'Secret sect giving PSC mask of respectability'

By Martin Bright, Political Editor, September 18, 2009
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Demonstrators at a Palestine Solidarity rally in January 2009

Demonstrators at a Palestine Solidarity rally in January 2009

One of Britain’s most longstanding Jewish anti-Zionists has accused an ultra-left political faction, with links to Ken Livingstone, of infiltrating the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Tony Greenstein, a pro-Palestinian activist, says Socialist Action is acting like “political freemasons” in their takeover of the PSC and suggested that the organisation’s leadership has allowed itself to be treated as “useful idiots”.

Socialist Action is charged by Mr Greenstein with moderating the PSC line in return for trade union affiliations. His website, which is dedicated to a hard-line boycott position on Israel, has published exchanges of emails between the various factions concerned.

“Is PSC going to become a genuine mass solidarity organisation which reaches out to the broadest number of people whilst not being afraid of debating things like the role of the Palestinian Authority and our attitude to it, or is it merely going to be lobby fodder for the ambitions of a secretive sect?” wrote Mr Greenstein.

Socialist Action, whose members believed it could run London as a “city state”, was ousted when Boris Johnson won the mayoral elections in 2008. Its members included Ken Livingstone’s economic adviser John Ross, Jude Woodward, who was responsible for policy on culture and the creative industries, and Redmond O’Neill, who advised on transport and Muslim affairs.

A recent boost in the staffing of the PSC has been attributed to the organising prowess of Socialist Action. Sarah Colborne, who has been director of campaigns and operations since April 2009, and Ruqayyah Collector, campaigns and communications officer since July, are both known Socialist Action activists. The PSC’s student organiser, Bryony Shanks, is also from Socialist Action.

In response to claims about infiltration, Diane Langford, a longstanding member of the PSC leadership, wrote to other members of its executive committee: “My understanding is that only one member of Socialist Action is in post at the PSC office, yet this is spun as a ‘takeover’.”

She added: “It is true that PSC is vulnerable to vexatious opposition and take-overs. Only by sticking to our principle of putting the Palestinian people’s interests first and always respecting their self-determination can our campaign soar above all efforts to undermine our solidarity work.

“Efforts to destroy solidarity with the Palestinians and to create disunity amongst ourselves will always intensify in times of acute danger for the Palestinians.”

Socialist Action emerged from the in-fighting that surrounded the break-up of the far-left International Marxist Group. In the early 1980s the organisation entered the Labour Party, but avoided expulsion during the purge of Militant.

It has remained influential largely through its support of Ken Livingstone, who benefited hugely from its members’ organising skills and ruthless approach to all opposition. The group is known to be working on Mr Livingstone’s “mayoralty in exile” based at the offices of the trade union Unite. Socialist Action is also influential in the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, CND and the National Assembly Against Racism.

A spokesman for the Fair Play Campaign said: “Under Socialist Action leadership, PSC has been toning down its rhetoric and hiding its most extreme anti-Israel politics so it can get support and funding from unsuspecting trades unions and NGOs. It was inevitable that PSC’s grassroots members would object to this shameless and deceptive strategy.”

    Last updated: 11:16am, September 18 2009