Editorial: Amidst a genocide, solidarity with Palestine grows

by Omar Hassan • Published 13 June 2024

For over six months the Western world has witnessed an unprecedented mobilisation against Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza. From New York to Paris and Berlin, London to Melbourne, hundreds of thousands have stood up against the destruction of the Gaza Strip. This is a mass movement in every sense of the word. It has combined enormous central demonstrations in major capital cities with myriad local actions. In some places the size of the central demonstrations have been comparable with those against the Iraq War, despite enjoying little to none of the institutional support from mainstream liberal organisations that the latter received.

But unlike Iraq, the mobilisations have been regular and sustained, with millions of people refusing to go back to business as usual while the Western-backed slaughter of Palestinians continues. In many places demonstrators have faced severe repression. In France and Germany, protests were banned for weeks, before activists managed to defeat government attempts at censorship. In Germany in particular, the situation is out of control. A progressive conference supported by Yanis Varoufakis, former Greek Finance Minister, was raided and shut down by police on accusations of anti-Semitism. Police have now taken the extraordinary move of banning rally speeches in languages other than English and German, and have been arresting rally organisers, including left-wing Jews. All of this points to the violent hypocrisy at the heart of Western “democratic” values our leaders are so fond of extolling.

Unable to defend Israel’s atrocities directly, the establishment attack on the pro-Palestine movement has relied on accusations of anti-Semitism to stifle the movement. Governments and countries that have vilified Muslims, refugees and other minorities for decades have suddenly discovered that racism exists and can be a problem. Yet instead of confronting bigotry in its deeply established and institutionalised forms, especially on the far right, it is the anti-war movement that is somehow accused of discrimination and harassment. We are through the looking glass, so much so that figures of the far right with recorded histories of anti-Semitic views have been allowed to argue that migrants are entirely responsible for European anti-Semitism. This, in the lands of Vichy, pogroms and the Holocaust. Meanwhile the US Congress passed a motion moved by far-right Republicans condemning the chant “from the river to the sea” as anti-Semitic, after winning the support of the vast majority of Democrats.

In Australia, Zionists released a fake and edited video of protesters in Sydney supposedly chanting “gas the Jews”, which was used to argue for a blanket ban on future demonstrations. The police eventually admitted the footage was doctored, but not before the anti-Semitism narrative had been firmly established. Rally organisers in Sydney were correct to both distance themselves from any bigotry, while insisting on the democratic and anti-racist credentials of the movement, and successfully carried on the protests.

In Australia, the weekly protests in a number of cities have been vital for maintaining momentum, keeping the issue in the public eye and as an entry point for those looking to join the movement. But for a committed minority, the desire to do more has propelled them into a series of impressive local actions targeting weapons companies, Zionist politicians, local councils, and more. In Melbourne the scope of organising is so broad that more than six months after the protests began, there are still days where there can be four separate solidarity actions taking place. The breadth and scale of this organising is inspirational and enormously positive.

A particular highlight has been the campaigning led by students and youth. Late last year socialist high school students initiated walkouts of hundreds in cities across Australia, with a peak of 1,000 in Melbourne. At the time, this was the biggest school student action in the world. They were subsequently joined by university students, who have organised strikes, sit-ins and public forums on campuses everywhere. Students have played a vital role overseas too. In the US Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace have led impressive campaigns and stood up to serious repression both on and off campus. As we go to print, a student occupation of Columbia University in New York has become an international sensation, and has inspired similar actions elsewhere.

As a result of all this organising, support for Palestine has expanded beyond the traditional bases of the left and migrant communities. Demonstrations in the US have often been instigated by left-wing Jews and the broader community. Links with various anti-racist organisations and campaigns have been made everywhere. Here in Melbourne, where this journal is published, well under half of the attendees at the demonstrations are from Arab or Muslim backgrounds. This represents a huge shift from previous rounds of mobilisation, and creates a deeper and broader basis for ongoing organising into the future.

All of this is reflected in opinion polls conducted in the West, which have been steadily – albeit slowly and unevenly – shifting in favour of the Palestinian people. A Gallup poll conducted in the US in March found that 55 percent of Americans opposed Israel’s military actions in Gaza, while just 36 percent were still in favour. This is an important result, given the overwhelmingly pro-Israeli slant of news media there, yet the overall picture is that far more people identify as broadly sympathetic with Israel than Palestine. Polls are better in the UK, where the number of firm supporters of Palestine (28 percent) is double that of firm supporters of Israel (14 percent). The caveat, however, is that most people are uninformed and uncommitted.

In Australia the situation is similar. On the concrete issues of the war, an Essential Poll in March found that 37 percent supported Israel withdrawing from Gaza, while just 18 percent thought Israel was justified in continuing its attacks.

Presumably after Israel’s highly publicised assassination of the seven World Central Kitchen aid workers, public opinion will have shifted even further. Yet there is a strong strand of isolationism and indifference, which would prefer Australia to “not get involved”, even when our government and military-industrial complex is actively assisting Israel’s war crimes. Thus a Resolve Strategic poll conducted in April found that 57 percent of Australians thought our government should “take no action” on the war on Gaza, up from 45 percent on the same question in November.

Importantly, the movement here has also adopted an unusually firm stance against the ALP, which has once again disgraced itself by backing Israel so firmly. Its initial stance repeated all the talking points of Zionist hasbara, supporting Israel’s (non-existent) “right to defend itself”. The government also decided to give $75,000 aid packages to each and every Australian citizen who happened to be in Israel on October 7, but nothing to Australian citizens in Gaza or the West Bank who have suffered from Israel’s subsequent brutality. Since then it has attempted to speak out of both sides of its mouth to avoid alienating Muslim voters, but few have been taken in by this rhetorical tweak. Aside from the isolated arguments of a few union officials and left sects, the Palestine movement has been clear that Labor is complicit in the genocide until it cuts all military and economic ties to the apartheid regime. That they refuse to do so is a product of Labor’s long-term commitment to the US alliance and the system of imperialism that the Americans oversee.

In any case, Israel’s atrocities and the movement’s response have clearly created a new and wider audience for anti-war and anti-imperialist politics, particularly in the West. But we cannot be complacent. The lies and propaganda of the media and political class retain much of their power, even if social media and the radical press gives a minority access to alternative perspectives. The solidarity movement cannot be satisfied with current mobilisation numbers and retreat into a bubble, but must continue reaching out to try to connect with new audiences by linking up with different issues and other movements.

Strangely enough, this is something of a debate. In the typically declamatory style of online discussions, there has been an observable tendency to denounce those who have only recently become aware of Israel’s criminal policies. But rather than moralistically dismissing such people, the campaign needs to keep reaching out and expanding our capacity to influence, educate and mobilise. This means welcoming those who are new to the cause, and trying to consolidate and deepen their commitment.

There are also political debates, especially around forces in the Middle East that are cynically using the Palestinian cause to build their popularity. For instance, some in the movement have fallen into the trap of championing Iran, the Houthis or Hezbollah as allies of the Palestinian people. This is a profound mistake: the enemies of our enemies are not necessarily our friends. Just last year the Iranian government was repressing women, national minorities and workers who rose up under the slogan “women, life, freedom”. How can the Palestine solidarity movement uphold our stance as principled defenders of democratic rights and liberation if we celebrate such a regime? While Hezbollah and the Houthis are not responsible for the same scale of oppression, they are both conservative movements that have played counter-revolutionary and anti-democratic roles in their own countries and, in Hezbollah’s case, abroad.

As well, the issue of identity politics has raised its head once again, manifesting in a new tendency to isolate the Palestinian cause from the broader anti-imperialist struggle. Given the highly reactionary situation in the Middle East, with countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and even Qatar and Turkey being deeply implicated with both America and Israel, this is a profoundly unhelpful position. Freedom in Palestine is inherently bound up with the revolutionary fight against imperialism and capitalism across the region and the world. The Palestinians cannot win such a battle on their own.

In this contradictory situation, socialists have a special role within the solidarity movement. We have to continue to throw ourselves into the struggle, trying to deepen and broaden its scope wherever possible. The student actions and the unprecedented strike by community sector workers in Melbourne[1] indicate that organised revolutionaries can make a serious contribution, and are just two examples of our leadership. In many cities our branches provide much of the infrastructure for the weekly demonstrations. But of course, others have taken excellent initiatives that we have supported, such as the regular pickets of Heat Treatment Australia and AW Bell in Melbourne, the union-backed pickets of Zim ships in Perth and elsewhere, and much more besides.

But there is also a need to deepen the political and strategic understanding of people in the movement. This means grasping the nature of Zionism, imperialism and the struggle for Palestinian liberation. Rage at the ongoing genocide is an important starting point, but to confront Israel, the US empire and its allies – including the Australian state – we need the historical and theoretical grounding, strategic thinking and long-term organising that only the socialist movement can offer. Radical media sources such as Red Flag and this journal are vital in this project, allowing incoming activists to gain a more thorough understanding of the issues than what is possible from social media.

Yet the context into which socialists must intervene is intensely contradictory. On one hand, millions have made new connections between their recent experiences with Black Lives Matter and other campaigns against racism, and the Palestinian cause. With the so-called war on terror fading into the background, this new generation is far less influenced by the traditional justifications for Israeli atrocities. The extraordinary energy of activists thrown up by this movement has been demonstrated. Yet inevitably, there is a fairly profound ignorance about the historic experiences and strategic debates in the decades-long movement for Palestinian liberation, in particular, the role of the left and workers’ movement within it. This is made worse by the fact that class struggle remains at a low ebb, and so appeals to working-class agency as a possible step in such a movement are mostly fairly abstract.

Nor is it particularly obvious that workers and the poor of the Middle East and North Africa can be the basis for Palestinian liberation. The terrible defeat of the Arab Spring – in different ways constrained, coopted and destroyed by the dominant nationalist and Islamist politics of the region – has isolated Palestine and given Israel a relatively free hand. There has been very little space for mass mobilisation, which is why recent protests in Jordan are of enormous significance.

But overcoming these challenges and building a new revolutionary left is vital. In some ways, Israel’s war on Palestine is only a portent of imperial crimes to come. We only narrowly avoided a devastating regional conflict between Israel and Iran. Netanyahu is an increasingly beleaguered prime minister, with opposition growing on his left and right flanks. A poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute in January found that just 15 percent of Israelis wanted Netanyahu to remain in office once the assault on Gaza ends. For a self-interested genocidal maniac such as Bibi, this is potentially a rationale for many more months of slaughter. And while it seems like Biden successfully convinced Netanyahu to vent his anger on Rafah instead of Tehran, there is still a chance of the conflict escalating into a wider regional war.

The horror of war is not confined to the Middle East. Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine continues to grind on, leaving enormous death and destruction in its wake. The US and its allies, including Australia, are desperate to curtail China’s rise as a global power. They are deploying an increasingly aggressive set of economic and military politics to prepare for the possibility of a world war. Reflecting these imperial tensions, a report by the Stockholm International Peace Institute found that arms spending globally has increased by almost 7 percent this year, the fastest growth in fifteen years. So at a time when governments are “tightening their belts” to avoid feeding inflation, they’re investing trillions into bombs, tanks, submarines and fighter jets. Our challenge is to overthrow these murderous parasites before they get a chance to use them.


Bassini, Louisa 2024, “Community workers walk out for Palestine”, Red Flag, 27 February. https://redflag.org.au/article/community-workers-walk-out-palestine

[1] See Bassini 2024.

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