After the Gaza Massacre and After the Marches, What Do We Do?

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dont_buyThe ceasefire between Hamas and Israel looks like holding up. It is a cause for celebration that the mass killing has stopped; the destruction of entire neighbourhoods is over for the moment in Gaza. It is hard to celebrate though when the siege still goes on, the occupation of Palestine with all its associated violence continues apace, and those who perpetrated the Gaza massacre have not been brought to justice. In the current bleak post-massacre crisis which Gaza faces, the work of solidarity organisations are needed now more than ever. The question is what form this solidarity will take.

On Saturday August 9th, between eight and ten thousand of us marched the all too familiar two miles to the Israeli embassy. It was the largest demonstration of Palestine solidarity on this island – a truly national demo with banners, placards and people from all the 32 counties, it was a joy to know so many other people cared and to be marching alongside these people. And now we know this, that so many people in this country are willing to make the effort and stand and march in solidarity with Palestine, what do we do next?

The simple answer I want to give is that we don’t go back to the embassy, instead we engage in boycott actions around the country, bringing the energy from the demonstrations back home and making it meaningful.

Why not march again? Marches mobilise us and they energise us – but if all they mobilise us to do is simply to mobilise yet again, then we are making the march about ourselves and how good we feel chanting pro-Palestine slogans and being in solidarity with each other. That’s not good enough.

Admittedly, the marches did much more. The mobilisations and the associated press work forced the mainstream media to take Palestine solidarity seriously (for instance, this unusually positive Irish Times report). The media would like nothing better than to ignore or sneer at these people upsetting the status quo, upsetting our trade partners and our government’s compliant attitude towards the EU and US. But after five weeks where thousands of ordinary people marched for Palestine, they couldn’t do this anymore and they have been forced to acknowledge the depth of solidarity that people in Ireland feel with Palestinians.

This is an important victory and during the massacre it was absolutely necessary to march and demand an end to the killing. However this does not mean that we should be trapped into a continuing cycle of marches to the embassy – each march bringing diminishing numbers and diminishing returns.

This is not to counsel staying at home. People around the country – the 500 who marched in Limerick, the thousand in Cork, the 150 in Maynooth and so on – they want to do something. We need to undertake activities which will be effective, sensible and – if they’re done right – empowering for those taking part in them. We need to turn to boycott actions. Not boycott alone – it is also important to press for Israel to be made accountable for its war crimes, it is necessary to pressure our government to stop trading arms with Israel, and it is vital to foster links with Palestinians and with Gaza – something Gaza Action Ireland especially have been doing The boycott strategy does not preclude other tools for solidarity

The advantage of boycott is manifold though. It is a way of mobilising the public to meaningful action, a means of changing the media narrative from the current cycle of whataboutery into discussing the best way of showing solidarity with Palestine. Boycott compels our government and businesses to take notice of public opinion since it affects them. Lastly, boycott directly affects Israel in a way that petitions or marches in Irish streets don’t. Small wonder that all Palestinian groups have asked solidarity groups to focus on the boycott of Israeli goods. It should be stressed that it is Israeli goods that need to be boycotted, not Irish supermarkets or multinationals – calling for the ruthless boycott of everything existing may be emotionally satisfying, but it is neither a sensible nor effective strategy.

The question is how do we do boycott actions so that we aren’t asking for supporters to do impossible things, and so that the spirit of mobilisation of the demonstrations gets carried forward? There is no perfect answer to the question, but we do know the type of actions that have been tried and have worked over the last month.

Boycott mobilisations: The last few Thursdays, people have gathered to undertake collective boycott actions – going into supermarkets and chain stores and de-shelving Israeli goods, going into shopping centres and picketing Ahava stalls selling Dead Sea products. Such actions have been civil and polite – we have to remember that neither shop-workers nor security guards are the enemy here – but disruptive.

The advantage of these actions is that they are collective, they put real pressure on supermarkets to take Israeli stock off their shelves, and through being shared on social media they inspire others to do similar actions. Other disruptive actions include placing boycott Israel stickers on Israeli produce – a simple effective way to promote the boycott

Building local boycott campaigns. Kinvara, Co, Galway has declared itself to be an Israeli-goods free zone. This inspired locals in Stoneybatter, Dublin to leaflet their area and ask people to ask their local shops to boycott Israel. They have also gone around the local shops and so far half a dozen have agreed to boycott Israel, and put up ‘apartheid-free zone’ stickers. The local boycott campaign is ongoing.

This grassroots campaign is non-confrontational; rather it builds on the widespread popular revulsion with Israeli actions and on local ties. Such campaigns can be conducted in any community in Dublin, any town in Ireland, and it ensures, as Eamonn McCann said at the Dublin demonstration, that boycott becomes not “the badge of radical respectability [but] the common sense of Irish politics.”

Professional and workplace campaigns. Over the last month The Artists’ Pledge to Boycott Israel has accumulated hundreds of fresh signatures – there are now over 460 artists who have pledged to boycott Israel. The power of this campaign cannot be underestimated in making it political commonsense to boycott Israel. Now whenever an artist goes to Israel or accept Israeli state funding they are making an explicit political statement on behalf of Israel.

The academic campaign has been slower – there are now about 180 signatories to the academic boycott pledge, with several dozen being added in the last month. However, the group Academics for Palestine plan to collect more. They are running a half day workshop on academic boycott on Saturday 13 September to discuss the academic boycott and how to advance it.

Besides the simple straightforward boycott actions above, we need more of these long-term campaigns in workplaces and among professions – doctors, architects, union members can all start organising in their own workplaces, among their own colleagues. The returns will not be as immediate as the above two ways, but can deepen the boycott campaign in this country beyond straightforward consumer goods.

During the massacre, Irish people demonstrated their solidarity with Palestine – now we need to practice this solidarity in a meaningful way. The boycott of Israeli goods is just that – what Palestinians demand and what the Israeli government fears.

David Landy is on the IPSC national committee, though the views expressed in this article are his own. You can contact him at dlandy@tcd.ie or the IPSC at info@ipsc.ie  about any of the above initiatives. 

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