June 18, 2005

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I've had some complaints about my concentration on the Atzmon/SWP issue, including one text message from America. Hopefully this will be my last post on the saga.

This is Roland Rance's take on the events of last night, together with my own notes and comments:
About 30 activists turned out to protest the talk by Gilad Atzmon at Bookmarks bookshop, significantly outnumbering those who actually went in to the meeting. Several of these had attended for the express purpose of denouncing Atzmon and his views, and it is clear that very few attended in order to listen to and learn from him. Numbers of attendees were further restricted by the SWP's (unannounced) decision to make the meeting ticket only [The only one I saw being turned away on these grounds was an SWP member who happens to be a friend of mine. Her crime was that she was friendly towards me and because she took a leaflet from me. Their claim that the advanced booking rule was in connection with their "health and safety regulations was belied by the fact that other people who definitely hadn't pre-booked were allowed in. The problem was not with the lease on their building, but with the Arnold Leese in their building], thus preventing even some of their own members from attending. Of course, none of the pickets was allowed to attend.[the woman who announced the pre-booking only rule angrily refused a leaflet with a back hand sweep that I presume she learned from Buster Mottram, who was, after all, only a tennis player, erm, with a neo-nazi worldview]

Although some of the audience took our leaflets, and a few engaged in debate with us, the SWP's leadership treated us with arrogant contempt, refusing even to acknowledge, let alone touch, the leaflets; and, in some cases, aggressively pushing us aside without even asking us to move.[Martin Smith even tried to intimidate a woman photographer by falsely accusing her of blocking the door when she was standing on the curb. One of their officials (I was told his name is John McClaughlin) accused us of not fighting fascism when many among us are seasoned campaigners against fascism and what did they think we were doing last night? The same guy told me that he had talked to Gilad Atzmon and that Atzmon has denied being anti-semitic. I asked him when this conversation took place and he remained silent. I called him a liar and the woman who denied entry to my friend protested my rudeness! Many of us believe that the expression "anti-semitism" is unhelpful but Atzmon actually believes that attacks on Jews as Jews are a rational response to zionism]
Despite earlier attacks by the SWP that, by calling the picket, we were "lining up with the AWL", they, and other sectarians and Zionist apologists were totally absent, and the protesters were all clearly opposed to Israel and its Zionist practices. We were further admonished that "reasonable people" like Hilary Rose and Moshe Machover opposed the picket. In fact, Hilary turned up [yup she did, and I'm proud to say I met her] and stood with us in the protest, while Moshe, who was unable to come, sent the SWP a letter strongly supporting and endorsing the picket.

It's clear that the SWP had no idea of the extent and depth of revulsion at Atzmon's ideas, and the anger at them for giving him a platform. They have been given something to think about.[here's hoping]

After the picket, most of us went for a drink, and were later joined by sympathisers who had attended the meeting. We learned from them that Atzmon had not been received well, that no-one had spoken in his defence, and that several SWP members were apparently in dismay at the views they heard, and the damage they have done to the party's image. Our shouts, and the many speeches through the megaphone, were heard clearly throughout the meeting. Apparently, Atzmon devoted a large part of his talk to discussing the highly controversial theories of Otto Weininger (who, as Atzmon himself admitted, was Hitler's favourite Jew), who, in his work Sex and Character, characterised the Jew as "feminine, and thus profoundly irreligious, without true individuality (soul), and without a sense of good and evil". The decay of modern (ie early twentieth century) times was due to feminine, and thus Jewish, influences -see Wikipedia. Atzmon also propounded his own highly sexist theory of gender, before giving a rambling account of his own views, and expressing his bemusement at the picket. In the ensuing discussion, he was roundly denounced by several speakers; John Rose of the SWP reportedly made a particularly powerful and effective response.[thank god for that small mercy]
Members of the SWP who did not know at the beginning of the meeting , certainly realised by the end what an error they had made. However, we must still marvel at their stupidity in even inviting Atzmon in the first place, as well as expressing our anger at the contempt we faced from some SWP leaders, notably their national secretary Martin Smith, who refused (unlike most of his comrades) to exchange even one civil word with us.

All in all, we are pleased with our efforts, which in a short time mobilised a large and vocal protest, and which confronted the SWP with a reality they wished to ignore - that they cannot hold a meeting with a racist and expect it to pass quietly, and that you cannot defend Palestinian rights if you accept the Zionist paradigm which identifies all Jews with Zionism.
Roland touches on what so many of us know. SWP members generally do not knowingly consort with anti-semites. There are members of the SWP who have been appalled by this whole affair and have lobbied the leadership to drop Atzmon. From the behaviour I witnessed I believe that there is some support for Atzmon's worldview (such as you can make out from barely coherent ramblings) and there are clearly leading members of the SWP, in particular the people placed on the door, who are far more keen to maintain relations with a Jew hater than they are with principled anti-racists and anti-zionists. They engaged in smears and lies to their own members, and even bullying and their conduct over this will not be easily forgotten.

Update - I have had an email from an SWP friend who says that "it is simply untrue to say that anyone in the SWP accepts parts of Atzmon's world-view." And I can vouch for the fact that this person believes that Atzmon had no business at an SWP event last night or in the future.

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