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Catt facts

Michael Waugh, Southampton

ImageLooking through a back issue of PN, I came across an error which does not appear to have been corrected in a subsequent issue. 

In PN 2547-8 (July-August 2012), under the headline ‘T-shirt protestor to appeal’, it was stated that John Catt had spent ‘over 70 years protesting against nuclear weapons and the Vietnam and Iraq war, among other issues’. The ‘other issues’ are not specified. The oldest of the three issues specified is nuclear weapons, and the earliest protest against them I can trace is the Szilard petition, circulated among people working on the Manhattan project in July 1945. It is extremely unlikely that John Catt signed this, or even knew about it at the time, as it was kept restricted to Manhattan project people. Even assuming that he was working on that project, and signed the Szilard petition, the issue of PN carrying the report was published only 67 years after the Szilard petition was completed. This petition was kept under wraps secretly for many years afterwards.

So John Catt could not have been protesting against any of the three named issues for over 70 years. That leaves us with the unspecified ‘other issues’. I would have thought that Rebecca Boyle would have spotted this and explained which other issue would take us back beyond 70 years. Did John Catt protest about the Second World War, which started over 70 years before this report was published?


Thanks Michael for your keen eye and attention to detail. In an article on the Guardian website on 11 February 2012, John Catt wrote about his first protest, at the age of 14, while working as a farm labourer in Coombe, Sussex. John stood up for other workers who were not getting their wages paid on time: ‘I demanded that the farmer paid up straight away; it was the first time I spoke up for the rights of others and I have been doing so ever since.’ When John wrote this article, he was 87, so he had been protesting for 73 years (in other words, since 1939). We hope this clears matters up (though it would be wonderful if a Sussex farm labourer had been one of the signatories of the Szilard petition!). – eds



PN supper

Julia Mercer, Huddersfield

ImageI had a supper party following the idea in the last issue (PN 2552-2553) – and here’s the donation. It was a really lovely evening, too.


Thank you, Julia. If anyone else is holding fundraising supper parties, please let us know – and Julia wishes she’d taken a picture to send in, so there’s a tip. (Someone brought a mandolin to her party, and it turned into a singalong about peace!) – eds

Israel and BDS

Jonathan Rosenhead

ImageThe Peace News editorial comment on ‘Antisemitism, Zionism, BDS and PN’ (PN 2552-3) was thoughtful, informed and principled on the first two. That’s what makes its cack-footedness on boycott, divestment and sanctions so surprising. 

There are things the editorial simply got factually wrong. And then there are issues of political principle and practice. The incorrect facts are used to support the, in my view, wrong conclusions. Let’s start with the errors:

l The boycott call from Palestine is not for a ‘blanket’ ban. In the key areas of academic and cultural boycott it is targeted only at Israeli institutions, rather than individuals. The South African boycott (so often cited with approval) was far more stringent.

l The editorial cites Norman Finkelstein (a highly-principled but utterly unrepresentative figure) on BDS as a ‘cult’, and then treats that assertion as a fact.

l Finkelstein says that the BDS movement ‘takes no position on the legitimacy of Israel’. No – what we take no position on is the final status agreement (eg one state/two states). We cannot tell the Israelis and Palestinians what solution they should, eventually, converge on.

There are more, but I have little space.

So, what is the justification of a boycott (and divestment; sanctions of course can only be applied by governments)? It is, as the editorial states, a tactic. But it is not, at least in the medium term, a tactic to persuade Israelis that they may be mistaken. It is a tactic to educate and mobilise civil society across the world, and to put pressure on commercial firms, financial institutions and governments to desist from propping up an Israeli state that oppresses human rights. Academic and cultural boycott complements this by insisting that Israel not be treated as a ‘normal’ state since it violates so many norms.

So – the editorial says it is still too early to implement this boycott policy, because the public is not ready to accept it. This is upside down. Firstly, the BBC’s regular poll shows that the public across the world already views Israel as the state it most disapproves of, along with Iran, Pakistan and North Korea.

Secondly, the role of boycott is to focus and concentrate that view towards action, not wait for views somehow to shift by themselves. We are engaged in an educational as well as an agitational process. The international South African boycott movement was launched in London on 26 June 1959. Apartheid came to an end in stages between 1990 and 1994. Boycott was a principal engine. If not now, when? If not us, who?


Thank you, Jonathan. We also don’t have space to respond properly! Briefly: if you go back, you will see that we didn’t claim that ‘the boycott call from Palestine’ was for a blanket boycott; and we did not treat Norman Finkelstein’s view (which is more nuanced than you suggest) as fact – we merely noted it. 

We both agree that properly-chosen boycott campaigns can help to put pressure on British institutions that support the occupation. Perhaps we also agree that there are forms of boycott that are unhelpful to the cause of the Palestinians. Do we also agree that we must judge our tactics by what is actually useful to the Palestinians, rather than what feels righteous to us here, or appears ‘right’ in the abstract? – eds


Palestinians’ faults

John Taylor, London

Surely the first point about Israel is that it is colonising and de facto annexing the occupied West Bank, contrary to the UN and international law. That, in my view, should be the immediate focus of pressure from outside and not the nature of the Israeli state around which debates can easily slip into anti-semitism.

I would suggest, secondly, that the peace movement and the left generally should stop making a cult of the Palestinians.

I say this because they are in part the authors of their own misfortune. Their terrorism, corrupt governance, unwillingness to accept Israel’s existence and, now in Gaza, their religious irredentism have all contributed to the present situation.

So have the refugees, kept in camps for 60 years to make a propaganda point. Just think. About the same time 10 million ethnic Germans were forcibly expelled from central and eastern Europe. In the Punjab alone, a similar number were driven from their homes during the partition of India.

Both events were a disaster for the victims, defensible neither in law or humanity. But would the victims and their families be better off in camps, still demanding the right of return, than as they are now, resettled in their country of refuge?


Thanks, John, for your thoughts. We should point out that Palestinian ‘refugee camps’ in many places have long been small townships rather than tent cities, and that citizenship has been denied to Palestinian refugees and their descendants by Lebanon and several other host states, in contrast to Pakistan/India and Germany in the cases you cite. We invite responses from other readers to your wider points about the degree of Palestinian responsibility for the current situation. – eds