The reality of the "massive demonstration", the "international event of the year in pro-Palestinian activism". Note the hollow and hypocritical opportunism of the pro-boycotters' banner, "It's kosher to boycott Israeli goods", especially when carried, in defiance of Jewish religious rules, on the Jewish sabbath. Then next to it there's the huge "Jews for Justice for Palestinians" poster, which seems larger than the group of people marching under its slogan. [Thanks to Jonathan Hoffman for supplying this image. The ones that follow are by the wonderful Tanya Nagar who specialises in photographing demos. See her revealing comments on the demo here. ] Saturday 9th June was meant to be a massive demonstration in London against the Israeli occupation and in favour of the Palestinians. It was organized by a relatively new pro-Palestinian pressure group, Enough! with the support of such unions as UNISON and UCU who are currently at the heart of attempts to start union boycotts of Israeli goods, individuals and institutions.
Enough's founding supporters include a motley range of unions, including the massive Transport & General Workers' Union, Amicus, the largest white-collar union and the insignificant and otherwise politically mute Bakers, Food and Allied Workers' Union. It also includes the radical Islamist Muslim Association of Britain-- open supporters of Hizbollah and Hamas, and the SWP dominated Stop the War coalition, a range of Arab pressure groups and a long standing array of pro-Palestinian and anti-zionist groups, including the notorious "Neturei Karta" Chassidic renegade groupuscule who participated in President Ahmadinejad's "Was there really a Holocaust?" conference in Iran. So really, it should have amounted to a massive turn-out of all the possible anti-Israel forces in Britain.
The Enough site was as modest in its hopes as such self-inflating organizations tend to be:
The ENOUGH! coalition is organising a major national demonstration and rally to take place in London on the afternoon of 9 June 2007 - the international day of action to mark the 40th anniversary under the slogan: "The World Says No to Israeli Occupation". The ENOUGH! coalition is organising a major national demonstration and rally to take place in London on the afternoon of 9 June 2007 - the international day of action to mark the 40th anniversary under the slogan: "The World Says No to Israeli Occupation". This is the primary international event of the year in support of the Palestinian people, and we are hoping to have tens of thousands of people at the rally to send a strong message both to the Israeli government and to No 10 Downing Street., and we are hoping to have tens of thousands of people at the rally to send a strong message both to the Israeli government and to No 10 Downing Street.
It seems that the most this "primary international event of the year" could drum up was too small even to get a tiny mention on the BBC News web site on Saturday night, or even a mention on the Guardian or Independent web sites. So much for the reality of the union support for anti-Israel action.
The Trotskyist and allied activists who dominate so many of the union meetings and conferences may be able to get motions passed and union money used to fund high profile, well resourced publicity and demonstration organization. The combined membership of TGWU and Amicus alone (and they have just voted to amalgamate) is over 2,000,000. But they can't even get a sufficiently large number of the membership for the entire Enough! coalition out to support what was billed as their key demonstration event of the year.
Meanwhile, instead of putting their efforts behind demonstrating just how hollow and unrepresentative their actions are, boycott hysteria on the part of some of the wilder US commenters continues unabated. There was an email in my mailbox tonight from a Mr Bromhead, who I've never heard of. It addresses me thus:
You have received this email because you are someone who cares about the one and only Jewish State. This is not your typical urban-legend “chain email”. This is about a real political issue— the growing British boycott of Israel. The chief union of British university professors has just voted to boycott Israel and to urge its members to terminate their relations with Israeli faculty and researchers. Worse, Britain’s largest and most influential union of government employees (1.4 million members) is expected to enact its own boycott and divestment campaign later this month. Other groups, including the Transport and General Workers' Union (900,000 members), the National Union of Journalists, the British Association of Architects, and the British Medical Association, have implemented or are now considering their own boycotts. It is not a stretch to say that these measures constitute a nationwide boycott of Israel.
Meanwhile, Mr Bromhead's fantastic ideas include these recommendations:
However, a boycott can be a two-way street. While the State of Israel, with its tiny population and economy, cannot respond in kind, we in North America can. So until Britain changes its attitude and policies 180-degrees, please do not travel to Britain, do not partake of British products or brands (e.g. HSBC Bank, Reebok, Umbro, Burberry, French Connection, Virgin Megastores, Cadbury, Twinings, InterContinental Hotels, Amstrad, Invensys, Economist Magazine, Financial Times, Jane’s Information Group), do not spend money on British movies or music, do not fly on any British airline (e.g. British Airways, Virgin Atlantic), and, if this applies to you, consider limiting your business with British nationals, divesting your British assets, and/or voting against tenure for British faculty in your department.
Please, Mr Bromhead and those of you of like mind, and please, less over-the-top but still over-alarmist British activists: don't do the absurd would be leaders of this non-existent radical army the compliment of taking their posturing at face value. Why not try devoting some of your efforts to exposing just how empty their statements are? Easily the best article I've seen so far on the subject of the UCU boycott is by Shalom Lappin. I don't by any means agree with everything Shalom says. But he's excellent in putting his finger on just what lies beneath the increasing obsession by radical union leaders with gesture politics of the boycott-Israel kind: The rise of the boycott campaign in British professional unions coincides with their precipitous decline as effective agents of collective bargaining and industrial democracy. The constituent predecessors of the UCU, the AUT and NATFHE, had consistently failed to address the long-term decline in academic salaries and deep under-investment in UK universities. They showed themselves to be largely impotent in their attempts to protect their members' wages and working conditions. While tuition fees have soared, the government has made no serious attempt to correct the deterioration that threatens British institutions of higher education. It has also recently imposed deep cuts on research funding. The impresarios of the annual boycott hunt that now pollutes the UCU (and other professional unions in this country) have substituted the campaign against Israel for serious union activity addressing these issues.
It's not just the professional unions, Shalom. All union membership in the UK has declined massively, since so many people find them irrelevant to their work situation, and many despise their political posturing. That's the reason why Amicus, the main white collar union, whose very raison d'etre was to distinguish its members from rank and file workers, is now about to merge with the TGWU, the paradigm case of the blue-collar workers' union. So yes, there is a job to be done in fighting the propaganda unleashed in favour of boycotting Israel. But the best way to do that is to expose just where it's coming from and how empty and preposterous are the threats and boasts of those who want to set this particular political bandwagon in motion.
The rise of the boycott campaign in British professional unions coincides with their precipitous decline as effective agents of collective bargaining and industrial democracy. The constituent predecessors of the UCU, the AUT and NATFHE, had consistently failed to address the long-term decline in academic salaries and deep under-investment in UK universities. They showed themselves to be largely impotent in their attempts to protect their members' wages and working conditions. While tuition fees have soared, the government has made no serious attempt to correct the deterioration that threatens British institutions of higher education. It has also recently imposed deep cuts on research funding. The impresarios of the annual boycott hunt that now pollutes the UCU (and other professional unions in this country) have substituted the campaign against Israel for serious union activity addressing these issues.
UPDATE:A correspondent who was on the counter-demonstration to the Enough! demo says he estimated not more than 3,000 came to support this "primary international event of the year". That coincides with my reading of its non-appearance on the BBC and other news media usually only to keen to report anti-government and anti-Israel demonstrations.
UPDATE UPDATE:Jonny Paul's Jerusalem report estimate of 2,000 shows how even the star attraction of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, failed to draw their supporters. Note his report of Haniyeh's reference to supporting the "right" of the Palestinians to "resistance" according to what he calls "divine law". And we know just what that means: suicide bomb jihadism and the "struggle" to expunge the state of Israel from existence. Also speaking: Azzam Tamimi, another mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood, and leading pro-Hamas propagandist in the UK, well known for saying that he'd welcome the chance to become a suicide bomb murderer in Israel. Most blatant of all was Haniyeh's reference to this anniversary of the Six Day War as the anniversary of the occupation of "the rest of the Palestinian lands". For those of you who didn't notice, that means that Israel itself is being referred to as "Palestinian lands" which need liberation through "resistance" of the type he justifies. So much for the Palestinian Authority, of which he is the elected Prime Minister, supporting the two-state solution. So much for the fantasies of the UK parliamentarians and journalists who act as apologists for Hamas and plead for the current embargo on aid to be revoked on the basis that Hamas has had to moderate its policies in office. And, do you know, I have a strong feeling that somewhere along the line, Haniyeh will have a totally unofficial, "we're not recognising you, but we are dealing with you" meeting with Foreign Office officials or even ministers under the banner of doing their best to free Alan Johnston. This is the elected leader of the Palestinians the UCU Congress has voted to stand in solidarity with