Lindsey German: The attempts to criminalise Palestinian solidarity are intensifying but they won’t stop this growing movement

Photo: Steve Eason

The demonstration in London on Saturday was huge – the biggest ever over Palestine in this country and a tremendous show of solidarity with the people of Gaza. It was in the hundreds of thousands – my estimate close to half a million – and central London was overwhelmed with Palestine flags, badges and protesters everywhere. It contained all ages, races and religions, but was notably very young.

The attempts to criminalise this march have been intense. Tory peer Lord Pickles wanted it to be banned. It has been decried by politicians, who seem horrified at the prospect that so many people could march. That horror is based on a couple of lies: that those on the march are Hamas supporters; and that the march itself is antisemitic. The marches have attracted a very wide range of support and have been motivated by two things: solidarity with the Palestinians and a desire to stop even greater conflict.

It could do with still wider support. The trade union bloc was quite small, and while some unions sent representatives – if I recall NEU, UCU and Aslef, who all sent general secretaries, and speakers from FBU and RMT – but none from the big general unions. This has caused an argument certainly within Unite, which will hopefully change its position. This was quite a working-class demo and the trade unions refusal to show their solidarity will only weaken them.

This reluctance is no doubt in part due to closeness to the Labour leadership and the coming election, but also in part a continuation of retreats on foreign policy that we have seen at recent TUC congresses.

Keir Starmer is continuing with his bipartisan policy of backing Israel and refusing to call out war crimes. Labour councillors have been resigning from the party over the past two weeks and the situation is critical for many Labour members – and not just in the Muslim community.

I have been critical of those Labour MPs not speaking out and I still am for those who don’t. But credit to John McDonnell and Apsana Begum who did turn up to address the demo – this could not be more important in helping to strengthen the movement and protect it from attempts to criminalise it.

Just one further point – we are told that the slogan ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ is antisemitic because it is anti-Jewish. To my mind, it is the opposite. It calls for one state where Palestinians can live freely and equally, not in occupation as at present. That would be a state open to all regardless of religion, where all rights could be observed.

As I said when I spoke at the demo; ‘we’re not criminals, we’re not terrorists – we’re protesters’.

23 Oct 2023 by Lindsey German

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