Around 250,000 people joined the Palestine solidarity march in London last weekend

What began as a cover-up for blocking a Gaza ceasefire motion, has become an avalanche of Islamophobia, an attack on the right to protest—and a witch hunt against the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

On Wednesday of this week, a cynical stitch-up saw the speaker—the chair—of the Commons overthrowing normal procedure to fix the order of when votes were taken. The result was that a push from the Scottish National Party to support a ceasefire without conditions in Gaza was never put to a vote.

That was an extraordinary outcome given it was supposed to be the SNP’s day to decide the business. 

But the Labour Party in particular rejoiced because its MPs did not have to take a clear position on a ceasefire and be held accountable. Instead they could support an amendment that was for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire”. 

But it also said, “Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence and that Israelis have the right to the assurance that the horror of 7a October cannot happen again.” 

A ceasefire, in this formula, follows only if the Palestinians surrender. Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who was a Labour MP before he became a “non-party” speaker, had to come up with an explanation for his manoeuvres.

He denied that he had been bullied and threatened by Keir Starmer to stop the real ceasefire vote. Starmer, we learned later, had a phone call with Israeli president Isaac Herzog before crafting Labour’s amendment.

Several MPs say Starmer said Hoyle would lose his job if he didn’t do what he wanted. But no, said Hoyle, he night have made a mistake but that was because he was horrified by the threats to MPs about a ceasefire vote.

He said he had met the cops and “the details of the things that have been brought to me are absolutely frightening”.

Hoyle added, “I never ever want to go through a situation where I pick up a phone to find a friend, whatever side, has been murdered by terrorists. I also don’t want an attack on this House.”

Hoyle was saying that not only might MPs be murdered but the Commons itself could be destroyed. From where did these threats come? Hoyle wasn’t explicit, but many others soon were.

Robert Jenrick, a former cabinet minister, speaking in the Commons on Thursday, said that Britain has “allowed our streets to be dominated by Islamist extremists”.

He spoke of “a pattern of Islamist extremists intimidating those they disagree with, backed by the prospect of violence”. Penny Mordaunt, leader of the House of Commons, replied that she “could not agree more”.

That encouraged former home secretary Suella Braverman. She wrote in Friday’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that “the Islamists, the extremists, and the antisemites are in charge now”. 

She wrote that recently, “The Islamist cranks and Left-wing extremists took control of the streets; the police looked meekly on. They have hijacked a by-election in a deprived town in northern England. We see their influence in our judiciary, our legal profession and our universities.”

It must come as news to Muslims who face Islamophobia, verbal and physical assaults, discrimination and police racism, that they run society. It’s what the fascists say about Jews.

The Sun’s editorial said MPs had faced “violent threats from Islamist thugs”. Then Tory MP Lee Anderson told the right wing GB News that London mayor Sadiq Khan has “given our capital city away” to Islamists, who are “his mates”. “Islamists have got control of Khan and they’ve got control of London,” he said.

Anderson has been stripped of the Conservative whip. On Saturday afternoon, the chief whip Simon Hart made the decision to remove the whip from Anderson, who will now sit as an independent.

But that was only after the Conservatives backed him. A source with the backing of Rishi Sunak had said, “Lee was simply making the point that the mayor, has abjectly failed to get a grip on the appalling Islamist marches we have seen in London recently.”

Meanwhile, during appearances at the far right Conservative Political Action Conference (Cpac) in the United States, former prime minister Liz Truss said her wing of the Tories needed a “bigger bazooka” to take on the “hostile environment” in which they were operating. 

Note the shift of “hostile environment” from the phrase correctly used to describe anti-migrant attacks under prime minister Theresa May to falsely characterise supposed attacks on the racist right.

Truss said the left had infiltrated public and private institutions in “the deep state” and sabotaged her efforts to cut taxes and reduce the size of government.

She also appeared alongside Steve Bannon, a former strategist to Donald Trump, on Real America’s Voice, a far right TV channel. When Bannon raised recent comments by former Ukip leader Nigel Farage warning of a radical Islamic party gaining seats in the British parliament, Truss went along with this. 

“There’s going to be a by-election in the next few weeks, and it could be a radical Islamic party win in that by-election. So that is a possibility,” said Truss.

What did she mean? Rochdale? George Galloway? Truss also nodded along when Bannon praised fascist Tommy Robinson. In this vile atmosphere of Islamophobia, calls came to “protect” MPs by hitting protest rights even further.

Three years ago, the government asked the Lord Walney to look into how to tackle “violence against politicians”.

His review is now almost complete and will recommend that existing police powers to break up protests should be extended to cover demonstrations outside democratic venues. These would include council and MPs’ offices, and parliament. 

Lord Walney said it was time to “reset our view” of what politicians should be prepared to tolerate. “Even if there is no direct violence, it’s having an effect and that’s unacceptable,” he said.

So now not only do we have a surge of anti-Muslim attacks but also an excuse to stop us demonstrating in Parliament Square or at an MP’s surgery.

Left wing MP Diane Abbott tweeted, “I get more abuse and threats than most MPs. But the suggestion that police could close down peaceful demonstrations outside MP’s offices, town halls and Parliament is appalling. The first step towards a police state.”

Completing a circle that had begun with a defence for Israeli genocide the connection was then made openly to pro-Palestine supporters.

The Times newspaper thundered that, “Ben Jamal, the director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), organised the rally outside parliament on Wednesday in which the anti-Israel slogan ‘From the river to the sea’ was projected on to the Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben.

“The Times can reveal that earlier in the day the PSC orchestrated an attempt to get thousands of its supporters into parliament to lobby MPs to vote in favour of a ceasefire in Gaza.”

What had Jamal said? The Times said Jamal had told protesters “We want so many of you to come that they will have to lock the doors of parliament itself.” He also urged demonstrators to “ramp up pressure” on MPs.

In other words he had made a very basic speech urging protest. Make no mistake, these are urgent times. We need three things immediately.

One is a kickback against Islamophobia. Everyone who has marched for Palestine, every trade unionist, every worker and everyone who hates the Tories has to oppose this attempt to scapegoat Muslims.

The Stand Up To Racism demonstrations on 16 March in London and Glasgow and 17 March in Cardiff are now even more important.

We can’t stop the general election being saturated with racist scapegoating against migrants and Muslims. We can organise now to build a bigger movement to oppose it during the election and afterwards whoever wins.

Second, we need to defend and extend protest rights. Too much has already been given away because Labour backed the attacks and the trade union leaders looked the other way. There has to be solidarity with all those under attack—over Palestine, anti-racists, Muslims, Just Stop Oil, Extinction Rebellion—everyone.

And third, and in some way most crucially, there has to be a defence of PSC and the wider Palestine movement through the process of escalating mobilisation.

This great movement of millions has terrified Sunak and Starmer. That’s why they are so ferociously hitting back.

The worst response is to limit or reduce the movement. When the bigots and the Tories attack, we have to fightback more, not less.

Let’s have more walkouts, occupations and disruption on the 8 March day of workplace and student action. Let’s make the 9 March national demonstration in London even bigger, particularly as it comes on the eve of the possible start of slaughter in Rafah.

And let’s have more assemblies, more initiative, more direct action as well as the marches and the meetings of the “official” movement for Palestine. The best way to defeat the attacks is to use and escalate our protests.

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