Racist to deny us right to oppose Zionism, British Palestinians tell Labour

British Palestinians condemn the “shrinking space” in Labour for their rights.

PSC

A group of leading British Palestinians have condemned what they say is a shrinking space in Labour to criticize Zionism and oppose Israeli policies.

In an open letter to the party on Friday, the group rejected Labour’s recent attempts to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Jewish hate, insisting on “the right of Palestinians to accurately describe our experiences of dispossession and oppression.”

Demanding the right “to openly criticize the ideology of Zionism,” the signatories insist this is their right as an oppressed people and “a right of freedom of expression” which should be upheld by Labour.

Signatories include former Labour councillor Atallah Said, Labour activist Chris Khamis, Palestine Solidarity Campaign director Ben Jamal, academic and author Ghada Karmi, novelist Selma Dabbagh, think tank president Nadia Hijab, human rights advocate Tamara Ben-Halim, Qattan Foundation founder Omar Al-Qattan and University of Southampton professor Suleiman Sharkh.

Writing about Zionism, the signatories insist they “cannot but reject this ideology and to deny us the right to do so is a form of anti-Palestinian racism,” explaining that “Zionism is a political ideology and movement that has led to our dispossession and that sustains a state that discriminates against us.”

Bogus anti-Semitism definition

The letter reiterates Palestinian rejection of the IHRA “working definition” of anti-Semitism – a bogus defintion which has for years been pushed by Israel and its lobby.

The signatories say they were “alarmed” by the promise earlier this year by Labour’s shadow communities minister Steve Reed to tell all Labour’s council leaders to adopt the definition “in full and with all its examples including reminding them not to support actions that seek to delegitimize the state of Israel.”

This ignores “the evidence of how councils have previously used the IHRA to limit the rights of Palestinians, and of others advocating on their behalf,” the signatories insist.

Last year, a Labour council in East London banned a charity bike ride to raise money for Palestinian children, basing its decision on the IHRA definition.

Membership purge

The signatories warn of “threats posed by the IHRA examples to core Palestinian rights and to freedom of expression from Palestinian civil society,” and cite a 2018 declaration opposing the defintion by more than 80 Black, Asian and minority ethic organizations “including Black Lives Matter UK, prominent members of the Jewish community, leading lawyers and academic experts on anti-Semitism and the Institute for Race Relations.”

The Labour Party, they write, has a special responsibility to stop ongoing injustices against the Palestinians, “because of the role Britain played as a colonial power leading up to the 1948 Nakba, when Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes.”

Since left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stepped down in April, his right-wing successor Keir Starmer has increasingly shifted the party towards Israel, in defiance of the party grassroots – which is now demoralized and divided.

Palestine solidarity activists and academics have been purged from the party and in June, Rebecca Long-Bailey was sacked as a shadow minister for tweeting an article which (apparently unbeknownst to her) contained a passing criticism of Israel.

Update

Mark Seddon, former editor of Tribune, says that three different Labour-associated publications were offered this letter months ago. Right-wing publications the New Statesman and LabourList both refused, but even supposedly socialist magazine Tribune did not reply to the British Palestinians’ request to publish.

Due to this, the letter was instead published today on the open website Medium.

Seddon says that the current editors of Tribune were offered it in July, with at least three follow-up attempts made.

The Electronic Intifada has reached out to Tribune for comment and will update this post if we hear anything back.

Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of the US publication Jacobin, bought Tribune in 2018, relaunching it as a magazine.

Decades ago, it was the newspaper associated with the Labour left. But – much like most of the Labour Party at the time – it was also strongly supportive of British imperialism and as such was a supporter of the Zionist movement.

One Tribune editorial, 20 August 1948, was titled “Let’s Stay in Africa” and opposed any removal of British colonies from the continent. “Africa offers huge material resources which can be exploited for the benefit of Britain and the world,” they wrote.

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I listened recently to a Novara media discussion - Aaron Bastani with authors of ‘Left Out’: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn .. supposedly. Big fan of Novara but was/am surprised that the(book) topic of those seemingly working to undermine JC - Iain Mcnicol(and others) and what they were up to - supposedly diverting funds to set up a post Corbyn administration with their own people and doing all they could to discredit JC so that he didn't win, was(my words) whitewashed. Nowhere have I seen anyone anywhere question(outside of not wanting JC to win) their motivation for doing what they did. There was a chance of political power, of attaining government, yet they did what they did. All those Labour MP's attacking JC with a chance of power, yet they did what they did, and this at a time when the MSM was concerted also in its unfounded accusations of anti-semitism - especially the Guardian which tolerates no criticism either of Israel nor of it's stance regarding Corbyn smears. Now, it strikes me there's a bloody big elephant in the room which only a few brave souls have .. dared touch on in a roundabout way, but it's there: friends of Israel. JC, had he become PM was a clear threat to the status quo in occupied Palestine. Can anyone honestly tell me it was just a coincidence that those flinging the mud - all of which seemed to stick, were also in some way friendly to the regime in Tel Aviv? The question is, a question which no one is asking(or prepared to ask): were those sabotaging the Labour effort under JC doing so purely because their own UK politics were at odds, or because there was an ulterior motive? There are obvious connections here and 'friends' are friends for a reason. Were Mcnicol and friends simply returning favours asked of them? Certainly some of those who are friends of Israel have zero desire to see a fair outcome. Questions need to be asked, this can't be swept under the carpet as is being attempted .. who is going to ask 'em?

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Yes, Labour has long defined socialism as a fairer share of the spoils of imperialism for the workers, which simply connives with the racism on which imperialism rests. Is Labour now much more than an adjunct of the BoD? What is truly depressing and amazing about this is that there are Jewish groups in the UK willing to stand up to the BoD and organizations like it, at least to some extent; Na'amod for example. Labour could align itself with these more "liberal" Jewish bodies, but it chooses instead to stand full square with the most reactionary forces in the Jewish population (not community - there is no single Jewish community). Starmer has just recorded a message for Jewish New Year. Truly nauseating. He speaks as if every Jew in the land supports the BoD. Will this letter of protest make a difference? It's doubtful. More likely Starmer will clamp down on support for Palestine in the Labour Party. He will use the IHRA failed definition and the 10 BoD pledges to claim he is merely being sensitive to Jews who deserve special consideration because of the Nazi genocide. And on goes the Zionist misuse and abuse of history. Someone should send Starmer Finkelstein's books as a New Year present. Though they would do no good. He is too sunk in his miserable reaction.

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Labour is terrified of discussing Zionism, particularly fanatical Left supporting Brexit sites such as 'Skwawkbox' and 'Labour Heartlands'. They do not want to get into the fact that Zionists such as the LFI and JLM did more to harm the credibility of Jeremy Corbyn than did any other group and it was this loss of credibility which harmed Labour most in the last GE. They would rather focus their anger on left wing Remainers and put them in the same camp as Starmer, thereby giving Zionism a free pass. The tactics of Zionists are clear, as stated in 'The Lobby USA' documentary "discredit the man, discredit the message" - no matter what that message is.

Of course neither do right wing Labour sites such as 'Labour List' and 'Red Roar' wish to get involved in examining Zionism honestly, otherwise they too would have to come to the inescapable conclusion that Zionism is racism which should have no place in the Labour Party, otherwise it would disbar the Leader and most of his front bench.

There is an unholy alliance in the LP between a section of the left, the right and the media to keep all discussions of Zionism away from the public who in my experience as a one time canvasser for Corbyn and Labour are largely in ignorance of the true nature of Zionism. Zionists want it to stay that way at all costs by trying to maintain that Zionism is complicated, it's not, it's simple, it's racism.

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Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He lives in London. Biography here.