Israel is a cardinal tenet of Britain’s Foreign Policy Establishment.
Tony Greenstein speaking at a previous PSC AGM
Anti-Zionism and support for the Palestinians is subversive in Britain today. Under the Prevent programme it is proof of extremism. Retreating in the face of Zionist fire simply emboldens our enemies.
A few words on Socialist Action. It came from the International Marxist Group which split into a number of disparate tendencies in 1982, most of which have set off in a quasi Stalinist direction, abandoning class politics in the process. It used to provide Ken Livingstone’s closest advisors and had at least one member in Corbyn’s coterie. It also has one member of Labour’s NEC, Gemma Bolton. It is like a submarine except that it never surfaces. It produces no paper simply an email bulletin. It takes over groups like a parasite but never has the courage to declare itself publicly.
The question which arises is whether or not activists should conclude that PSC is beyond saving and that it is incapable of reform. As one of the original founders of PSC in 1982 I would say that the jury is out on this question.
Thanks, as always, Tony, for your informative blog posts. I’d like to make one correction where you caption the “Joint demonstration by JVL and LAW outside Labour’s NEC”.
In fact this lobby was also called at an emergency meeting of Camden Momentum attended by over 110 members from 17 Momentum groups. Labour Representation Committee also called for the lobby.
And an addition, the “IHRA NO, BDS YES” banner was made by IJAN UK (Int’l Jewish Anti-Zionist Network) for the lobby.
V best, M
Thanks for this, Tony. As a relatively inactive member of the PSC, I now know what’s going on – or not, as seems to be the case. Palestine Action looks like more worth helping.