Palestine meeting at UK parliament canceled after lobby pressure

Abdel Bari Atwan

Asa Winstanley The Electronic Intifada

Labour Friends of Palestine, a group within the UK’s main opposition party, has canceled a meeting in parliament featuring veteran Palestinian British journalist Abdel Bari Atwan.

The cancelation was made after the group came under pressure from Labour Friends of Israel, a separate group inside the party. Legislators had been due to hear from Palestinian students over Skype.

Atwan had been invited to chair the meeting, which was scheduled for Tuesday evening. After a pro-Israel paper complained about the invitation, Labour Friends of Palestine told The Electronic Intifada Monday it would find a different chair.

But on Tuesday, Atwan was told the meeting had been canceled altogether. Palestinian co-organizers of the meeting had promised to turn up and insist Atwan chair the meeting regardless of his replacement.

Atwan slammed the move as a capitulation to the Israel lobby. “This is not the Labour Friends of Palestine, it’s the Labour Friends of Israel,” he told The Electronic Intifada.

Atwan had been jointly booked as chair by Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East and GUPS, the General Union of Palestinian Students.

The event was planned as a “briefing for MPs [members of Parliament] to hear directly from four young Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon/Syria – live via Skype.”

Update: Labour Friends of Palestine told The Electronic Intifada after publication of this article that the event was “postponed not canceled” and would be rescheduled with a different chair.

Israel lobby pressure

Labour Friends of Palestine denied that Israel lobby pressure had been behind their move to replace Atwan. Director William Brown said on Monday that it was down to “controversial” statements Atwan had made in the past.

But it is clear an Israel lobby group has been campaigning for Atwan to be disinvited.

Labour Friends of Israel used a report in the Jewish Chronicle on Friday to call for the meeting to be canceled.

Brown said that Labour Friends of Palestine would not be responding to a letter Labour Friends of Israel had sent them and did not want to be “jumping to their tune.” But he said that Atwan should not have been invited to chair the meeting in the first place.

Brown said it was down to an oversight on his part, since his group did not want controversy over Atwan to overshadow the message Palestinian students wanted to bring to lawmakers.

Brown argued that the coalition-building nature of parliamentary work for Palestine meant minimizing controversy. He said that Atwan would still be welcome to attend the event and speak from the floor, but not to chair.

Fouad Shaath of GUPS told The Electronic Intifada on Monday that his group wanted the meeting to go ahead with Atwan and that any cancellation would not be down to them.

Proceeding with the event would have required the consent of the Labour Party members who booked the room.

Pressure

In a letter to Grahame Morris, the chair of Labour Friends of Palestine, Labour Friends of Israel’s chair Joan Ryan had accused Atwan of once saying he would “dance in [London’s] Trafalgar Square” if Iran were to “attack” Israel with missiles.

The Jewish Chronicle report went even further, claiming Atwan had been calling for a “nuclear” attack. Ryan’s letter makes no mention of this – The Electronic Intifada has obtained a copy and publishes it in full below.

But in fact, during the 2007 interview on Lebanese TV, the context makes it clear that Atwan was talking about Iran retaliating after an attack on the country by Israel and/or the United States.

Ryan’s quotation of Atwan appears to rely on a selectively edited extract from the interview uploaded to YouTube and subtitled by MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute.

MEMRI is a well known staple in the world of anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic propaganda, and was founded by a former high-ranking Israeli spy.

Atwan told The Electronic Intifada he had been making a sarcastic joke, since he considered such an Iranian response highly unlikely. He said that he had been misquoted and his comments were taken out of context.

He said it was part of a “deliberate character assassination” against him by the Israel lobby in the UK.

To the usual accusations of anti-Semitism targeted at supporters of Palestine such as himself, Atwan responded by emphasizing the parts of his memoirs which called for a one-state solution in all of Palestine which would include Israeli Jews as equal citizens.

The leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn has long been active in Labour Friends of Palestine. Soon after he won the leadership in September, he addressed a meeting of Labour Friends of Israel telling them that the siege of Gaza must end.

He was heckled by one member of the audience in response.

Critic

One of the most well-known and experienced Palestinian journalists in the world, Abdel Bari Atwan grew up in a refugee camp in Gaza and has lived in the UK for many years.

In July 2013, he stepped down after 25 year as the editor of London-based Arabic language daily al-Quds al-Arabi, and founded the Rai al-Youm news website. In an exclusive interview, Atwan told The Electronic Intifada that he had been pushed out by the paper’s funders.

The backers are thought to be from the gas-rich absolutist monarchy of Qatar, though Atwan refused to comment on this.

As well as being a fierce opponent of Israeli war crimes, Atwan has long been a critic of many Arab regimes, including the Palestinian Authority. He said of the PA’s officials visiting London “I try to avoid them, because I will explode.”

Of the PA leader Mahmoud Abbas he said, “When we actually throw in the towel, when we talk to the Israelis while settlement is continuing, when our leader said I give up my right to return to Safad … it tells you a lot.”

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Comments

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This is a disgraceful but not a surprising decision. Labour Friends of Palestine is a pretty useless organisation, which has had very little impact in the Labour Party, and from what I understand is mainly in the hands of the soft-left/right of the PLP. Figures like the disgraced Simon Danzuk.

Unfortunately if your support for the Palestinians is apolitical and not from an anti-Zionist, pro-BDS perspective then you will cave in at the first opportunity. There is a clear need for a group in the Labour Party, now that it has moved to the Left, that is much harder and explicitly anti-Zionist.

Labour Friends of Palestine are not that group.

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Full agreement with your remarks. Recently I took a look at the relative strength in numbers of the two organisations and was surprised to see that Labour Friends of Palestine has many more members than its opposite number. Then I noticed that several MPs had signed onto both, and that some of the slipperiest characters in the party affiliated with Labour Friends of Palestine. The Blairite faction was well represented, in keeping with the cardinal rule of joining every group you wish to thwart. And seeing Danczuk's name on the list spoke volumes. Every crass opportunist in the PLP was on hand.

Yes, either a new pro-Palestine formation is required in the Party, or (perhaps even better) a gradual realignment of policy as a whole under Corbyn.

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Dear Mr. Atwan:

There are many feelings which are perfectly appropriate and
completely warranted. A few are: sarcasm, cynicism, outrage
and so forth.

We all share these feelings but as you have found
in a public sphere their use often gets you trapped by
your own honesty. We all exist in a dangerous world
where the use of one or two words can and indeed will
be taken out of context. In the end they may be used against
you and "taken out of context."

Our enemies ---should I say "opponents"?--- care nothing
for context, nothing for reality. They just pounce
and you will be made mincemeat. (Is this an American
saying?)

Destroying opponents has become a science in public
discourse in the USA and the techniques have become
the worldwide "normal".

(Perhaps Noam Chomsky is the only one I know who
can use sarcasm and get away with it.)

---Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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Many thanks to Tony Greenstein on "Political Cowardice...."

Do you feel that the Labour Party has "moved to the Left"
and is poised to fullfill the "need for a group that is anti-Zionist"?

---Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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No politician from a mainline party, whatever it may be, is willing to risk his or her political career to stand up for what is right especially for a cause that couldn't be more right. Cowards the lot of them!

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Peter,

yes the Labour Party has moved to the left. This was the product of a huge disenchantment with both the politics of New Labour and the Tories (which are effectively the same neo-liberal crap). This was crystallised in the unexpected victory of Cameron in the General Election, on only 36% of the vote, historically one of the lowest votes ever.

The reaction of the Labour leadership was to tack to the right and they completely misjudged the popular mood. That was why Corbyn, who I have known on and off for 35 years, won the Labour leadership. However the Right has mounted a ferocious counter offensive inside the Parliamentary Party and Corbyn has conceded on a number of things. He is a left social democrat, not a revolutionary.

On Palestine he has been very disappointing, coming out with support for the 'right of Israel to exist' and 2 states. Tragically the Palestinian leadership also embraces 2 States, which is a cover for the present policy of Apartheid. He has appointed Zionists to the shadow foreign office, in particular Fabian Hamilton, despite the latter actually asking in the recent reshuffle whether the leadership was happy with his overtly Zionist politics.

Unfortunately there is no push back by the major Palestine solidarity organisation PSC in this country. There is certainly room for an anti-Zionist organisation since the LfP is worse than useless.

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Dear Mr. Greenstein,

Many thanks for your reply. I was aware of the beginning that you describe
but unaware of the two-states commitment and share your belief that it
is a tragedy. Such in-depth analysis is unavailable and I urge you to
continue providing all of us with your perspective.

The delusion is not unlike the bought- off native Americans who mistakenly
agreed to the fraudulent claims of a beautiful land west of the Mississippi
River. The promises were never in good faith, thousands of native
Americans perished and once arriving west of the Miss. discovered
that under "manifest destiny" whites would continue to push
west. Besides there were already other nations already living
there. (The goal of the Pacific was never a secret to many such
as Jefferson etc.) but Andrew Jackson was previously a
land speculator himself and began to organize the "good"
indians against their own chiefs who resisted agreeing
to indian removal. Their are many other similarities.
By the way, after originally promising indians to protect
them from white settlers, the Federal government finally
decided that states rights would prevail. Like settlements
in Israel...etc. JNF ....disappearance of rights for
those considered inferior and possessing no "rights".

(In another comment I cite a book on indian removal.)

Will the Palestinians (such as the PSC) end up where
native Americans were?

---Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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I've had a look at the list of parliamentary sponsors of Labour Friends of Palestine and Labour Friends of Israel. There are 6 MPs who manage to be supporters of both viz.
Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP, Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Mary Glindon MP, Graham Stringer MP, Emily Thornberry MP, Chuka Umunna MP.

There is an old saying about not being able to serve 2 masters or indeed ride 2 horses and the same applies to supporting Zionism and the Israeli State and supporting the Palestinians.

The problem is that the main strategy of Labour Friends of Palestine is getting recognition for the Palestinian bantustanlet, which goes by the name of the State of Palestine. Once again we can see that instead of supporting Palestinians and opposing Zionism, political energy is diverted into supporting the useless quisling regime in Ramallah.

Corbyn has been associated with the Palestinian cause for over 30 years and was one of the safest pairs of hands. Because of the attacks by the Right over Trident and nuclear weapons Palestine is one area where he doesn't want a fight and the Zionists, having already bared their teeth, have got him cowed. That is why people need to speak out loud and clear.

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He first visited Palestine in 2004.