About 3,000 people demonstrated in Belfast city centre on Saturday in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Three thousand is a large demonstration for Belfast, and for Palestinian solidarity is considerable.
The reason for the turnout is the obvious genocidal attacks of the Israeli state, on top of the existing widespread sympathy with the Palestinian cause among some sections of the population. Israel flags have been put up by loyalists in a number of streets but this only confirms their utterly reactionary character, if any was needed.
It has become customary for commentators to smirk and disparage the different views on the Palestinian cause that overlaps to some degree with the sectarian division in Ireland, but these commentators rarely delve into the obvious explanation. This was reflected in the speakers at the rally, where there was a speaker from the Bloody Sunday Trust, made up of relatives of the victims, and Sinn Fein as well, however, as one Protestant cleric.
A second major reason for the turnout has been the brazen endorsement of the attempted ethnic cleansing by Western states, including the British, EU and US; topped off by deceit and hypocrisy about the Israeli ‘right to self-defence’. In previous posts I have noted that the cause of Palestine is not only about Palestine, so the previous struggle in Ireland against imperialism should, and did, reflect consciousness about the struggle that once had Belfast at its heart.
But that was then and this is now; the anti-imperialist struggle has been buried in the North of Ireland for some time, and the politics of that defeat and the consciousness arising from it were on display at the demonstration.
Some speakers appeared to hold the Irish peace process as a model for Palestine; there were numerous calls for the ‘international community’ to call for a ceasefire, including the UN, and calls for pressure on Governments etc. to boycott, divest and sanction the Israeli state. This BDS movement “urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law.”
I noted to a friend that the last time I was at a demonstration outside the City Hall it was rather smaller and was in protest against Joe Biden’s visit to Ireland. At that time Sinn Fein was part of the wider effusion of welcomes to Biden by the Irish establishment – Sinn Fein wasn’t speaking at any Palestinian demonstrations then. Yet everyone knows that Biden and the US has given the green light to the Zionist state’s mass murder, just as we protested at his visit for his provocations leading to war in Ukraine.
How credible then is the support for the Palestinian people by this party? How credible does their participation make a campaign that prominently includes Sinn Fein leaders at its demonstrations?
Lots of calls were made on ‘the international community’ to intervene for a ceasefire, but the more accurate term for ‘international community’ is imperialism, and imperialism is not interested in a struggle against one of its proxies. The UN has been passing resolutions seeking to limit Zionist actions for years to no effect – why would anything change now?
The calls for some sort of peace inspired by the Irish peace process is particularly blind and thoughtless. What possible progressive outcome would arise from negotiations chaired by an American, organised by the British and which would exclude the Palestinians until they politically surrendered? We don’t need to speculate. The equivalent has already occurred and were the Oslo Accords that are a dead letter. The current suspension of Stormont is hardly an advertisement for anything, except repeated failure.
The main problem for most of the speeches were that, for all the calls for action to end the siege of Gaza etc, these were directed at the Governments, including the Israeli, that have no intention or interest in bowing to this pressure. Especially from those who have no intention of exercising what little power they currently have or could potentially levy.
Were Sinn Fein really opposed to the US arming of the Israeli state with the weapons that are currently killing thousands of civilians it would break off all contact with the US, including the politicians that regularly pop up in Ireland and currently include Joe Kennedy III, the ‘special envoy’ to Northern Ireland. It would call on all its supporters in the United States to oppose their Government’s arming of Israel. The chances of this happening are precisely zero.
The task of putting on pressure therefore becomes one of putting pressure on Sinn Fein. The few heckles at the start of the Sinn Fein speech show that some are aware of the real Sinn Fein position.
Similar considerations apply to the trade union speaker at the rally. Campaigners are entitled to ask where the campaign within the movement is that is trying to get workers themselves to boycott the transport of weapons to Israel. Some might believe that this is currently impossible, but it is infinitely more likely than the ‘international community’ respecting ‘international law’ in protection of Palestinian lives.
Of course, this will cause dissension among supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, but while that may be the cause of an organisational split it will not be the cause of a political one because that already exists, it’s just currently hidden. Pretending that Sinn Fein retains any sort of anti-imperialist character may be important to the Sinn Fein project, and to many of its members and supporters, but this is already being exposed as fraudulent the more it succeeds. It is better that it be exposed by others than that it expose itself through yet more betrayals.
Otherwise the promise of the demonstration yesterday will be wasted and we will have politics as performance, something that is becoming all too prevalent.