Siege of Gaza must end, Jeremy Corbyn tells Labour Friends of Israel

To say the least, it was always going to be an awkward meeting.

Jeremy Corbyn, the new left-wing leader of the UK’s Labour Party, last night accepted an invitation to address Labour Friends of Israel, a group that lobbies members of parliament to support Israel.

But despite his speech being only mildly critical of Israel, he was heckled by one audience member. The event took place at the annual Labour Party conference in Brighton.

Before the spectacular political upset that led to his leadership election victory earlier this month, Corbyn has for decades been one of the most stalwart parliamentary supporters of Palestine. His reception at the Labour Friends of Palestine event that took place on Monday was much warmer, being more akin to the return of a hero.

As noted in The Electronic Intifada’s exclusive interview with Corbyn on Palestine in August, he is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and has for decades been active in the solidarity movement.

His positions have been ahead of most in the Labour Party, including supporting a two-way arms embargo on Israel, a boycott of Israeli universities involved in arms research and backing the Palestinian right to return as the “key” to a political solution.

Dialogue

In his brief address to the reception Corbyn emphasized “long term dialogue … peace through negotiation … [and] recognition of the rights and needs and traditions of all of the peoples of the region.”

He also expressed his hope that “we are able to ensure the siege of Gaza, or the restrictions on Gaza, are lifted.”

He said that his commitment to justice meant that “sometimes you have to be very critical of people for their abuses of human rights” – the implication seemed to be that he was talking about Israel, although that was not openly stated.

The heckler, heard in this video, complained that Corbyn did not use the word “Israel” in his address.

Update: The heckler was later named as Michael Foster, a former show business agent and wealthy Labour Party donor. In July 2016 he launched a legal action aimed at blocking Corbyn from the ballot for reelection as party leader.

Foster has form as a political thug. During his failed 2015 bid to become an MP he reportedly harassed a female rival as a “cunt” and threatened to “destroy” her after she had mentioned his £1.5 million home. Foster denied any harassment.

Despite Labour Friends of Israel putting on a brave face by trying to emphasize the historic connections between the Israeli Labor Party and the UK Labour Party, there was no escaping that things have changed.

Grassroots uprising

This is by no means limited to the leadership. Corbyn’s election is only a sign of a wider grassroots uprising within the party against the right-wing, pro-war policies of the New Labour establishment under Tony Blair and his successors.

Palestine solidarity is now at the heart of the wider labor movement in the UK, with almost all trade unions endorsing the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

The UK’s Zionist Federation, an increasingly right-wing body, reacted to Corbyn’s speech by proclaiming the death of Labour Zionism.

My colleague David Cronin has, however, warned that it is too soon to write the obituary of the UK’s pro-Israel “left.”

He is quite right. Groups such as Labour Friends of Israel are well funded and will not go away quietly.

But things have definitely changed, and affiliation with that wing of the party is no longer the guaranteed career boost it once was.

Liz Kendall was the Labour leadership candidate closest to Blair, and emphasized at one meeting that she “will always be a friend of Israel.”

She came last, with just 4.5 percent of the vote.

Corbyn’s mandate from every sector of the party (59.5 percent overall) was so overwhelming that all rumors in the press of a “coup” to oust him as leader have been silenced.

For now.

Corbyn’s conciliatory and inclusive leadership style, in which he has emphasized open debate, may help defuse tensions within the party. But it does leave open possible challenges to his authority in the future.

The New Labour era, with its instinctive support for Israeli war crimes, may well be over. But the right within the party will now lick its wounds, bide its time and wait for its moment to return.

Meanwhile, lean times loom for Labour Friends of Israel.

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Comments

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Please stop calling J Corbyn the 'left wing leader' of Labour: he's the Labour leader. Nobody ever called Tony Blair the 'right wing leader'. Or Harold Wilson the 'left wing leader', for that matter.

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Of course Tony Blair was and is a rightwinger, but the media never call him that. They should also call Corby just 'Labour leader', and drop their right-wing bias.

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hello. i made the video at the top with Corbyn speaking. I am jewish and it was a jewish event and many people agreed with Corbyn about Gaza. u can hear me saying "well said" when he mentioned end to the siege of Gaza. the world is changing and many Jewish people in the UK are Pro-Gaza.

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Thank you, Shlomo Anker. My Jewish friends agree with you. That group is growing.

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A sincere bundle of thanks for capturing brave words and sharing with us. We need more Jews to come out and stand with innocents who are being oppressed by zionists under the name of Judaism. Out religion on a side, We must have same human rights for others that we demand for ourselves. Apply this rule in Israeli-Palestine conflict brutal occupation will come to an end Muslims, Christians & Jews can live together as they did in same region for generations.

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Hello, and well said. As someone of Jewish descent, with holocaust survivor family members, I am always saddened by the assumption that we must all inevitably be people who support the actions of the government of Israel, and that all Israelis do so. I always try to share information to the contrary. Let us continue to hope that there will eventually have to be a just peace, and do what we can to make that come about. Thank you for what you have written here.

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It makes me so happy to know that like you who live in Israel are more interested in peace and fairness than listening to Netanyahu.

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Corbyn detests Zionism and the oppressive, corrupt State of Israel. This reflects the opinion of a large majority of the British people and 135 countries in the United Nations. Israel is a pariah Satate which acts with impunity despite 20 UN resolutions this year. But for the American veto it would have been dismantled as a failed experiment a generation ago.

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.