Caroline Lucas declared her support for seven acquitted campaigners who caused £180,000 damage to an arms factory, backing their direct action.
Weggis makes important points on the singling out of Israel, the strange description of criminal damage as “non-violent direct action”, and whether Smash EDO should be thought of as ‘Gaza campaigners’. In response to her statements he wonders:
“I don’t know but I would hazard a guess that Israel is not the only customer of the factory that was vandalised and that those customers are also using those weapons for killing people. So, why are they not mentioned? I also suspect that there are other factories in the UK selling arms to undesirable regimes. Why have they escaped? Why is it that Caroline Lucas applauds this action directed at one single and specific case and not the general principle? Why did she not take the opportunity, as our “Leader”, to highlight Green Party Policy? Which is: “End all export subsidies and increase controls on UK arms sales, especially to governments who violate human rights.” i.e. ALL governments who violate human rights and not just Israel.”
There is another disturbing element in Caroline’s declarations.
She says: “However, in this situation it is clear the decommissioners had exhausted all democratic avenues and, crucially, that their actions were driven by the responsibility to prevent further suffering in Gaza.”
She adds: “I do think that there is a time when [non-violent direct action] is legitimate and I think that this was such a time.”
What “democratic avenues” had been tried and exhausted? If you exhaust “democratic avenues” – that is, if you fight and lose elections – does it justify you in imposing your views through direct action and violence? The message here, intentionally or not, is that it you don’t get what you want – that is, if your views are not democratically upheld – it is therefore legitimate and helpful to take up smashing. This has implications which are unfavourable to a political party which participates in a parliamentary democracy. Caroline Lucas is our first MP, but here she seems a little conflicted.
In this particular case, the target of direct action is an arms company which does not appear to have any significant involvement in Israel’s military. I have no sympathy for this or any other arms company, but it is clear that the choice of this company in relation to Gaza is irrational and random. Smash EDO started as a response to the Iraq War. Sussex police say that 20 people have been convicted following four demonstrations against the US-owned firm over the past two years. If it was citing Gaza that acquitted these activists on this occasion, then there’s something wrong.
The protestors could have, using exactly the same line of arguments, targeted the Israel Embassy, some cultural events [after all there is also a campaign in support of a “cultural boycott”], or, why not, a synagogue considered too pro-Zionist. As long as the actions would have been driven “by the responsibility to prevent further suffering in Gaza”, then, it would seem to be OK, even if there was not the merest probability of the action having any impact on the situation in Gaza.
Not for the first time I wonder what kinds of act against Israelis – or Jews as proxy Israelis – Caroline Lucas would not excuse as simply acting on “the responsibility to prevent further suffering in Gaza”.
On the aquittal of the smashers, Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor commented “I am convinced that His Honour would have ruled differently had he been sitting in the Sderot youth cultural centre, rather than on Brighton’s sunny shores.”
This appeal to “lawful excuse” does get you thinking though. Now, I’m anxious that this is not misunderstood as any kind of threat because we have no plans in this regard – but if, say, Greens Engage came to believe that it had exhausted the democratic processes of the Green Party, would Caroline Lucas consider us entitled to a more direct avenue of action?
Update: Steven Murdoch (p147) sets out some principles by which to judge destructive acts by political activists:
“When justifying a destructive act, activists reject a part of the rationale used to condemn their actions. They may reject the validity of the law that finds their action illegal, the premise that the negative effect of the action outweighed any benefit, or the position that the act is destructive at all. Activism often exists in opposition to the power structures that govern ethics within societies, so it is important to judge each action on its merit rather than simply accept the determinations of those in power.”