This weekend I took a trip to London’s Oxford Street and discovered the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign’s (PSC) protest against Sodastream – a company which has a presence in the West Bank and should therefore be boycotted… or so the argument goes.
The entire affair was a bit of a joke. In the hour I was there I found 12 examples of how NOT to hold a protest and how NOT to win an argument.
It began with me talking to a protestor who was handing out leaflets saying ‘Boycott Sodastream’. I engaged him in a conversation. He did most of the talking, I just asked questions and occasionally put a very brief point to him. While I remained entirely calm, he got more and more angry (1 – Lose your cool) and let me have less and less of a say. I moved on to speak to a different protestor down the road.
At this point I was interrupted by a third protestor who doubled up as a seemingly self-appointed ring leader. She told me I was there to cause trouble and asked me not to speak to anyone (2 – Ask those open to hearing about your cause to leave and not speak to anyone). Thankfully for me a few of the PSC protestors ignored her (3 – Don’t work as a team, it’s better to appear divided) so I was able to continue the dialogue.
The first paragraph of the leaflet being handed out stated that Sodastream was building on “stolen Palestinian land” (4 – Lie). I asked each protestor when Israel stole the West Bank from the Palestinians. Not one of the three people were able to answer (5 – Don’t do any research on your topic. Passion alone is enough). I explained that the West Bank was captured from Jordan (not the Palestinians) in a war of self defense in 1967. I waited for a response but there was none. They just changed the subject. (6 – Never be humble and admit you don’t know the answer).
In yet another attempt to deflect the discussion away from the legality of the West Bank, one protestor brought up the separate issue of Gaza! (See upcoming point 7) During this discussion I pointed out that Hamas’ decision to target rockets at innocent civilians is indefensible.
Rather than dealing with my point about rockets, this lady again changed the subject and said, speaking of the West Bank and not Gaza, “But the Israelis keep stealing their land” (7 – When you can’t answer your critics, change the subject and 8 - Don’t be afraid to make points that are irrelevant to the debate)
I did my best to drag the woman back to the point. She seemed worryingly defensive of these rocket attacks (9 – Defend the indefensible). I asked if she believed Hamas were terrorists. She said she was unsure (10 – Act uncertain in response to the most obvious of questions). I asked if she’d condemn Hamas for targeting innocent civilians. She refused (see point 9 again). Its encounters like this that demonstrate the PSC and many of their supporters are extremists who should not be listened to.
Earlier that day before I arrived at the protest, a PSC supporter on Twitter (@ActivistForPal) and Facebook claimed John Lewis had been closed due to the protests. I found this hard to believe. When I turned up and asked both PSC supporters and the police they confirmed the shop had not shut (11 – Lie again!) Infact, if you click the above Facebook link you’ll even see a picture that wasn’t taken on the day! It was actually of a different protest a number of months ago. (11 – Lie again, again)
You can’t learn much from PSC’s material. So much of it is made up of blatant lies. The map they held up of “Disappearing Palestine” (for a refutation see here) is perhaps the best example of the lies they were spreading at the protest. (11 – Lie again, again, again)
But we can use the PSC as a great example of ‘what not to do’. I’d be fooling myself if I claimed I’ve never made any of the above mistakes. Supporters of Israel sometimes defend the indefensible and we can often be just as angry as the extremists in the PSC. Oh, and we can be just as extreme as the PSC too. So rather than shout abuse at the PSC, lets learn from their (and our own) mistakes.
Afterthought…By the way seeing as four Sodastream machines were proudly on display inside the shop, we have to ask ourselves what this protest even achieved. Were the protestors even aware of the big picture? Did they know that trade between Israel and the UK is increasing every year? #BDSFail is an appropriate and often used hashtag. (12 – Before starting your protest, make sure that the movement it represents has already become a laughing stock among moderates)