‘Labour won’t condemn Israeli apartheid. It musn’t backtrack on Palestinian rights’

Ben Jamal
© Nick Brundle Photography/ shutter stock.com
© Nick Brundle Photography/ shutter stock.com

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign will be bringing the cause of justice for the Palestinian people to the Labour party conference next week with a stall and a fringe meeting. The keynote speaker at our fringe meeting next Tuesday will be Saleh Hijazi, Apartheid-Free Policy Coordinator on the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions national committee.

Saleh was also co- author of a seminal Amnesty International report, one of several in recent years by leading global human rights monitoring bodies confirming  the reality affirmed by Palestinians for years – that Israel is practising the crime of apartheid. It is a reality accepted by the trade union movement in motions and statements passed unanimously by the TUC, since 2020. It is a reality that in the past few weeks even the ex-Head of Mossad was compelled to acknowledge.

Labour is suppressing reality

Yet it is a reality that the Labour party leadership not only refuses to accept, but is willing to take active steps to suppress. We encountered evidence of this in recent weeks when we were informed that the party had decided to remove any reference to the word ‘apartheid’ from the title of PSC’s listing for its fringe meeting and event in the conference printed and online brochures.

When PSC challenged this decision and sought a rationale, we received an email from a senior figure who informed us that “the Labour party will not publish a description of Israel as an apartheid state”. When we challenged this decision, the further reply was that the Labour party would not publish content that “we believe to be detrimental to the party”.

The wording of these responses is instructive. It speaks to the recognition by the Labour leadership of its inability to provide any concrete challenge to the evidence presented regarding Israel’s practice of the crime of apartheid as defined under the Rome statute.  It simply prefers not to face a reality which it finds politically inexpedient.

Starmer the lawyer knows Amnesty’s work will be forensic

Keir Starmer, as a former human rights lawyer, of course knows the credibility of bodies like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International , and the forensic nature of the evidence they produce to justify  the conclusions they reach about the conduct of states.

But when finally pressed to comment on them in an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, he chose not to examine and address the evidence, as someone serious about upholding International Law would, but simply to dismiss the findings as something he didn’t agree with.

Since that interview was conducted, Israel has elected the most extreme far-right government in its history, with ministers who are self-proclaimed proud fascists. It is a government that made overt from its election its commitment to expand illegal settlements in the West Bank, and has moved forward with policies which have been described by UN experts as a clear plan to  annex the West Bank, all in defiance of international law.

The minister placed in charge of Israel’s polices in relation to the West Bank is Bezalel Smotrich , an extreme anti-Palestinian racist, who has distinguished himself further since assuming Office by denying the existence of a Palestinian people , and by responding to a pogrom conducted on a Palestinian village by Israeli settlers by openly calling for the state to assume responsibility for erasing the village from the map.

Labour: Softening its stance?

Instead of responding to these developments from a foundation of respect for international law and human rights – which would demand addressing the measures required to hold Israel to account for its serial rights violations – the Labour leadership is softening its stance, with its recent National Policy Forum document watering down a clear commitment to recognise a Palestinian state if elected.

It now only pledges to “work alongside international partners to recognise the state of Palestine”, albeit with a promise to “lead diplomatic efforts” towards a “just lasting peace” and upholding international law.

What is driving this direction of travel is abundantly clear. Keir Starmer from the point of standing as leader has made clear that he regards the charge of antisemitism against Labour to be a significant barrier to the election of a Labour government. Predictably he has been pushed by pro-Israel voices inside and outside of the party to accept the conflation of antisemitism with legitimate critique of Israel’s system of oppression, regardless of the consequences for Palestinian rightGs.

You can’t tackle injustice unless you name it

The argument that defining Israel as practising the crime of apartheid is an antisemitic smear, driven by antisemitism, is one routinely employed by those seeking to shield Israel from accountability for its actions. It is a pernicious argument which, by conflating antisemitism with legitimate support for Palestinian rights, drains antisemitism of all meaning and degrades political discourse. It also undermines broader anti-racist work, suggesting that one can be an anti-racist but tolerant of the practice of apartheid.

Those pushing Starmer to adopt these positions show a contempt for the principles of internationalism that ought to be at the heart of the Labour movement. His willingness to embrace this direction of travel raises serious questions about the likely commitment of a Labour government to the upholding of international law, and the principle that respect for human rights should be central to all relations with foreign states, including trade relations.  This is of crucial importance at a time when these principles are under global threat, including from this current Conservative regime.

PSC’s fringe meeting next week, however advertised within the official guide, is entitled “Justice for Palestine: End Apartheid”. This speaks to the truth that one cannot tackle an injustice unless one is prepared to name it. As B’Tselem said in the conclusion of their report, “as painful as it may be to look reality in the eye, it is more painful to live under a boot.”  We look forward to welcoming all Labour members who hold firm to Martin Luther King’s injunction that “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.


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