The UK Labour Party’s shadow foreign minister Emily Thornberry gave a speech last month that could have been written by a pro-Israel lobbyist.
She claimed BDS was “bigotry against the Israeli nation [that] has never been justified.” She said that “boycott of its products, its culture or its academics” was akin to “hatred of the nation and its people.”
Her comments differentiate her from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Speaking to The Electronic Intifada, a month before he was elected to head the party in 2015, Corbyn endorsed key elements of BDS, including an arms embargo and a boycott of Israeli universities involved in military research.
Thornberry’s hostile attitude seems representative of a split in the shadow cabinet over the issue. Shadow development minister Kate Osamor tweeted in support of BDS on the weekend.
Despite a token mention of a “denial of rights” to unspecified “individuals in the occupied [Palestinian] territories,” Thornberry’s speech contained many typical Israeli propaganda talking points.
She even threw in the racist myth, long fostered by the Zionist movement, that there was no civilization in Palestine before Israeli “pioneers” arrived and supposedly “made the deserts bloom.”
Thornberry did not reply to a request for comment.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s director Ben Jamal told The Electronic Intifada that BDS was an effort to counter the “exercise of overwhelming and unjust power by Israel towards the Palestinian people” who have called for a BDS campaign similar to that against apartheid South Africa.
“To frame BDS as bigoted is a moral inversion of an absurd kind,” he said.
In her speech, Thornberry gave a ticking-off to current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for backing “the expansion of settlements” in the occupied West Bank, but spoke gushingly of “our friends” in the Israeli Labor Party.
“Kick them out”
Since then, Amiran Levin, a retired general and candidate in the recent Labor leadership election which Gabby won, threatened to ethnically cleanse all Palestinians from the West Bank.
In comments published on Wednesday, Levin said that “next time we have a war, they will no longer remain here, we will kick them out to the other side of the Jordan River. That’s how we need to fight. We were too nice in ’67.”
Levin would be a leading candidate for defence minister in the unlikely event that Labor won the next Israeli election.
Thornberry is not known to have issued any statement condemning such comments by her “friends” in the Israeli Labor Party.
Thornberry’s speech also repeated similar talking points to those Israel lobby groups which operate inside the UK Labour Party – Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement.
She spoke of notable “figures in Labour history” who strongly supported Israel. Among those she named was Richard Crossman. For perhaps understandable reasons, she failed to mention the fact that Crossman once advocated genocide in Palestine.
As I documented earlier this year, in a 1959 lecture in Israel, Crossman openly spoke – approvingly – of Zionism as a settler-colonial movement.
Colonialism, racism, anti-Semitism
Referring to European settlers – “the white man” – in Africa and the Americas, he argued that “no one, until the 20th century, seriously challenged their right, or indeed their duty, to civilize these continents by physically occupying them, even at the cost of wiping out the aboriginal population.”
He regretted that “Jewish settlers” in Palestine had not “achieved their majority before 1914,” and that the Palestinians “regarded them as ‘white settlers,’ come to occupy the Middle East.”
Thornberry’s speech also spoke approvingly of a 1917 Labour “war aims” document, which endorsed the Zionist project in Palestine.
But – again, perhaps understandably – she failed to mention that Sidney Webb, who drafted that document was, at least in-part motivated by an anti-Semitic desire to rid Britain of its Jews – much like the Zionist movement itself – and to send them to Palestine as settlers.
In shockingly bigoted comments, Webb once said that he was glad there were “no Jews in the British Labour Party.”
“French, German, Russian Socialism is Jew-ridden,” he said. “We, thank heaven are free.”
Drawing on classically anti-Semitic stereotypes, he is said to have put this absence down to there being “no money” in British Labour politics at the time.
Thornberry’s speech may as well have been written by Labour Friends of Israel directly, but that doesn’t mean she is any less sincere in her support for Israeli racism.
In a 2014 Tweet uncovered by anti-apartheid Israeli activist Yael Kahn, Thornberry boasted that her husband is related to Herbert Samuel, the British empire’s first ruler of Palestine after it invaded and occupied the country in 1917.
In an undercover Al Jazeera documentary in January, Ryan was caught on camera faking an incident of anti-Semitism against a Palestine Solidarity Campaign activist at the 2016 Labour conference.
Thornberry’s corresponding tour at the time led by Labour Friends of Palestine now seems a rather cynical exercise in “balance,” which plays into the false Israeli narrative about the “conflict” being “complicated.”