At Saturday’s great march in support of Palestine in London, police arrested members of the Communist Party of Great Britain Marxist-Leninist (CPGBML) for having a pamphlet on sale on their stall.
The “illegal” pamphlet is entitled Zionism: A Racist, Anti-Semitic and Reactionary Tool of Imperialism.
Just what is illegal about it, I do not know. The authorship is ascribed to the CPGBML. I have looked through it and it is scrupulous in distinguishing between zionism and judaism. Criticism of Israel and of the zionist movement is not anti-semitic.
I suspect what may have upset the authorities are the passages on collaboration between some leaders of the zionist movement and the Nazis.
This is a difficult subject. My own view, which I have discussed both in several articles on this blog and in person with many friends who take a different view, (including Tony Greenstein who has written an entire book on the subject), is that it serves no useful purpose to keep bringing this up. Aberrations of history at a time of great world convulsion, including the events leading up to the Holocaust and that genocide itself, throw up many horrors it is often not helpful to try to tie in to contemporary events.
I see this in Scotland. It appears true that unfortunately a few Scottish nationalists momentarily considered Nazi Germany a possible ally against a common enemy in London. But efforts are made constantly on social media to use that as a meme to portray modern Scottish nationalists as Nazis, which is utter nonsense. Furthermore bringing the Nazis into political debate, especially in anything relating to the Holocaust, immediately causes all kinds of nutters to come out of the woodwork.
Truth is important and true history should always be acknowledged and faced. But I believe my fellow supporters of Palestine do not help today’s debate or the Palestinian cause by dredging up 90-year-old marginal stories.
This particular truth certainly has a place in the history books, but most of the attempts to insert it into current debate are not, in my view, justified.
That, however, is a very different view to saying that books addressing the subject should be banned and people arrested for possessing them. This is a simply appalling attack on freedom of speech. I condemn it unreservedly.
It is also not in the least plain to me where the offence lies.
Is it an offence simply to possess this pamphlet? Does the offence lie rather in displaying it, or in offering to sell it? Is it only an offence to try to sell it at a demonstration? Would it be an offence to sell it in a bookshop? Would it be an offence if it were in a university library for the study of Marxist-Leninist thought?
The pamphlet was published in 2015. Was that an offence at the time? Did anybody who displayed or sold a copy of the pamphlet over the last eight years commit an offence? Is everybody today in possession of a copy committing an offence, including me who has one for the purposes of journalism?
And what offence is it precisely?
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has put out a very strong statement on the use of the current attacks on Gaza to damage freedom of expression worldwide:
GENEVA (23 November 2023) – UN experts* today expressed alarm at the worldwide wave of attacks, reprisals, criminalisation and sanctions against those who publicly express solidarity with the victims of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.
“Calls for an end to the violence and attacks in Gaza, or for a humanitarian ceasefire, or criticism of Israeli government’s policies and actions, have in too many contexts been misleadingly equated with support for terrorism or antisemitism. This stifles free expression, including artistic expression, and creates an atmosphere of fear to participate in public life,” the experts said…
“People have the right to express solidarity with victims of grave human rights violations and demand justice, whether from one side or the other or both,” the experts said.
They noted with deep concern that several artists around the world have been targeted because of their art or political messaging, pressured to change topics of artistic expression, and labelled either as troublemakers or as indifferent to the suffering of one side or the other. “Some artists have been deprogrammed and censored for calling for peace, others have lost their jobs, and some artists have been silenced or side-lined by their own cultural organisations and artistic communities,” they said.
Journalists and media outlets in Israel and Western countries reporting critically about Israeli policies and operations in the occupied territories or expressing pro-Palestinian views have been the target of threats, intimidation, discrimination and retaliation, which have increased the risk of self-censorship, undermining the diversity and plurality of news that is essential for press freedom and the right of the public to be informed. At least one media outlet in Israel has been threatened reportedly with closure for perceived “bias” towards Palestine. They also criticised the disproportionate and wrongful removal of pro-Palestinian content by social media platforms.
The experts raised concerns about suspensions and expulsions of students from universities, dismissal of academics, calls for their deportation, threats to dissolve student unions and associations, and restrictions on campus meetings to express solidarity with the suffering civilians in Gaza and denounce the ongoing Israeli military response. Students have also been blacklisted in some universities as supporters of terrorism, with accompanying threats to their prospects for future employment…
The experts noted a highly disturbing trend to criminalise and label pro-Palestinian protests as “hate protests” and to pre-emptively ban them, often citing risks to national security, including risks related to incitement to hatred, without providing evidence-based justification. “Such actions not only violate the right to protest guaranteed by Article 21 of the ICCPR, but are also detrimental to democracy and any peace-building efforts,” they said.
The experts recalled that any restriction on human rights must meet the conditions of legality, necessity and proportionality. “Furthermore, advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to violence, hostility or discrimination is prohibited under international law,” they said, calling on individuals in official positions in particular to desist from hate speech and inflammatory statements…
Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of freedom of opinion and expression.
The attack on freedom of speech and association is across the western world. Little incidents like this arrest of CPGBML activists, or my own investigation for “terrorism”, are all signs of a real slide towards fascism. Fascism is being enabled by zionism.
As you know, I am not myself a communist. But society is losing touch with the idea that freedom of speech is not freedom for those who agree either with the government, or with you.
The activists have been released on police bail.
On the surface of it, the first bail condition is ludicrous to impose on avowed Marxists, but this appears to be another manifestation of the desire to criminalise any attempt to refer to Nazi genocide in association with the Gaza genocide. The restriction on distributing leaflets at protests is straight from the handbook of a totalitarian state.
Which is a much scarier handbook than a political pamphlet.
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