On the 1st September the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra played the BBC proms concert in the UK. For the first time in its history, the BBC had to cease broadcasting due to protests in the hall. In an article in the Telegraph, Steven Pollard slammed the protests as ‘anti-semitic’ and described
‘an air of Weimar Germany, and the way Nazi party members broke up meetings.’
Having been involved in the student protests against the Israeli bombardment of Gazza in 2009, I have an intimate knowledge of the pro-Palestinian campaign. Like many people, I was shocked by the scenes on our televisions as the Israelis indiscriminately targeted schools, hospitals, and the basic infrastructure of an already pitiful land. And like many involved in the protests, my disgust and contempt was borne out of human compassion. I’ve shared a stage with Hajo Meyer, surviver of Auschwitz and anti-Israeli campaigner, and I invited George Galloway to speak about Palestine at Dundee University. I’ve been outraged at the ‘anti-semitic’ label being thrown about; a seemingly reasonable defence, but really a way to avoid any criticism of Israeli policy. But I have also seen the darker side of the pro-Palestinian campaign, because the label ‘pro-Palestinian’ is not a reasonable description. Rather, ‘anti-Israeli’ would be closer to the mark.
Anti-semites, left-wing extremists, and Islamic fundamentalists take shelter under the umbrella which also includes those, like myself, who merely wish to see a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This campaign is often likened to the South African anti-apartheid movement. But where South African sport was isolated on the world stage because of its racist rules – all white teams were mandatory – the protests against the Israeli Orchestra are different. These protests attack and disrupt the performance of a musical group not because of racist rules, or any actions of those involved in the orchestra, but because the members are citizens of Israel and children of Abraham. To avoid the term ‘anti-semitic’ would be duplicitous.
When Hamas launch rockets into Israel, or Israeli settlers are murdered by Palestinian ‘martyrs’, it is not good enough for the pro-Palestinian campaign to maintain silence. For the campaign to have any credibility it must outright condemn these actions, realising that every rocket that lands in Israel makes our argument less sustainable and on the wrong side of morality. When drunken fools racially attack an Israeli student in St. Andrews, the pro-Palestinian campaign must stand shoulder to shoulder with that young victim, turn away from the perpetrators, and welcome their criminal convictions. Because if the pro-Palestinian movement is to have any credibility, it must be built upon the foundations of anti-racism, human decency, and pragmatism.
These will be unsavoury words to those involved in the campaign. Like many left-wing movements, it characteristically lacks self-criticism or inner dialogue. But to have a future, to continue to argue for a peaceful solution, where Jew, Arab, and others can live side by side in equality, then these issues must be addressed.