The London demonstration on 10 January against Israel’s bombing and invasion of Gaza was much bigger than the police estimate of 20,000. The organisers claimed 100,000, and the BBC said 50,000.
Certainly, as a comrade from the Worker-communist Party of Iraq remarked to me on the march, it was much broader than just political-Islamists (or British left groups who follow the political-Islamists): many thousands were there just because they are outraged at the brutality of the Israeli attack.
The official placards, whether from the Muslim Association of Britain and the British Muslim Initiative (offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood), or from the SWP-run Stop The War Coalition, were limited to slogans like “Gaza: stop the massacre”.
The size and the logistics of the demonstration – often crammed into fairly small spaces – made it harder than it would otherwise have been to make an impact with the joint contingent AWL had with the Worker-communist Party of Iraq (UK), the only contingent on the march, as far as I could see, clearly calling for a “two-states” settlement (on our banner) and criticising Hamas.
But there was no hostility from ordinary demonstrators to our leaflets and to our “Two Nations, Two States” pamphlet. It would be wrong to assume from the loud chants that everyone on such demonstrations is closed-mind pro-Hamas.
The loudest voices on the demonstration were pro-Hamas. As an AWL comrade said to me, this is a war demonstration, when what we want is a peace demonstration.
Chants like: “Hey ho, hey ho, Israel has got to go”, and “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free” were common.
The SWP had two people on loud-hailers at the entrance to Speakers’ Corner. One was yelling “Destroy Israel! Destroy capitalism! One solution, revolution! Victory to Hamas! The rockets are getting closer to Tel Aviv!” Just round the corner was the other, yelling “Force Gordon Brown to intervene to stop the bloodshed! Demand he expel the Israeli ambassador!”
Minimax approach! But what a “maximum”!
The Socialist Party also made a big effort for the demonstration. But from all their posters and placards, you would not know that the SP’s formal political position is for “two states”.
They always try to “maximalise” it by saying that it must be a socialist Israel and a socialist Palestine, but, if we were about to force the Israeli troops out of Gaza and the West Bank, would the SP actually say: No, they must stay until both the Israeli and the Palestinian working classes are ready to seize power? In any case, it is a variant of “two states”. But no word of it on the demonstration.
Instead, the line was “Mass struggle needed for liberation”. As if the “liberation” that Hamas fights for (conquering the whole of Palestine for an Islamic state) were uncontentious, and the only issue were Hamas tactics. As if, also, the war that Hamas fights against Israel were “individual terror”, not the war it actually is.
Workers’ Liberty activists will continue to take part in the daily protests at the Israeli embassy in London, and we have called a joint forum with the Worker-communist Party of Iraq (UK) for Thursday 15th to discuss the issues further: details here.