When Sinn Fein stewards threw out some Palestinians from a Palestine solidarity meeting in Belfast, they threw out something else – all pretence that it will ever take effective action against the Zionist state’s genocide of the Palestinian people. Specifically, it will do nothing to upset the United States, the sponsor of the Zionist state, its financier, arms supplier, and political attorney. The Zionist state has its main benefactor, and through it Sinn Fein becomes an accomplice to Zionism’s actions by one remove.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has found it plausible that the Israeli state is carrying out genocide, although the vast majority of the world’s population did not have to wait to make this judgement, and does not have to wait the years required to see the ICJ confirm it. There is therefore a political obligation to take now whatever action that can be taken to stop the genocide and Sinn Fein is not taking it. How little this requires is demonstrated by the leader of the SDLP refusing to go to Washington on St Patricks day. Sinn Fein has rejected doing the same. This article has good coverage of the meeting and its background.
What this incident shows is the common nature of the struggle against imperialism across the world and the common character of that struggle. Solidarity movements are supposed to be expressions of that common struggle but have become detached by petty bourgeois politics to be mere expressions of sympathy; appealing to human rights that fail to understand that the violence of imperialism is intrinsic to the capitalist system and that the only alternative is working class socialism. This means that working class leadership of the struggle is needed, not just in Ireland but also in Palestine and all the other countries in the region and beyond where the outcome of the genocide will be determined.
Thus, this meeting illustrates that Sinn Fein, newly reinstalled in the leadership of the imperialist settlement in Ireland, will brook no criticism of the Palestinian Authority (PA) which plays the same, increasingly discredited, role in Palestine. The PA is widely reported to be employed again as the mechanism for imperialist and Israeli pacification once the latter has finished its slaughter.
The message is therefore clear, Sinn Fein is not part of the Palestinian solidarity movement in any meaningful sense. A party that participates in a shindig with those behind the genocide is a fifth column that undermines the solidarity movement by limiting the terms of effective solidarity, with an attempt to blind everyone to what it is doing. What the solidarity movement needs to do, at the very least, is to take effective action to thwart the genocide. A result of this it should be a step forward in the creation of a militant working class movement in Ireland as well.
Refusing to party with Biden is not even a forceful act of solidarity but rejecting it is a statement that Palestinian genocide is not important enough to demonstrate opposition to its main facilitator. The celebration with the British Prime Minister the week before showed Sinn Fein’s partnership with the British Government, second only to the US in its support for the Zionist state and complicity in the genocide.
Effective opposition in Ireland would involve preventing the US using Shannon airport as a transit to the Middle East and refusal to handle Israeli goods. The solidarity campaign involving leaflets, meetings and demonstrations are in themselves protests, but the ruling class everywhere is perfectly happy to ignore protests unless they lead to more radical action.
Instead, protests lead only to more protests which eventually tire the protestors. They often involve naïve beliefs that those in power will listen and take action, as if they did not already know what is happening or are willing to be convinced or shamed into ‘doing the right thing’. This is a view borne of ignorance that they are not actually acting out of their class interests and will change their behaviour only if these are threatened, and only permanently change if their political and social power is destroyed.
This means creation of a working class solidarity movement. Calls for individual boycotts of goods involve calls for individuals or individual companies that are unorganised. The working class has the power to enforce boycotts that don’t require millions of individuals taking individual decisions millions of times not to buy this or that good.
The first place to seek to organise this is in the existing workers’ movement. Any solidarity campaign should seek to achieve this, and the membership of its supporting organisations would have the duty to try. The many Sinn Fein members will never be given this task, yet the purpose of all the leaflets, social media posts, meetings and demonstrations is to build a movement that will take this on and succeed. They are designed to build the support, organisation and confidence of those who can undertake this action. Token attendance on the odd demonstration by the Irish trade union movement is a testament to failure to attempt this.
Some other lessons can be learnt from the Belfast episode. There should be no fear in challenging Sinn Fein because other Irish political parties are doing nothing better. It is not the job of a Palestine solidarity campaign to save Sinn Fein from its own perfidy. The government parties are in office and have demonstrated the limits to their expression of sympathy; they will do nothing much more unless forced – they are not there to be convinced of the justice of any particular action, they know already. Sinn Fein, on the other hand, professes to be part of the solidarity movement.
The common nature of the struggle across the world demonstrated by Sinn Fein’s defence of the Palestinian Authority means that assertions that we cannot criticise any particular Palestinian organisation or movement, as is sometimes stated, is frankly stupid and reactionary. Socialists criticise movements across the world if they think their politics are inadequate, fail the working class, or betray it. The Palestinian Authority has certainly betrayed the cause of Palestinian freedom and it would be a dereliction of duty not to say so. Only belief in the moral superiority of Palestinians as a nation, uniquely undivided by class or blessed by political leadership, could justify such a position. That some Palestinian activists have condemned the PA is to be welcomed and shames those who would keep schtum.
That these activists were thrown out of a Sinn Fein meeting is to their credit as much as it is damning of those who ejected them. A fitting way that Sinn Fein could atone for their disgraceful action would be to protest against Genocide Joe and be thrown out of the White House. What’s the chances?