Coalbrookdale – A Beauty is Born

BIN – Boycott Israel Network Takes Off
Because of the campaign around the Jerusalem Quartet, I have only now had time enough to devote to a report on the Boycott Israel Network.
At an inaugural get together at Wooller Youth Hostel in Northumbria six months ago, a decision was taken to set up BIN – Boycott Israel Network. The reasons for this have become blindingly obvious. The major Palestine solidarity group, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, has been ‘taken over’ by 2 small political factions – Socialist Action & Communist League – whose main priority is retaining control of the organisation.
PSC has increasingly become an organisation where a leadership devoid of activists lays down a line which the membership are supposed to implement. Unfortunately they don’t have the activists. Hence why PSC has been increasingly concentrating on Parliamentary lobbying work, individual and haphazard Boycott protests outside supermarkets at best and trade union work that is devoted exclusively to working with trade union bureaucrats.
A follow-up weekend of seminars and discussions was therefore planned at Coalbrookdale Youth Hostel near Telford on the weekend of 26-28th March. About 40 people were expected to attend. In the event the event was attended by over 90 people and places at a 2nd youth hostel, Coalport, had to be booked as well as B&Bs etc. It is rare that Palestinian events suffer from too many people attending!
As a result workshops became far too large and the organisers of the next gathering, in about 6 months, will have to rethink the format. and try to ensure that at least 2-3 workshops are taking place concurrently. But it has to be said from the outset that everyone I spoke to came away from Coalbrookdale feeling overwhelmingly positive.
There was none of the attempts to fix meetings, gerrymander votes (there weren’t any!), stifle debate or any of the other tricks like preventing people voting or overloading an agenda with speakers so there isn’t time to debate anything anway, that PSC has become associated with. Instead people talked about their own experiences of campaigning and how we could learn from each other.
There was a large contingent from Scottish PSC (a number of people said if only Britain’s PSC was like that of Scotland!) as well as Irish PSC, France and a number of Europe countries such as Spain and Belgium. In other words it was both a national and international event.
I didn’t take notes and I don’t pretend that this is a comprehensive report. But there was a large range of workshops on the different aspects of our campaigning. Maybe the only gap was a lack of anything specifically on Histadrut and Trade Unions.
There were sessions on Consumer Boycotts and Supermarkets, the Campaign Against Veolia, Zionist Counter-Strategies, the future direction of BIN itself, Cultural Boycotts and many informal meetings.
We discussed in particular the prosecution of 5 activists of Scottish PSC for having disrupted the Jerusalem Quartet performance at the Edinburgh Festival. They were up in court again the following Monday. Unknown to most of those present, was that Coalbrookdale had also provided the opportunity for another group of protestors to finalise plans to disrupt another JQ performance, also the same Monday 29th March! If the plans weren’t born at Coalbrookdale, the execution thereof was certainly finalised there!
The prosecution of Scottish PSC has been for racism against Israelis because of their nationality! The CPS in Scotland don’t seem to have realised yet that there is no such thing as an Israeli nationality. This tied in with a discussion on the increasing use of bogus charges of ‘anti-semitism’ as a means of intimidating people.
In particular the European Union Monitoring Committee definition which effectively labels any anti-Zionist critique of Israel as ‘anti-semitic’ (meaning that most Jews pre-1939 would have had to be labelled as anti-Semites!).
Other sessions concentrated on the racist Jewish National Fund, which ‘redeems’ land from Arabs for the sole use of Jews. It used to buy such land at a market price, but since 1948 it has either bought it for a fraction of its real value or been given it outright. That land, of course, is the land of evicted Palestinians. Both main party leaders are patrons of this racist organisation and one of our tasks is to put an end to the ludicrous situation whereby the JNF is a charity.
The sessions also included discussion of the outrageous sentences being handed out to Muslim demonstrators at the Palestinian demonstrations to protest against the war in Gaza and British complicity. The attempts of first New Labour and undoubtedly the Tories after the election to prevent the use of human right laws and universal jurisdiction in order to have warrants for arrest of Israeli war criminals, such as Tsipi Livni and General Doron Almog who was forced to turn about on a plane at Heathrow without getting off.
The final session was devoted to the future of BIN. It is extremely clear that it is the failure of PSC to do anything bar engage in routine lobbying that is the cause of BIN’s success. In fact at least a dozen PSC branches sent people to the conference, such is the disillusion now with what is happening. Despite being asked four times to publicise it, PSC Executive refused to do so, instead organising their own Boycott Week whose highlight was the (apparent) distribution of PSC-TUC cards calling for a Boycott of Settlement Produce (note not Israeli goods).
This is because the Palestinian motion that passed at TUC Congress last September was severely watered down (something PSC Exec. has never admitted). The result of PSC Executive trying to gain complete control of its BDS Committee and stifle all initiative has been that 4 out of 5 members have recently resigned. Effectively PSC has no Boycott Committee any longer.
Instead General Secretary Betty Hunter wrote, what can only be described as a strange and petulant e-mail to contacts on the BIN list:
Dear subscribers to the Boycott Israel Network,
We know that many subscribers to the network are members of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, but PSC has never been invited to contribute to your workshops.
As you know the BDS campaign is our priority both at national and local levels, and we suggest that we meet up to discuss how we can further the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Campaigns.
We suggest that we meet up to discuss this in April.
Best wishes
Betty Hunter
General Secretary Palestine Solidarity Campaign 020 7700 6192
It is strange because PSC were notified at least 4 times of Coalbrookdale. Quite why Betty states that ‘PSC has never been invited to contribute to your workshops’ is strange. No one received a special invitation. What she really meant was that PSC had not been invited to provide ‘leadership’ of the kind that PSC Executive seems to have in abundance. Of course they could contribute to workshops, which were models of open discussion, but one suspects that that wasn’t what she meant.
PSC Executive, having no activists on it, would hardly be in a position to contribute anyone with any expertise on a particular subject. But people who are in PSC, like Angus from Portsmouth & Southdowns PSC, were invited to present workshops based on their actual experience of, in his case, campaigning against Veolia.
As one activist put it to me ‘I think Betty is right to be worried. The prospect of a democratic, membership- led organisation emerging at some point would be very appealing.’ In any event, staff member Martial was going to attend the conference but, from reports, he was instructed at the last minute by Betty not to come.
In fact lots of groups were represented from Bricup, J-Big, JfJfP to Action Palestine, a large number of PSC branches, ICAHD etc. etc.
And therein lies the problem that PSC Executive faces. It is stuffed with people who, like Carole Regan & Ben Sofa are there only because of their membership of a political group. They don’t actually do anything. Or there is the student officer Fiona Edwards who, as was confirmed by students at the weekend, opposed an occupation over Gaza at Sheffield University and then comes to PSC and proclaims the exact opposite!
The last session therefore produced the only real differences. Mick Napier proposed both a liaison committee being set up and a Steering Committee. The latter proposal was withdrawn as it was seen as premature but a liaison committee with representatives from each group is being formed.
Although people are, quite rightly, wary of forming another organisation, we all realise that Palestine solidarity requires and needs some form of national organisation. Not one with an obscure constitution which isn’t implemented nor a bureaucracy that has more and more staff who produce less and less, but an organisation that is a resource centre for all different groups and a co-ordinator of activities. Although people are right to be wary of rushing in too soon, it is also the case that we can be too cautious. As the Jerusalem Quartet action demonstrated, boldness can win out where caution fails.
The task in the next 6 months, with all the various groups which have been set up, is to translate our ideas into action and also put the flesh on the bones of a new solidarity network.
Groups represented included:
Dundee Trades Council, UCL PalSoc, Scottish PSC Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen & Edinburgh, ISM, Action Palestine, , Scottish PSC Edinburgh, IJAN, , Lancaster PSC, Anti-Agrexco Coalition France, , Halifax Friends of Palestine, Brighton PSC, , Manchester PSC, York PSC, BRICUP, Scottish PSC Glasgow, BRICUP, ICAHD, PACBI, SJP Edinburgh Uni, Palestine Komittee Bergen, Ireland PSC, Friends of Sabeel UK, Shropshire Palestine Talks, PSC West Midlands, , Sheffield PSC, Free Gaza Movement, , War on Want, NPK (Dutch Pal. Comm.), JBIG, York PSC, Ireland PSC, Leeds PSC, BDS France, Justice for Palestinians West Midlands, CODIP (Coordination Organisation Documentation Information Palestine), BNC, Halifax Friends of Palestine, EuroPalestine France, Leeds Uni PSG, Cambridge PSC, United for Palestine Bradford, Huddersfield Uni, Viva Palestina, Liverpool Friends of Palestine, Pax Christi, Midlands Churches Forum, PSC Bradford, Muslim Business United, COBI Brussels, Cambridge PSC, StW, PSC Nottingham, Our Ummah Network, Portsmouth & South Downs PSC.
Posted by Tony Greenstein

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