Thursday, June 05, 2008

Guest Post: Jewish Socialist Group

Charlie Pottins attended this weekend's Jewish Socialist Group conference. He's been nice enough to write me a guest post on how it went.

I'VE been getting over a rather hectic but satisfying weekend this week. The hectic element came courtesy of transport police who closed central London tube stations, to make sure Saturday night partying on the Underground, before Boris' booze ban came into effect, caused maximum disruption to everyone. I suppose we should be used to such tactics by now, but it meant arriving home by rail early on Sunday knowing I'd have to be up again in a few more hours.

Time was I'd do that kind of thing normally at weekends, even walk it, but I'm getting old.

The satisfying part was either side of my hard day's night, listening to Brian Klug's talk "Next year in Hackney -reclaiming our future", which challenged the assumptions underlying Zionism and the Jewish Establishment; and then participating in the Jewish Socialists' Group(JSG) annual conference, which discussed that and more, including the right-wing gains in British elections, and the fascist violence in Italy. Members also expressed their condemnation of the Israeli security services ban on Professor Norman Finkelstein.

Two resolutions from me were carried, one opposing both Israeli Zionist and American neo-con attempts to steer Jewish communities; the other about the threat of war on Iran, and the struggles for democratic rights and progress within that country, and concluding we should affiliate with the campaign Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI).

HOPI friends have complimented me on getting this adopted. To be fair I should thank Yassamine Mather whose Women's Day talk to London JSG had made a good impression. I might also acknowledge the unwitting help of those Socialist Workers' Party members who have been slandering HOPI, having succeeded with their allies in blocking its admission to the Stop the War Coalition. JSG members recalled our own unpleasant experiences with those running Stop the War, even though we remain the only Jewish group affiliated to the Coalition, and continue taking part in the demonstrations.

We also had in mind the recent farce when JSG member Dave Landau, well-known for his anti-racist and anti-fascist activity, was invited to write an article about the BNP for Socialist Worker , only to hear later from an embarrassed editor that his article could not be used, not for anything specifically wrong with it, but because it had been decided that "in view of past and present differences" comrade Landau was "not an appropriate person" to be writing in the SWP paper. His article subsequently appeared, unchanged, in the Morning Star May 1st issue.

Dave Landau presented a paper to this year's JSG national conference on migration issues, anti-racism and anti-fascism, based on recent campaign experience as well as the issues raised for socialists. He also collaborated with Toby Abse in presenting an emergency resolution on fascist violence and attacks on Roma in Italy.

The JSG appears to be in good company in its decision on HOPI. As I was able to tell the conference, the PCS civil servants' union had decided overwhelmingly to affiliate, and today as I send out the JSG Members Bulletin containing our conference resolutions I hear that ASLEF too is affiliating.

A few years ago I was at a demonstration outside Campsfield detention centre near Oxford, holding up one end of a JSG banner, and trying to sell Jewish Socialist magazine with my other hand when a woman came up and asked whether we co-operated with Jews for Justice for Palestinians. I assured her we did, but couldn't resist pointing out that we were working with Palestinians well before the other group came on the scene. I suppose I could also have pointed out that we were the only Jewish group at Campsfield that day, albeit there was only the pair of us.

I should simply have said "Yes, we do co-operate”, since there was no point in asserting seniority, nor in disparaging the good, imaginative work for which Jews for Justice have gained attention and respect, because they have chosen to focus on what is the main issue for many people.

Remaining small, and sometimes liable to be overlooked, the JSG is nevertheless important because it straddles the bounds between solidarity with the Palestinians, campaigning against racism and antisemitism, and working with other minorities and the organised labour movement.

One recent JSG success brought 250 bums on seats for the "What a state!" comedy night deliberately timed to clash with the Zionists' 60th anniversary of Israel gala at Wembley. Even the "Jewish Chronicle" thought ours was the better show! It raised a four-figure sum to be shared between Israeli and Palestinian human rights campaigns and the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns here in Britain. One of our comrades, who also happens to be involved in Jews for Justice, is currently in the Occupied Territories delivering this practical message of solidarity. I'd say more but we don't want to tell the Israeli security agencies everything!

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