As you know, I resigned from the PSC about five years ago. This was not my choice. The PSC were discussing my expulsion at the time and, for family reasons, I just couldn't risk the inevitable publicity and abuse.
Since then, friends of mine and also of Palestine, Francis Clark-Lowes and Gill Kaffash have suffered similar fates and both for the same ‘crimes’ - Holocaust denial and/or anti-Semitism. You’ll also be aware of the number of similar cases where good Palestine solidarity activists have been pressured, and in some cases, hounded out of the PSC. For a list of these activities, you only have to go to the Engage website.
Personally, I can’t accept that having a certain point of view about a period of twentieth century history should carry such stigma and specifically, why it should render someone unfit to participate in Palestinian solidarity. And the same goes for a challenge to Jewish political ideology or activism. Of course I could be accused of being a bit disingenuous – after all, everyone knows the baggage that such opinions carry – but if you look at it a little dispassionately, can you not see that the baggage is itself part and parcel of Zionist power?
In all these cases the pressure on the PSC came from openly Zionist sources such as Engage, Harry’s Place and the Jewish Chronicle, and also from equally Jewish, but in this case, ‘anti-Zionist’ activists. Again, the crimes were alleged Holocaust denial and/or anti-Semitism (whatever they may mean) and in all cases, the definitions were supplied and enforced by the accusers.
Forgive the rhetoric, but who the hell are these people, and what do they stand for? Do they stand for the Palestinian people and do they have their best interests at heart? And Francis Clark-Lowes, Gill Kaffash and all the others who have been targeted; what do they stand for? Do they have the interests of the Palestinian people at heart?
And what has the PSC response been to these horrible and unfair assaults? In every case, it has been to meekly bow its head and comply with these demands. This submission has taken the form of formal statements, informal answers to questions and, in the end, expulsions. Not once has the PSC questioned the right of these abusive people to define, always in their own terms and interests, what the boundaries of the solidarity discourse may be.
And what does the future hold? I think Gill Kaffash speaks prophetically when she asks: “How long do you think it will be until the Jewish Chronicle demands the PSC unreservedly condemns Hamas? And how long before PSC complies?”
You could argue, (and I can understand the argument) that the PSC has to take the position it takes for tactical reasons and that failing to kow-tow to these Zionist demands serves only to provide weapons for those who would secure the oppression of the Palestinians. But again, the act of submission itself is increasing the power of those who oppress Palestinians. And anyway, where has your caution got you? Marc Ellis, that great ‘Jew of Conscience’ used to say “Abandon strategy!” And to some extent, I agree. Abandon strategy. Forget, “if I do this will they do that?” Forget “If we say this will they say that?” And, most of all, forget “If we do this will they call us that?” Those times are over. It’s time to resist, to defy and to speak out.
Sarah, I have some understanding of the horrible situation you and the PSC are in and I won’t presume to tell you what you should or should not do. But if I may, I’d like to offer a piece of (unsolicited) advice. It begins with a phrase I loathe and which up till now, I have studiously avoided…As a Jew,
As a Jew, I can tell you, you don’t have to bow to this kind of pressure. It’s largely (not totally) a bluff – the same kind of bluff that enabled a few thousand Brits keep down millions of Africans and Asians in the days of Empire. It’s a clear case of the Emperor’s New Clothes – call the bluff and, I promise you, the Emperor will be left standing - stark, naked.
So, Sarah, the next time the Jewish Chronicle contacts you for a reaction, why not say somewhat frostily: ‘No comment’?
Sarah Colbourne is General Secretary of the PSC.