The decision of the leadership of the Labour Party to offer unequivocal support for Israel’s decision to displace a million people and cut off power, food and water to over 2 million people has outraged many of its members and supporters. For many, standing up against the oppression of ordinary people is the reason they joined the Labour Party. The leadership then went further and discouraged its MPs, councillors and those elected as officials within the party from attending demonstrations in support of Palestine, prompting some councillors and officials across the country to resign from the party.
In Stroud Labour Councillor Jessie Hoskin resigned saying that
“The Labour Party is no longer consistent with the values of human dignity, equality, a world where everyone is safe and has what they need to thrive…”
“informed by the General Secretary and the Scottish General Secretary that any motions relating to the situation in Israel and Gaza are out of order for all CLPs.”
Stemming the flow?
In an attempt to stem the flow of resignations Sir Keir Starmer sent a message to all Labour councillors. At the end of the message he set out what he believes the Labour Party should stand for in regard to this matter. Here are a number of extracts, the original text is shown (bold italic) and listed below (in normal text) are statements that others might have added to make the message more balanced towards a Palestinian view.
“Labour has been clear; Israel has the right to defend herself, to keep its people safe and bring hostages home.”
But others may note that:
- The right to self defence does not give Israel the right to use deadly force to prevent the Palestinian refugees from exercising their right to return.
- Israel is responsible for arresting and holding Palestinians without charge.
“Israel’s defence must be conducted in accordance with international law.”
But others may note that Israel does not accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and that it therefore believes it can act with impunity.
“We are also clear, the pain and suffering that has been unleashed is the responsibility of the terrorists of Hamas. Hamas are not the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian people are not Hamas. Indeed, Hamas have no interest in the future and freedom of the Palestinian people, nor in peace – causes they have willingly, deliberately, murderously set back.”
But others may note that:
- Starmer is not acknowledging the pain and suffering of over 75 years, caused by the establishment of the state of Israel and the forced eviction of the Palestinians from their land
- There is a strong case for saying that the Palestinians have a right to resist the occupation. Poorna Mishra explained this in an article for Open Democracy…: “UN General Assembly resolutions that explicitly recognise the “legitimacy of the people’s struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination…by all available means” only strengthens the legal basis for the right to resist.”
- Repeated attempts at the United Nations to progress towards a just solution have failed due to the veto at the security council used by the United States.
“Labour’s commitment to a two state solution – a secure Israel, and a viable Palestine – is unwavering.”
But others may note that
- In return for statehood the Palestinians are being coerced by Israel to give up their right to return and agree to allow Israel to defend and police its borders.
- In a letter to Volker Turk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Craig Mokhiber, who was retiring as Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights after 30 years working for Human Rights at the UN, wrote that “the UN must abandon the failed (and largely disingenuous) Oslo paradigm, its illusory two-state solution, its impotent and complicit Quartet, and its subjugation of international law…”
This message is clearly consistent with what Sir Keir Starmer said as a candidate for the leadership of the Labour party:
“I don’t describe myself as a Zionist but I understand, sympathise and support Zionism,”
Afraid to speak out
This is clearly though not the settled position of the Labour Party, where there remains a wide range of views on this issue. Only 12 months ago members of the Labour party voted Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, a member of Jewish Voice for Labour and a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights, on to the NEC. She was immediately suspended, and later expelled, after speaking out. Later she complained that…
“My treatment demonstrates the hostile campaign to which LW Labour Party members are being subjected, including disproportionate numbers of Jewish members”
Many people continue to fear disciplinary or even criminal action for protesting or speaking out against the oppression of the Palestinians, believing that they may be accused of antisemitism based on the IHRA definition. This controversial definition of antisemitism has been endorsed by many organisations, with the government threatening to cut funding to organisations that refuse to adopt it. The concerns about its use continue to grow following reports produced recently by British Society for Middle Eastern Studies and European Legal Support Centre. The latter explains that …
“The “contemporary examples of antisemitism” attached to the IHRA WDA effectively redefine antisemitism by wrongly conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism. While being branded as “non-legally binding”, the definition is being interpreted and used by governments and public and private actors as if it was law. The definition’s implementation has severe chilling effects on free speech and curtails human rights advocacy, specifically around Palestinian rights and political speech about Israel. … In the overwhelming majority of cases, allegations of antisemitism invoking the IHRA WDA are false.”
Members of the Labour Party are unable to even discuss the IHRA definition of antisemitism, as in August 2020 the General Secretary of the Labour party decreed that it was not competent business for CLPs or branches.
Oil on troubled water?
To the further dismay of members across the party Sir Keir Starmer followed up his earlier message with a speech at Chatham House seeking to justify why he was calling for a “pause” rather than a ceasefire in Palestine. But what would happen at the end of the pause? Would what some observers are already calling genocide be allowed to resume? Perhaps this is the most alarming indication that as a future Prime Minister Starmer would follow Tony Blair’s example and stand by as genocide unfolds, as it did in Iraq? According to a recent YouGov poll 76% of the public in the UK think there should definitely or probably be an immediate ceasefire in Israel / Palestine.
Following Labour’s recent electoral successes much has been made that the Labour party has changed, and so it has. From a party that encourages debate to one that stifles it. And from a party that works for peace and justice, to one that gives its blessing to oppression and violence.
In my first article for West England Bylines, writing about Covid, I noted that the opposition to government policy was painfully lacking, and sadly once again this is all too true.
Editor’s note: The opinions stated here are the author’s own.
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