To stand with Palestinians, Sinn Féin must not silence us
Three weeks ago a letter was sent to my home in Belfast addressed from the Sinn Féin Headquarters in Dublin. A letter stating that my membership of the party had been terminated indefinitely, without any reason as to why this was happening.
I immediately contacted the head of my local Sinn Féin branch, and another Sinn Féin paid member of staff, asking as to why I was sent this letter. Both of them responded instantly in shock saying it ‘must have been a mistake’ and that they would look into it for me.
A few days afterwards they contacted me stating that the letter was not a mistake but they ‘wish me well’. Upon asking for what reason my membership had been terminated, I was ignored, and the reason as to why left shrouded in secrecy.
I believe my input in a Sinn Féin meeting on Palestine partnered with the party’s deceptive stance on Palestine had a role to play in my ejection from the party.
"When I started to scratch beneath the surface of Sinn Féin’s stagnant performative activism, it then made sense to me why the Party’s leadership would want someone like myself thrown out of the party"
A week prior to receiving this letter, I was invited to my first ‘Palestine Working Group’ meeting. A meeting of a Sinn Féin-led and structured group that was left inactive, and that I was the only Palestinian member of.
This meeting had been called last minute to discuss what the Party should do to mark the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, the start of the ongoing colonisation, ethnic cleansing and dispossession of the Palestinian people.
A few performative actions were suggested, such as getting Sinn Féin representatives in the Irish Parliament to hold paper Palestine flags, whilst someone else suggested that Sinn Féin representatives in the North do the same.
The anniversary’s timing is ‘convenient’ as the local elections in the North are just three days after Nakba Day. They believed it would perhaps get them a few more votes amongst their base of supporters who are very sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
I then made my contribution to the meeting, as the only Palestinian member, suggesting that the most important thing Sinn Féin could do outside of performative actions, would be to update their own party policy on Palestine.
.@Tommymckearney reflects on Palestine and Ireland's shared history of anti-imperialist struggle, the occupied's spirit of resistance and the sacrifices of martyrs in the global fight for freedom and justice, from Khader Adnan to Bobby Sands:#Nakba75https://t.co/I97CxQCR2K— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) May 11, 2023
As it stands Sinn Féin’s current party policy supports a ‘two-state solution’ - a so-called ‘solution’ that is void in a settler colonial reality. A stance that is also arguably contradictory when the party campaigns for an end of the British-imposed partition in Ireland but then somehow supports the partition of Palestine.
I suggested they update this policy by denouncing the two-state solution and specifically use words such as ‘decolonisation’. My suggestion was shouted down by the Sinn Féin International Officer who was chairing the meeting, followed by an unsolicited and ill-informed rant on Palestinian politics, with offensive orientalist undertones.
I was then lectured that ‘Palestinians are disorganised’, and that they need to be ‘more organised in order to be taken credibly’. When I tried to interject, as I believe Palestinians are both politically organised and unified in their defiance to Israeli oppression, the chair, a paid member of Sinn Féin staff, then cut me off saying my time to speak was over. He then proceeded to tell me ‘Palestinians need to get their house in order’ before Sinn Féin would update its two-state solution policy.
At first observation I found this whole interaction very bizarre, considering for example, its party representatives would have no qualms in making public statements in support of Palestine, down to even Sinn Féin’s President, Mary Lou McDonald’s twitter profile picture being a photo of Palestine’s flag.
However when I started to scratch beneath the surface of Sinn Féin’s stagnant performative activism, it then made sense to me why the Party’s leadership would want someone like myself thrown out of the party.
It has been reported that Sinn Féin elected officials, most notably West Belfast MLA, Pat Sheehan, have hosted several meetings with far-right Israeli political party, Likud, the party of current Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, over the past few years.
Facing much criticism from the party’s supporters sympathetic to Palestine, MLA Pat Sheehan’s first response was not to apologise, but instead defend these meetings in a public statement stating that ‘dialogue is essential’.
Just this past weekend alone we witnessed Israeli Occupation Forces bomb a Palestinian children's special needs home, murder over 33 Palestinians, and saw 5 year old Tamim Dawood die from a panic-induced heart attack from the intense Israeli bombing of Gaza.
"No matter how revolutionary the root of a political party may be, no party is exempt from being pacified into a counter-revolutionary structure used to contain and control a once revolutionary movement"
Just a month ago both party leaders, McDonald and O’Neill, welcomed US President Biden to Ireland, despite them both claiming to support Palestinian human rights, they rolled out the red carpet, choosing to blissfully ignore Biden’s annual $3.8 billion military aid package to Israel, and his infamous quote on how ‘If there were no Israel, we’d have to invent one’.
This seemed to have even caused controversy amongst elected Sinn Féin officials. Upon Biden’s visit into Irish Parliament, whilst McDonald was blushing over Biden, Sinn Féin TD Chris Andrews turned his back to Biden and wore a Palestine football jersey in protest of Biden’s support for Israel.
Sinn Féin, like several political parties who were once rooted in former national liberation movements, seem to be modifying themselves into mainstream politics, ditching its moral stances in hopes of getting elected in the South by appealing to its middle classes, modifying itself to such an extent it is no longer clear what it stands for.
Sinn Féin, the de facto political wing of the Irish Republican Army during the Troubles, began in 1905 as a socialist “party of the people”. But since it has come to power, it has only ever voted in favour of austerity, of landlords (which its own elected officials are themselves), and worsening the lives of working class communities across the North of Ireland.
The Sinn Féin stronghold of West Belfast is just one example of the party modifying its socialist party roots. According to a 2018 UN report, West Belfast has the second highest rate of child poverty across the whole of Britain.
A party that cannot even stay loyal with the values of the struggle it claims to represent, that initially resisted British imperialism and occupation but now chooses to attend King Charles Coronation the day after the anniversary of the death of Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands, is evidence enough of a revolutionary party that has been pacified, that has been debilitated, and that has fallen.
No matter how revolutionary the root of a political party may be, no party is exempt from being pacified into a counter-revolutionary structure used to contain and control a once revolutionary movement.
Yet another political elite doing well for themselves at the expense of the people they are supposed to represent. From the ANC, to the Palestinian Authority, to Sinn Féin.
Farrah Koutteineh is founder of KEY48 - a voluntary collective calling for the immediate right of return of over 7.4 million Palestinian refugees. Koutteineh is also a political activist focusing on intersectional activism including, the Decolonise Palestine movement, indigenous people's rights, anti-establishment movement, women's rights and climate justice.
Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @key48return
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.