The murderous assault launched against the Palestinians of Gaza in January 2009, the courageous spirit of resistance exhibited by those under attack, and the failure of the aggressors to achieve their desired aim of driving a wedge between the people and their chosen Hamas leadership, together had the effect of bringing into sharp focus a development which had been long brewing: the turning of the tide of world opinion against Israel.
The steadfastness of the Palestinian people has endured through in all the twists and turns taken by the liberation struggle. For many years unity was hammered out behind the inspiring leadership of Yasser Arafat despite qualms over the bold tactical retreat embodied in the Oslo accords. Now, in the struggle to unify the nation and lead it to victory, other leadership has come to the fore, building upon the foundations established during the Arafat years. As Norman Finkelstein points out in his new book on the Gaza struggle, ‘This Time We Went Too Far’, “Public outrage at the Gaza invasion did not come out of the blue but rather marked the nadir of a curve plotting a steady decline in support for Israel.” Despite all the efforts by Israel and its backers to sow discord in the camp of liberation, it is Israel itself which is now on the back foot, more widely than ever recognised as a pariah state devoid of historical legitimacy and an affront to civilisation. The murderous attack by Israel upon the international Freedom Flotilla has reinforced its isolation a hundred fold, reminding one of the saying: Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.
Israel loses friends in Europe, the United States and Britain
It is peoples, not governments, which are driving this change of perspective. Finkelstein quotes Gideon Levy on “the surreal scene at the height of the brutal assault on Gaza when the heads of the European Union came to Israel and dined with the prime minister in a show of unilateral support for the side wreaking the killing and destruction.”
Yet this flagrant complicity with Israel’s war crimes stands in stark contrast to the public mood developing in Europe. Records Finkelstein, “Whereas Israel won many adherents in the West after its lightning victory in June 1967, in recent years it has been reduced almost to the status of a pariah state, especially in Europe. A 2003 poll of the European Union named Israel the biggest threat to world peace. A 2008 survey of global opinion named Israel the biggest obstacle to achieving peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict. In a BBC World Service poll taken on the eve of the Gaza invasion, fully 19 of the 21 countries surveyed held a predominantly negative view of Israel.”
Even in the belly of the imperialist beast, the United States itself, public opinion is turning its back on Israel after the horrors of Gaza. Finkelstein tells us that “American voters calling themselves supporters of Israel plummeted from 69 per cent before the attack to 49 per cent in June 2009, while voters believing that the U.S. should support Israel dropped from 69 per cent to 44 per cent.” Whilst lunatic fringe Christian fundamentalism may continue to make common cause with Zionism, the same is not true of other Christian bodies in the USA like the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the United Church of Christ and the World Council of Churches, all of which have “supported initiatives, including corporate divestment, to force an end to Israel’s occupation”.
Nor can Zionism rely upon its claim to a monopoly on Jewishness to sanitise its butchery in the eyes of US Jews. Finkelstein cites a poll of American Jews taken back in 2005, long before the most recent outrages, which found that “the attachment of American Jews to Israel has weakened measurably in the last two years . . . , continuing a long-term trend.” Another poll in 2006 found that “among American Jews under 40, fully one-third felt ‘fairly distant’ or ‘very distant’ from Israel”. This trend was confirmed in 2007, when a poll found that “among Jews under 35 fully 40 per cent registered a ‘low attachment’ to Israel (only 20 per cent registered a ‘high attachment’).” Lest any doubt might linger as to the real import of these figures, that same poll also found that “less than half responded affirmatively that ‘Israel’s destruction would be a personal tragedy’”. And that was all before Operation Cast Lead made Israel stink in the nostrils of all civilised humanity!
Things look no brighter for the Zionist supremacists on America’s college campuses. Finkelstein cites another study, one “commissioned by Jewish advocacy organizations”, which reports that “Jewish college students are clearly less attached to Israel than in previous generations,” concluding that “Israel is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of this cohort.”
In Britain too, despite media coverage heavily biased in Israel’s favour, public outrage greeted Israel’s atrocities against Gaza. As hospitals, schools and a UN compound were being blitzed there were very large and very angry demonstrations right across Western Europe, not excluding Britain.
So rattled was the British establishment by the vehemence of these expressions of solidarity with the oppressed of Palestine that the criminal prosecution of some of those who demonstrated outside the Israeli embassy was delayed until this year, on the cynical anticipation that memories of the horrors would have dulled sufficiently to let the state get on with hounding and incarcerating the Muslim youth targeted for revenge. It is up to the solidarity movement to prove the cynics wrong.
At the time, as Finkelstein recalls, “A wave of student occupations swept across Great Britain including Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Birmingham, London School of Economics, School of Oriental and Asian Studies, Warwick, King’s, Sussex, and Cardiff.”
Some of the forces awakened in the course of these protests went on to join the ranks of the solidarity movement in this country, with some joining the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and some getting involved in the subsequent Viva Palestina convoy. Survivors of the subsequent Freedom Flotilla have returned to the UK with eyewitness reports of the reality of Zionist barbarism which help further shift the popular perception of what Israel is really about.
It was significant that the Freedom Flotilla was being urged on by no less than the Director of Operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), John Ging, who said that Gaza deserves the same urgent international assistance that Haiti did. He added, “We believe that Israel will not intercept these vessels because the sea is open, and human rights organizations have been successful in similar previous operations proving that breaking the siege of Gaza is possible.” The fact that Zionism went on to display such open fascist contempt for all such civilised expectations has had an electrifying effect upon world opinion, further isolating Israel and winning new friends for Palestine.
Workers’ solidarity faces down Zionist provocations
Within the British trade union movement, too, there have been some welcome signs of solidarity. Many trade union members were active in support of Viva Palestina, and the last annual Trades Union Congress agreed a resolution urging the boycott of goods originating from the “illegal settlements” (though carefully sidestepping a more comprehensive boycott from the whole of Israel).
But the sapping influence of Labour imperialism within the trade unions can be seen in the continued fraternal relations the TUC continues to foster with the Histadrut. These cheerleaders for Zionism, sailing under the colours of a trade union organisation, gave total support to Operation Cast Lead in 2009, and now claim that the aid volunteers of the Freedom Flotilla deliberately got themselves slaughtered in order to score propaganda points for Hamas: “Unfortunately, the conduct of the flotilla organisers, through the rejection of the Israeli proposal, was to attain provocation to strengthen Hamas” (Morning Star 11 June). This attempt to smuggle Zionist lies into the workers’ movement behind a smokescreen of fraternal trade union relations was firmly rebuffed by the trade union federation of Palestinian workers in Israel (PGFTU), who declared: “We condemn any attempt by Histadrut to hide behind union-to-union co-operation in order to justify brutal assaults against civilians who tried to offer humanitarian assistance to 1.5 million Palestinians, mostly working people, in Gaza.”
To its credit, the TUC issued a formal condemnation of Histadrut’s fascist stance over Cast Lead, but then resumed business as usual! Sadly, the PSC has provided cover for this lack of fortitude, repeatedly holding back from urging the trade union movement to break decisively with this Zionist fifth column. Yet the truth is that not only the Palestine solidarity movement but also the trade unions themselves would be immeasurably strengthened by such a clear breach with imperialism.
It is the influence of Labour imperialism which still renders the workers’ movement vulnerable to reactionary propaganda from Zionist quarters. Few British trade unionists would have any difficulty identifying as clearly progressive the action of those South African dockers who responded to Operation Cast Lead by launching an operation of their own: refusing to unload a ship arriving in Durban from Israel. It would be a brave Zionist who would raise his head at that moment and slander this act of workers’ solidarity as anti-semitic. Any decent trade unionist would recognise the truth of the statement issued by the South African trade union confederation, COSATU, identifying the dockers’ action as following in the footsteps of earlier anti-apartheid actions by dockers in Liverpool and San Francisco who likewise refused to touch South African ships back in the days of Apartheid.
No less obviously progressive was the wave of pro-Palestinian solidarity which ran through South African students at that time, actively encouraged and organised by COSATU. The strength of this pro-Palestinian sympathy amongst students and workers alike was evidence, not of anti-semitism, but of the continuing high level of political consciousness that persists within South Africa in the wake of the armed struggle against apartheid and its revolutionary overthrow.
As COSATU’s international officer, Bongani Masuku had signed the statement applauding the dockers’ action and also played a leading role in spreading the solidarity message through the colleges. Yet it was Masuku’s work in this field which has now been targeted for opprobrium by Zionism, to the satisfaction of reactionaries inside the British labour movement. Their opportunity came with the news that Masuku had been accused by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) of uttering “hate speech” in remarks he made to students at Witwatersrand University in March 2009.
The university visit, made at a moment when the memory of recent Israeli atrocities was very raw, formed part of a concerted COSATU campaign to isolate Israel internationally. In the same statement that hailed the Durban dockers, stress was laid upon discouraging anyone from giving any assistance whatever to Israel’s war effort:
“We also welcome statements by various South African Jews of conscience who have dissociated themselves from the genocide in Gaza. We call on all South Africans to ensure that none of our family members are allowed to join the Israeli Occupation Forces’ killing machine.”
Entirely in accord with this statement, Masuku warned that South African families should not send their children to serve in the Israeli Defence Force, pointing out the obvious fact that to do so would be to put them in harm’s way. COSATU could hardly then be blamed “if something happens to them”. This simple statement of fact was taken out of context and dressed up as a threat of violence!
What Masuku certainly did make clear was that solidarity activists would be relentless in rooting out and exposing all those who helped to sanitise Israel’s war crimes, regardless of religious identity. He dealt robustly with Zionist barracking at Witwatersrand by pointing out that COSATU members at the university were prepared to stand up to anyone who backed Israeli war crimes in Gaza . In its ludicrous “hate speech” judgement, the SAHRC cites the following words as evidence of anti-semitism and “incitement to violence”:
“COSATU has got members here even on this campus; we can make sure that for that side it will be hell,,, COSATU is with you, we will do everything to make sure that whether it’s at Wits University, whether it’s at Orange Grove, anyone who does not support equality and dignity, who does not support the rights of other people must face the consequences even if it means that we will do something that may necessarily cause what is regarded as harm.”
Yes, when those who are hostile to “equality and dignity” are challenged head-on it can be an uncomfortable experience for them. Clearly they would prefer a quiet life – left in peace to go on cheering on Israel’s crimes against humanity from the safety of the academic sidelines. This has got nothing to do with hating Jews or those of any other faith; it has got everything to do with hating injustice and oppression.
Nailing the Zionist lies, exposing the intellectual dishonesty of apologists for Israel within academia, unmasking groups and individuals who hide behind phony charges of anti-Semitism in order to offer aid and succour to the torturers and murderers of the IDF: undoubtedly all such activities could be said to “cause what is regarded as harm”. In the same way, we sincerely hope that “harm” was caused by the action of the Durban dockers in blacking the Israeli ship – harm to the Israeli economy and war effort. Only a “human rights” organisation that has allowed itself to be completely duped by Zionist propaganda could wilfully construe these context-free phrases as “hate speech”.
As COSATU noted, the charge of anti-semitism against Masuku is “a pack of lies”, and the SAHRC should instead be levelling charges of hate speech against the South African Board of Jewish Deputies who, at the time of the Israeli onslaught, “defended all Israeli actions in that massacre – including the use of white phosphorous against civilians, the bombing of United Nations buildings, the murder of civilians, the bombing of civilian infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and places of worship”.
The innocuous sounding Tulip (Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine), whose spokesman Eric Lee, as director of the influential labour movement website Labourstart, is able to get the ear of thousands of trade unionists, pounced with glee on the verdict. And university and college lecturers – currently engaged in a tooth and nail struggle to defend higher and further education from massive cuts next academic year – were invited at UCU’s Manchester conference at the end of May to join in the imperialist hate campaign against their fellow trade unionists in COSATU. A motion was tabled which called on the union to “dissociate itself from Masuku’s repugnant views” and criticised officers of that union for daring to invite Masuku (i.e. COSATU’s international officer) to a meeting in December to discuss the boycott and disinvestment campaign! It is to the great credit to UCU delegates that they sent this motion down into the oblivion it deserved.
The dirty tricks are only going to get dirtier as Israel’s desperate war crimes intensify and the dismantling of the Israeli entity draws nearer. After all, as Finkelstein notes, “It might be posited as a general rule that the lower the depths to which Israel’s criminal conduct sinks the higher the decibel level of the shrieks of anti-Semitism”. But time and history are on the Palestinian side, as Finkelstein’s data makes abundantly clear, and as UCU and others have shown, Zionist mischief-making can be challenged and faced down in the labour movement. And the best way to expose the fifth column of Zionism within British trade unionism is to strike at the ideological root of all such imperialist subversion of the workers’ movement, by breaking the link with the Labour Party and social democracy.
In its fight against capitalism, the hand of organised labour in this country is already strengthened by the advance of the anti-imperialist struggle in the Middle East. It will be strengthened a thousand times more when the stifling influence of social democracy is thrust aside for good and the British proletariat learns to recognise its real enemies and its real friends.
This Time We Went Too Far is the most recent work by Norman Finkelstein. He previously won the hatred of Zionism and the warm regard of progressive opinion by his book on The Holocaust Industry, in which he exposed the cynical fashion in which apologists for Zionism exploit the historical suffering of Jews in the Second World War to give spurious legitimacy to Israel’s own war crimes. The new book is available exclusively from OR Books on the Internet.