Tower Hamlets PSC and its supporters shut down free speech on Palestine

On Wednesday 21 November members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and other allied groups demonstrated once again their complete bankruptcy in the fight to build a real movement in solidarity with Palestine. At a protest outside Tower Hamlets Town Hall against the Labour council’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which labels criticism of Israel as a racist state anti-Semitic, members of Tower Hamlets PSC, Unison, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Free Speech on Israel (!), the Tower Hamlets Jenin Friendship Association (THJFA) and Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) colluded to deny the RCG the right to speak. When the discussion in the council chamber on IHRA was ended with no action from the council, RCG supporters heckled the council and spoke about the use of the IHRA definition to shut down free speech and Labour’s craven acceptance of this. Not only did the organisations of the opportunist left not support us, but they asked the council speaker to read a statement publicly dissociating themselves from the interruption. Spineless cowards like these, desperate to maintain respectability and their links with the Labour Party, will never put up a real fight for Palestine, free speech or anything else, and must be exposed. 

The demonstration outside the Town Hall was called by the Tower Hamlets PSC and THJFA. Supporters of the RCG had mobilised for this protest for several weeks and had been in regular communication with the organisers about the event. Tower Hamlets Council had unanimously adopted the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism on 19 September. The definition deliberately conflates anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. One of the examples of anti-Semitism attached to the definition is calling Israel ‘a racist endeavour’. The racist nature of Zionism from its very beginning, when it was sponsored by British imperialism to promote British interests in the Middle East, is a fact, and criticising this is crucial to taking an anti-Zionist position. The PSC/THJFA had secured a short slot in the council meeting to ask for a minor amendment to the definition, protecting the right of Palestine campaigners to ‘criticise Zionism as a political ideology; or to describe any policy or law or practices of the state of Israel as racist’ which avoids defining Zionism as racism. In contrast to the PSC, our demand is the only principled anti-Zionist demand – for the council to fully repeal the IHRA definition.

The demonstration was joined by three other campaigns on different issues – against the closure of nurseries, against council redundancies without pay, and against the plans for waste disposal. This is testament to the council’s attacks on working class people. As the demonstration got underway and the speakers were due to start, an RCG supporter asked to be added and were told that there was an agreed list of speakers already and not much time. RCG supporters challenged all of the main organisers from all of the organisations leading the demonstration and they all refused to defend our right to speak: pathetic excuses were trotted out: no time, the list is full, why should we have speaking rights, important speakers still to speak, lots of campaigns here, why should we have an open mic etc etc. They still found time for long bursts of music between speeches. You could not make it up – a banner that says ‘Free Speech on Palestine’, speakers talking about defending free speech, a demonstration against censorship… And yet – a concerted effort to prevent the RCG from being able to speak.

The demonstrators then took their places in the public gallery of the council chamber and at the allotted time Sybil Cock was given three minutes to petition the council meeting on behalf of the PSC/THJFA. Four minutes was allotted for councillors to ask questions, and 30 seconds for the response of the Mayor. Zionist Labour councillor Kevin Brady took up more than half of this by talking in support of the IHRA definition and tagging on a short question at the end. After a few more short comments the discussion was brought to a close, with no suggestion that the council would reconsider its adoption of the definition. At this point RCG supporters rose to their feet to offer a proper challenge to the council, speaking about Labour’s craven sell out of the Palestinian struggle, heckling, and displaying a banner reading ‘Zionism is racism!’. As police and security forcibly removed us from the chamber, there was no solidarity shown by the members of the opportunist ‘left’, who shouted ‘saboteurs’ at us and shook their heads. In getting the council speaker to dissociate them from the protest, they showed their desperation not to be associated with such a principled action against Labour’s Zionism. The council meeting was restarted, Mayor John Biggs called the PSC petition ‘offensive’, and the opportunists went for a pizza.

The behaviour of the PSC and their allies is not surprising given recent experiences of RCG supporters in Glasgow, Newcastle, London, and elsewhere. In discussion before the protest, Sybil Cock had explained to us that the battle against IHRA was already lost, but campaigners just had to ‘do our bit’. Such a defeatist attitude was evident, and the PSC and their supporters were only going through the motions, restricting criticism to the respectable - and redundant - channels of Labour’s local ‘democracy’ The only problem for them was the presence of RCG supporters who were willing to reject ‘respectability’ and really fight for the rights of Palestinians and solidarity campaigners. The only answer these spineless cowards have when faced with this is censorship – the same tools the councils and the state are using to prevent any real anti-Zionist movement developing in solidarity with Palestine and against its British imperialist supporters.

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Tower Hamlets council - repeal the IHRA definition!

Oppose Labour’s capitulation to Zionism, and all its apologists!

Zionism is racism! Victory to the Palestinian people!


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