No one who took part in the rally and march in Auckland July 19 in solidarity with the people of Gaza against the murderous Israeli assault could fail to be impressed with the size, militancy, and political unity demonstrated in that action. By my estimate, there were about 2,500 to 3,000 people on the march – but I claim no special expertise in such estimations. I have read other estimates of up to 5,000. Even at the lower end of the range, this was the largest demonstration of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for many years in any city in New Zealand, probably the largest ever. Similar demonstrations took place in Wellington and Dunedin around the same time.
This reflects, in the first instance, the widespread public repudiation of the Israeli carnage in Gaza, despite the biased reporting of the war by the big-business news media sympathetic to the Israeli government. It also reflects the energetic efforts of a new generation of young organisers, who built and conducted the events in a dignified and disciplined manner.
By its size and composition, the march also registered the continuing transformation of the working class of this country through immigration. By my rough estimate once again, I would say that the march was made up in its large majority of immigrants from diverse regions of the world. Among these were Palestinians, people from other parts of the Middle East including Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, Sikhs and Kashmiris from the Indian subcontinent, South Africans, Latin Americans and recent immigrants from the United Kingdom. Auckland has one of the highest proportions of immigrants of any city in the imperialist world: 39% of people who live here were born in another country. These new arrivals bring with them their experiences in struggle in their country of origin, greatly strengthening the working class here.
Equally important as the size of the action was its political strength. This was a march that united all those who stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Speaker after speaker at the rally stressed this. The organisers ensured that there were speakers representing people of various religions – Muslim, Christian, and Jewish – and of no religion. Opening the rally, the organisers took a clear stand against racism of all kinds. “We are against anti-Arab racism, and we are against anti-Semitism” she said. Jew-haters, if they were present, were asked to leave.
This stance was developed further in a contribution to the Facebook discussion among organisers and supporters leading up to the demonstrations. This contribution from Nadia Filistin, one of the organisers, is worth reproducing in full:
”Antisemitism vs Anti-Zionism,
this is long, but lets make some crucial distinctionz.
Slamming Israel on the basis of their annihilation, ethnic cleansing, apartheid laws, occupation, siege, expansionist mentality, colonialism and oppression of Palestine = Anti-Zionism
Slamming Israel on the basis of the mass of Israeli society being Jewish. This includes, but is not limited to, using Jewish slurs and derogatory antisemitic terms to refer to Israelis, sharing antisemitic imagery and cartoons (these are very common) in relation to Israel. = Antisemitism
Pointing out the Zionism is underpinned by notions of Jewish exclusivity and purity, and that Jews have more rights than Palestinians in Israel, by law. Pointing out that Jewish privilege and anti-Arab racism exist, and are prolific within Israel. = Anti-Zionism
Holocaust denial and a downright refusal to acknowledge Jewish suffering. =Antisemitism
Boycotting specific Israeli products and institutions which are part of the commercial and cultural apparatus which helps Israel maintain, exploit and profit off it’s oppression of Palestine. =Anti-Zionism
Boycotting products or businesses run or owned by Jews who have no ties to the state of Israel. =Antisemitism
Fighting for equal rights for Palestinians, supporting the right to return for Palestinian refugees, and denouncing continued colonisation of Palestinian land. =Anti-Zionism
Conspiracy theories about how evil greedy Jews quietly run the world. Overstating the reach of the Zionist lobby. =Antisemitism
Acknowledging that the Zionist lobby are a powerful force, particularly within the USA, mostly because of the neo-colonial & Imperialist interests inherent within US politics and widespread historical and ongoing support for the Zionist project among the US public, buttressed by WOT anti-Arab racism. = Anti-Zionism
Wanting token anti-Zionist Jews in the movement so you can show everyone how ‘not antisemitic’ you are but being silent or complicit when fringe people come to demos with antisemitic signs. = not cool m8
Working alongside your Jewish and Israeli anti-Zionist friends to fight the deep fuckery embedded in the State of Israel, together. = Anti-Zionism dream teamz
I’ve got zero tolerance for the bullshit claims made by Zionists that our movement’s critique of Israeli apartheid is inherently underpinned by a hatred of Jews – such a cheap attempt to silence, blast and delegitimise us.
However, I have seen some of us fall silent [when] we witness true antisemitism on the fringes of our events and actions. Just because WE are not antisemitic, does not mean genuine antisemites will not creep into our spaces pretending to be anti-Zionists.
Let’s make the movement safe for Jews and Israelis who will denounce Israeli apartheid alongside us, but let’s denounce Zionist racism just as hard.”
Building on this political basis was key to the success of the march in Auckland. A similar approach was taken by the organisers of the Wellington and Dunedin demonstrations.
In my opinion (and at this point it is only my opinion – I was not involved in organising the protest) this political stance represents something of a departure from the perspectives of the “Boycott Divestment Sanctions” (BDS) campaign that has framed many Palestine solidarity actions in recent years. And that is a welcome development.
The last major protest organised by the BDS campaign in New Zealand was a picket in February 2014 outside a performance of the Israeli dance troupe Batsheva Dance Company. The organisers explained that the political basis of this protest was that the dance troupe received funding from the Israeli government, and was therefore ‘representing Israel’ and ‘attempting to normalise an apartheid state.’
This claim was unsupportable. Artists, musicians and writers of all kinds, and above all performance artists, have to accept subsidies and grants from all manner of unsavoury capitalist governments, including that of Israel; without such funding there would be very few professional artists in the world. Naturally, the governments who make these grants seek to use this support to bolster their image the bearers of culture – but to target the artists who are forced to depend on such funding on this account is counterproductive at best. In this case, it was especially absurd, given that the director of the dance company expressed opinions opposed to the Israeli government and its occupation of the West Bank:
“Batsheva’s artistic director, Ohad Naharin, said banning dancers wouldn’t change the face of the Middle East. “The situation in the West Bank is tragic and indeed every effort must be made to change it,” he has said. “If I believed that boycotting our performances could bring any progress in ending the occupation, I would boycott myself,” he is quoted as saying in Haaretz. (my emphasis).
Demonstrations such as the one outside Batsheva reinforce the false idea that simply being a Jew living in Israel (or in this case, being a dancer in Israel) makes someone complicit in the crimes of the Israeli state. But as the events of the last few weeks have shown, there are Israeli Jews who have been prepared to stand up and publicly express their opposition to the bloodbath unleashed by the Israeli government in Gaza, even at some personal cost to themselves.
This false idea, and the BDS campaign based on it, reflect the perspectives of the Hamas leadership in Gaza, which have permeated the international campaign in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Hamas is a bourgeois leadership. It seeks its chief sources of support among the sympathetic capitalist regimes like the government of Turkey (and formerly the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt before its overthrow by the military.) Hamas does see Jews as the enemy; that was laid down in its founding programme in 1988, and has never been repudiated.
Israel, no less than any other capitalist country, is a class-divided society. Under pressure of the economic crisis and now the war drive, class polarisation has widened in Israel. On the one hand, we see the mobilisation of thugs such as the murderers of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the crowds chanting “Death to Arabs”, the Israeli parliamentarian Ayelet Shaked, who publicly calls for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers of ‘little snakes,’ and the crowds who gathered on the hills above Gaza with their popcorn and deck chairs to cheer on the slaughter. As Jonathan Cook writes on Intifada–Voice of Palestine, calls for genocide have entered the Israeli mainstream.
But on the other hand, we have also seen the exemplary action of the family of Naftali Fraenkel, one of the murdered Israeli teenagers, in sending a message of condolence to the family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, stating publicly that “the life of an Arab is equally precious to that of a Jew.” We have also seen the anti-war demonstrators, both Arabs and Jews, in Tel Aviv and Haifa who took to the streets shouting “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” despite a torrent of abuse, violence, and threats from cops and rightist thugs. To be sure, Israeli Jews who see their future tied to the liberation of the Palestinians are small in number at present – a courageous, persecuted minority. All the more important to recognise and welcome their support.
Hamas, and those who look to them for leadership, have proved incapable of recognising and acting on these widening divisions among Israeli Jews. Oriented to the bourgeoisie, they see only the first, bourgeois, rightwards, side of the polarisation, but not the second, proletarian side. In response to the murder of the Israeli teenagers, Hamas head Khaled Mashaal told al-Jazeera TV that he did not know anything about their abduction. But if it turns out they were captured by Palestinians, he said, it would be “a logical and natural reaction to the violations of occupation forces.”
“We support every resistance attack against the Israeli occupation, which has to pay for its tyranny,” he said. This brutish and self-defeating political line was echoed in worldwide discussions on the events. It was not uncommon to see these murders described on Facebook discussion pages as an ‘act of resistance,’ and the value of the young Israelis’ lives cheapened by the descriptor ‘settlers.’
Every statement and action taken by Hamas drives the discussion back to an axis of Jews vs Arabs, and thus serves to shore up Jewish identification with the reactionary Netanyahu government.
The feeling of strengthening solidarity with the Palestinian people under attack was so powerful on the Auckland march, I was tempted to believe that a similar shift was taking place around the world – a similar loosening of the influence of the Hamas perspectives, a similar political strengthening.
Not so, apparently. Demonstrations against the Israeli assault on Gaza in both France and Germany took an anti-Semitic turn. A synagogue and several Jewish-owned shops were damaged in Paris. This video of a demonstration in Berlin shows part of a crowd chanting “Jew, cowardly pig, come on out and fight.” The French government is trying to take advantage of the political confusion that these actions generate to ban all demonstrations in support of Palestine, while the right-wing forces push to scapegoat immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. Let no one try to talk down the importance of these developments or explain away the anti-Semitic violence and threats that marred these demonstrations.
The great multi-national melting pot that came out on the streets of Auckland has its counterpart in Palestine too – the Palestinian and Jewish workers of Israel and occupied Palestine, the African refugees, the tens of thousands of Filipino, Thai and Chinese immigrant workers. When this mass recognises its common interests in opposing the oppressive Israeli regime and fighting for a democratic, secular Palestine with equal rights for all, then an end to the nightmare will be in sight. This is the international “Anti-Zionist dream team” that Nadia Filistin and others set out to build in Auckland last Saturday. Despite the horrible bloodshed of the last few weeks, there have also been some small but promising signs that it is beginning to take shape.