On Saturday 17 January, a contingent of Workers’ Liberty members in Sheffield attended a demonstration to oppose the Israeli assault on Gaza, as we had done for the previous two Saturdays.
- The story of what happened, with photos
- Another account, with photos
- Comment from Sheffield AWL
- Open letter from Sheffield AWL.
One of our placards bore, on one side, the slogan “no to the IDF, no to Hamas” because we wanted to make clear our position that supporting the Palestinian people’s struggle for independence does not mean endorsing the deeply reactionary politics of Hamas.
The placard which read “No to the IDF. No to Hamas” was forcibly removed from a young woman's hands and torn up and stamped on in front of the crowd, a majority of whom cheered and clapped (including members of the Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the SWP and Permanent Revolution, who are all very hostile to any “two states” position). This is an intolerable level of censorship.
Many people do not share our political perspective. Much of the “left” detests it. There are also many who do have sympathy both with our “two states” position and our opposition to Hamas.
AWL members did not in any way disrupt, or attempt to disrupt, the demonstration. We brought placards and a banner which expressed our solidarity with the Palestinians — and our opposition to Hamas.
Members of the AWL have been involved in demonstrations and actions for years. Never before have we experienced anything like what took place on Saturday 17 January 2009 in Sheffield.
We hope that activists in Sheffield and elsewhere will take a serious look at this incident. We ask you to support our right to raise criticism of Hamas and other clerical-fascist organisations on demonstrations — to fight back against the attempt to make all pro-Palestinian activities politically identical with clerical-fascist politics, for that is what it comes down to.
The AWL is completely opposed to the ongoing siege on Gaza. The recent bombing campaign by Israel on Gaza was a mini colonial war. We are for solidarity with the Palestinian people, and for full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.
We support a consistently democratic solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: an independent Palestinian State alongside Israel (and with the same rights as Israel).
We consider it important to highlight the struggles that do take place of working class organisations in both Israel and within the Occupied Territories. We support those in Israel who oppose the actions of the Israeli state, for example, the refuseniks and the anti-war movement.
This political position is highly unpopular with some on the British left. Groups such as the SWP are opposed to the continued existence of Israel. Debate and discussion of these differences is necessary.
We believe our main job at present is to make solidarity with the Palestinians. But solidarity with the Palestinians should not mean solidarity with their Hamas leaders. Hamas rejects a democratic solution on the lines set out above. Their goal, instead, is to destroy Israel and deny the Israelis national rights.
Our slogan does not imply that the two forces (the IDF and Hamas) are equivalent but simply that revolutionary opposition to the Israeli state does not mean supporting any force that also happens to oppose it, irrespective of that force’s politics. As we have put it before — yes, the Israeli state is “the main enemy”, but the existence of a main enemy does not convert other enemies into friends.
Since Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006, movements in Britain against the actions of the Israeli government have been hegemonised by forces which, tacitly or explicitly, support the Islamist politico-military parties, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, that claim to make up the “resistance” to Israeli colonialism. The fact that they “resist” is not enough; it matters a great deal what alternative they fight for.
The alternative to Israeli state terror offered by Hezbollah and Hamas — theocratic, sectarian terror against secularists, women, LGBT people, trade unionists and apostates backed up by the powerful capitalist ruling-class of Iran — is one we reject and fight. Furthermore, refusal to condemn Hamas’s ideological, anti-semitic project to destroy Israel cuts pro-Palestinians off from the entire Israeli-Jewish nation — including the Israeli opposition movements.
We therefore believe it is necessary to challenge the pro-Hamas politics of the demonstrations from the standpoint of working-class solidarity with the Palestinians. Basic progressive politics on issues such as women’s and LGBT rights cannot simply be suspended in times of war. Palestinian workers, women and LGBT activists courageously endeavor to combine struggle against Hamas with struggle against Israeli occupation.
To support Hamas, or fail to criticise them, is a betrayal of the Palestinian workers whose strikes they have suppressed; the Palestinian women they have attacked for refusing to put on the hijab, and so on. That is why we included our opposition to Hamas on the placard that was ripped up at the demonstration outside the Sheffield Town Hall on Saturday 17 January 2009.
Already one anonymous posting on Indymedia has said we were “lucky not to be beaten up” and another, that they would join in “chasing us off”. Someone claiming to be a member of Sheffield’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign called “Steve” has written: “maybe simply ripping down and stamping on their banner is not going far enough. Maybe they need a stronger disincentive, preferably undertaken away from the glare of those on the demo where so they can’t go bleating on about their ‘rights’. This wouldn't have to necessarily be violent”.
We are for solidarity with the Palestinians and will continue to participate in actions and demonstrations in support of them — with our own politics. In the future we will also, as necessary, organise to defend ourselves.