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Editorial: Palestine, peace and the global rise of the right

ANOTHER day of deadly air raids over Gaza shows we cannot let up on maximising pressure for an end to Israel’s assault on the territory.

Nor can we allow justified anger at anti-semitic obscenities shouted by racists in north London to divide the peace movement for a moment. No such abuse would have been tolerated on Saturday’s demonstration.

As Knesset member Ayman Odeh, leader of the communist-led Hadash coalition, told a joint Jewish and Arab demonstration in Tel Aviv this weekend: “The struggle is not of one people against another, nor of one religion against another. This struggle is a political one, between those who want occupation and supremacy and those who want peace and equality.”

The stakes within Israel are high, and the radicalisation of the extreme right has been abetted at every stage by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is the natural accompaniment to accelerated colonisation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank.

The direct victims are the Palestinians. But it also means an authoritarian shift which restricts the freedom of all Israelis. The activity of NGOs and peace groups in Israel has been curtailed by successive governments.

This process has ominous similarities to the advance of authoritarian and racist politics elsewhere. Last week Ami Ayalon, a former director of Israel’s security agency Shin Bet said that “we are not far from … not a civil war, but a level of violence I don’t know if we can control.” 

Ayalon’s use of the term “civil war,” even to reject it, is noteworthy. The term has cropped up closer to home in recent weeks, as first retired French generals, then serving soldiers claimed the country was headed for a civil war against Muslims in letters to the press. 

“The hour is grave, France is in peril,” the generals stated. The later letter raised the age-old fascist trope of brave soldiers let down by cowardly politicians: French troops deployed to the US-led “war on terror” from Afghanistan to Mali “gave their skin to destroy the Islamism to which you are giving concessions on our soil.”

The French government condemned the letters. But the episode is a dramatic example of the way mainstream accommodation of the far right simply empowers it. 

President Emmanuel Macron has intensified the stigmatisation of French Muslims with his racist “separatism law.” This has not satisfied the right but egged it on. 

Now former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, eyeing a presidential run next year, talks of a total suspension of immigration from outside the EU for “three to five years,” including a ban on family reunions, calling immigration a driver of terrorism. 

EU supporters who depicted Barnier as the embodiment of progress and reason when he crossed swords with Boris Johnson may be shocked to find him to the right of Priti Patel on immigration. But the main beneficiary of the march rightwards has so far been the fascist Marine Le Pen (who praised the soldiers’ incendiary letters).

These parallels explain much of the “official” European reaction to the current war. 

Flying the Israeli flag from government buildings in Vienna and Prague as the bombs rain on Gaza has as much to do with Islamophobic domestic politics as foreign policy. So does the decision to ban Palestine solidarity protests in France.

Britain is not there yet. But the government is pursuing sweeping new police powers over protest that will make banning the likes of Saturday’s demos far easier. It is overhauling the asylum system in a declaration of war against refugees. 

The outpouring of solidarity with Palestine is a movement of the left — it was even described as the “Corbynification” of the left in the Daily Telegraph. 

It cannot be reduced to a matter of ethnic, religious or cultural conflict, as Odeh emphasised in Tel Aviv. 

It is about peace. And it is about resisting the authoritarian rightward advance in British and European politics.

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