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Mixed News From Britain: Growing Solidarity With Palestinians—and Islamophobia Letter FromLondon

By John Gee


British film director Mike Leigh, shown at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, May 15, 2010. In October Leigh, who is Jewish, cancelled a working visit to Israel, where he was scheduled to spend a week at the Sam Spiegel Film & TV School in Jerusalem. “I have always had serious misgivings about coming,” he wrote to the school’s director. “I have become ever-increasingly uncomfortable about what would unquestionably appear as my implicit support for Israel, were I to fulfill my promise and come.” Citing “the resumption of illegal building on the West Bank,” Leigh continued, “And now we have the Loyalty Oath. This is the last straw—quite apart from the ongoing criminal blockade of Gaza, not to mention the endless shooting of innocent people there, including juveniles.” He concluded, “If you and I should live long enough to see peace, a just solution for Palestinians, and Gaza restored to humanity, I would be first in line to visit the school. But for now, this is my position. It is, of course, non-negotiable, and I’m truly sorry.”

spent the month of September on holi-

Iday in Britain, so didn’t give much

thought to things Southeast Asian, my normal focal point. The visit wasn’t all relaxation, however. For one thing, I wanted to catch up with news from organizations working in support of Palestinian rights. One of the things that intrigues me whenever I go back to Britain is the contrast between the conditions for talking about the Arab world there and the situation in the U.S., where I’ve spent a little time but been told much. The media in Britain is a lot more open and balanced, for one thing, and the fear of criticizing Israel among political leaders that once existed has largely vanished. Since it was founded in 1967, the Council for Arab British Understanding (still John Gee is a free-lance journalist based in Southeast Asia, and the author of Unequal Conflict: The Palestinians and Israel. 38

called CAABU, from when it was known as the Council for the Advancement of Arab British Understanding) has always been able to find parliamentarians willing to serve as joint chairpersons of the organization. In 2003, more than 130 MPs signed an Early Day Motion (an expression of opinion by MPs to which they add their names individually) drafted by CAABU opposing the wall being built by Israel inside the West Bank. One of CAABU’s activities over the years has been to arrange parliamentary delegations to the Middle East—30 have been organized since 1995. In March of this year, a CAABU delegation went to the Gaza Strip to see conditions for itself and show support for its people, and when I dropped by its London office in September, another Gaza delegation was in the last stages of preparation. I worked at CAABU for 12 years, and from 1982 onward also volunteered with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. During THE WASHINGTON REPORT ON MIDDLE EAST AFFAIRS

that time we worked hard to rally support, but our maximum membership, even during the first intifada, was 400 people. Now, PSCs weekly e-mails go to 10,000 members and supporters, and its level of activity has risen correspondingly. The organization has put a lot of effort into a campaign to boycott Israeli goods. In September, the Trades Union Congress, representing 6.5 million workers, voted to work with PSC to actively encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of, companies who profit from illegal settlements, the occupation and construction of Israel’s apartheid wall. When I first started working in solidarity with the Palestinians in 1968, it was seen by many I knew as a very radical thing to do, and I was strongly aware of being part of a tiny minority; now, sympathy, at least, with the Palestinians is part of mainstream politics. This seems like a great contrast with the DECEMBER 2010

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs  

Published to help provide the American public with balanced and accurate information concerning U.S. relations with Middle Eastern states.