A motion calling for COFIS to be told they would not be welcome at the anti-racism march in Glasgow was discussed at the Stand Up to Racism Scotland Steering Committee meeting at the UNISON offices in Glasgow on Saturday 10 March. In view of the controversy surrounding SUTR's decision, I would like to set out my understanding of the way the motion came to be put before the committee. I think there was a good deal about the discussion that was very unsatisfactory, but I will not try to unpick that in this post, which is mainly intended to provide some background and explain the formal basis for the resolution. It will perhaps be rather boring to most readers, but I hope it will avert needless speculation and dispute.
I am Chair of SACC and, in a personal capacity, I have been a member of the Stand Up to Racism Scotland steering committee since it was set up at the first Stand Up to Racism Scotland Conference in September 2016. The committee is made up of individuals nominated and agreed by consensus at the conference. The second conference (re-scheduled from autumn 2017) was held on 2 February 2018.
Following the appearance of COFIS (Confederation of Friends of Israel in Scotland) members and their banner at the March 2017 anti-racism march, various individuals and organisations contacted Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) Scotland with their concerns. These messages, and SUTR's response to them, were neither discussed nor referred to at any committee meeting I attended, or in any committee email that I was copied in to. There was great concern that COFIS would try to participate in the 2018 march to be held on 17 March.
As a possible starting point for resolving the issue I emailed committee members on 30 January 2018 informally floating the idea of a SUTR statement "re-affirming our opposition to all forms of racism including anti-semitism, stating that we agree with Richard Falk's assessment of Israel as an apartheid state, and noting and welcoming the support of some trade unions for BDS." There was no discussion of this suggestion by the committee as a whole, and the very limited one-to-one interactions I had over it left me with the feeling that it was seen as a rather difficult issue and that progress on it would be slow at the very best.
Externally to the committee, John Porter (a member of SACC) subsequently proposed an emergency motion calling for COFIS to be told they would not be welcome, and emailed this to SUTR Scotland Convener Talat Ahmed. At this late date John's emergency motion seemed to offer a better way forward than a motion along the lines I had originally indicated. I therefore seconded the motion, which was adopted by SACC. I emailed Talat to that effect on 25 February, adding my request, as a committee member, that the motion be discussed at the next meeting. Talat emailed in reply that the committee would take the motion.
Recent committee meetings have been publicised as "open" meetings, but on this occasion the meeting was publicised only as "open to reps from affiliated trade unions and local groups."
Last year SACC had discussed affiliating to SUTR, but because of our financial commitments at that time had deferred doing so until additional funds were available. This has not so far been done. SACC has worked closely with SUTR and may be understood by some people to be affiliated. An email from a SUTR Scotland Steering Committee member was circulated on SACC's internal email list saying that SACC, as an affiliate, could send delegates to the meeting and SACC was mistakenly referred to in some recent articles on our own website as an affiliate. The fact is that we have not sent a letter or fee to SUTR Scotland to ratify our affiliation.
SUTR Scotland steering committee meetings are normally run fairly informally and decisions tend to be reached by consensus. There are no standing orders or other written guidance on how meetings should operate. Where our informal tradition proves inadequate, I would expect deliberations to follow democratic practices familiar from trade unions, political parties etc. In view of the warm relations that, at least until this point, SACC had enjoyed with SUTR Scotland I expected committee members to facilitate meaningful debate of our motion, irrespective of the formal basis on which the motion was being taken.
The meeting at which the motion was discussed was held in Glasgow on 10 March, at the Glasgow City UNISON Office. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism (RCG) held a lobby outside the meeting to press for the exclusion of COFIS from the march. The lobby was unconnected with either SACC or the SACC delegates at the meeting. There was a good deal of friction between the lobby and committee members.
I was unable to attend the meeting owing to family illness. John Porter and Sofiah MacLeod attended as SACC delegates. They were told that, as SACC was not affiliated, their admission to the meeting was a courtesy and they did not have voting rights. This being the case, I think it follows that the motion was discussed on the basis that I, as a committee member, had requested the discussion and had seconded the motion in absentia.
A number of statements opposing the motion were read out from affiliated or linked organisations. The motion appears not to have been circulated to committee members (or at least, to all committee members) in advance, so it is unclear what prompted the submission of these statements.
A number of objections to the motion were made which were not rooted in the text of the motion. Several committee members spoke in favour of the motion, but in the end it seems that only one or two (there appears to be some confusion) votes were cast in favour.
Had the SACC delegates been accorded voting rights, the outcome of the vote would not have been materially affected, though the delegates' non-voting status may have had a subjective effect on the proceedings.
The motion was as follows:
"That this meeting of the SUTR (Scotland) Steering Committee notes the serious concerns raised by affiliates and supporters, particularly by campaigners for Palestinian equality, justice and freedom including the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, that the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland (CoFIS) joined and raised their banner and Israeli flags at the SUTR demonstration in 2017.
The Committee understands that the aims of CoFIS, an organisation that works in partnership with the Israeli government and international pro-Israel organisations such as Christians United for Israel (led by John Hagee who is known for his antisemitic and racist outbursts), are incompatible with the principles and aims of SUTR.
The Committee notes that CoFIS was founded in order to counter the work of Palestine solidarity campaigners in Scotland, and that their tactics include intimidation by smears of racism and lobbying local authorities to use and abuse hate crime legislation in order to protect the state of Israel.
The Committee resolves to inform CoFIS that they are not welcome to join the SUTR demonstration on 17 March 2018.
The Committee resolves to write to affiliates and supporters, and those organisations that have contacted SUTR with their concerns on this matter, to confirm that this action has been taken and to invite them to build and join the 17 March 2018 demonstration in Glasgow"