An open letter to Labour’s leadership candidates

The town of Reineh in the Galilee to which the family of Dr Khamis (right) was not allowed to return

JVL Introduction

Four British Palestinians, long-time  supporters and members of the Labour Party, have issued a call on Labour’s leadership candidates to take a stand against an underlying anti-Palestinian racism which is making them feel unwelcome in the Party, and to defend the right to free speech to expose Israel’s horrendous treatment of Palestinians.

This article was originally published by Facebook on Tue 17 Mar 2020. Read the original here.

An open letter to Labour’s leadership candidates

Dear Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer,

As British Palestinians who have been supporters and members of the Labour Party for a long time, one having been a Labour Councillor for 12 years and another currently the branch secretary of his Ward Party, we feel that the Party’s response to accusations of anti-Semitism is increasingly making us feel unwelcome in the Party.

The Party’s response is also displaying an underlying anti-Palestinian racism in many instances and we believe you are all acquiescing in this rather than stopping it.

We are calling on all of you to take a stand against these accusations and defend our right to free speech to expose Israel’s horrendous treatment of Palestinians.

Our views on this issue are rooted in our family history. Our Palestinian father was studying in Britain on a British Council scholarship in 1948 but was denied the right to return to his home near Nazareth because he was a non-Jewish Arab. If he had been Jewish from any part of the world, he would have been allowed in. This was clearly racist: racism at the birth of Israel as a self-defined Jewish state.

A similar family history is shared by a very large number of Palestinians, as the newly created Israeli state refused, often using violent means, to allow Palestinian refugees the right to return and drove others out. It continues to pursue the same policies today. Yet for saying that this shows that Israel was founded on racism, we all stand to be accused, by referring to the faulty IHRA definition, of being anti-Semitic. We all felt the sting of anti-Palestinian racism when you agreed with Robert Peston and Andrew Marr that it was anti-Semitic to say that Israel was a racist endeavour.

Many of our Palestinian relatives are Israeli citizens – though not nationals, as you have to be Jewish to have full national rights. They face daily discrimination and the constant threat of ethnic cleansing. The Party’s stance, and your equivocation, make speaking out in their defence a risky endeavour.

Let us be clear: there is anti-Semitism in British society and in the Labour Party. Despite the denial of his right to return home our father taught us that we must fight anti-Semitism, not just because of the general human need to oppose all forms of racism, but also because it was European anti-Semitism that led to the current plight of Palestinians.

We all support the Palestine Solidarity Campaign‘s Constitution which not only states its opposition to all forms of racism including anti-Semitism but also acts on it by, for example, expelling Holocaust deniers. While we will continue to argue forcefully against apologists for Israeli policies, we would just as forcefully support them if they faced anti-Semitic abuse : opposition to any form of racism must be unconditional.

We are proud of our late cousin Saliba and his wife, Arna Mer, who was Jewish, as well as their murdered son Juliano Mer-Khamis, who established the Freedom Theatre of Jenin and who described himself as 100% Jewish and 100% Palestinian. They all fought for Palestinian rights and for a future where there is no discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or religion. They were all harassed – to put it very mildly – by the Israeli state.

Our concern about Labour’s response to the accusations of anti-Semitism is broader than concern about our rights as Palestinians. Racism and prejudice, including anti-Semitism, are growing around the world. The need to oppose and counter them is one of the major international struggles today. Yet, some of those making anti-Semitic accusations seek to exclude good people from broader anti-racist action, a case in point being the recent attempt to exclude Michael Rosen and Ken Loach as judges of Show Racism the Red Card’s schools’ competition.

We are also concerned, therefore, that Labour is suspending and expelling many great anti-racist activists on dubious grounds including many anti-racist Jewish opponents of Israeli policies. We too risk charges of anti-Semitism if we seek to defend these activists or call out Israeli actions against Palestinians. As Palestinians, we would argue that any such accusation against us would be anti-Palestinian racism.

The fight against racism needs unity. All minorities desperately need solidarity; we cannot win isolated and alone. All three of you, whether you win the leadership or not, have a key role to play in building this unity. You must:

• Stop accusations which attempt to suppress genuine debate and solidarity.
• Implement the Chakrabarti report in full including putting an end to the trawling through of old Facebook posts and Tweets.
• Ensure, instead, a Labour Party system that deals fairly, swiftly and proportionately with current instances of racism.

Do this for the sake of the Party, Britain and all those facing discrimination and prejudice across the world. It’s the least we can ask of you.

We would appreciate an answer to our letter.

Yours in solidarity,

Thea Khamis – North Durham CLP
Hanna Khamis – Warwick & Leamington CLP
Chris Khamis – Labour International, formerly Birmingham Perry Barr CLP
Tareq Khamis – Luton North CLP

Comments (17)

  • Andy Sluckin says:

    Excellent letter. I completely agree and am truly grateful for your family contribution. As a Jewish supporter of Palestinian rights, I feel increasingly unwelcome in the current rhetoric of the Labour Party.

  • TM says:

    My Respects to the Khamis family. I fully support your letter to the prospective Leaders and I look forward to reading any replies. If there is silence from them then we know where they stand.
    I worked with Juliano at the Freedom Theatre for a while and was entirely impressed with the energy he spent on creating a Cultural Interfada. I was moved by the sight of him dressed as a clown with that funny whistle in his mouth entertaining so many children from Jenin’s Refugee Camp. He helped create so much dialogue and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. I was shocked and saddened by his untimely killing.
    The Labour Party needs to celebrate such richness in Palestinian Culture and the support from Israelis like Juliano rather than accede to the crushing and racist culture of the BoD.

  • Paul Smith says:

    Should also be addressed to the candidates for deputy-leader.

  • Rafi says:

    Racism is a scourge in all societies and must be opposed.
    Can TM elaborate on his comment “the crushing and racist culture of the BoD”
    What evidence does he have of this BoD “culture “ perhaps he could offer some evidence.
    Jews worldwide must condemn racism of any kind whether committed by Co- religionists or not

  • Paul Leach says:

    I hope the contenders will respond to your deserving request. I have written to them about similar issues but had no response. The way things are going I may abstain in the leadership vote. Good luck to you.

  • Stephen Williams says:

    I too have made numerous complaints since the Al J documentary- eight or nine, not sure which- using the complaints form and personal letters to Jeremy Corbyn and Jennie Formby.
    Not one has even been acknowledged.

  • Judy Granville says:

    This is a powerful letter.

  • Sandy says:

    This is an elegant and moving letter and hurts and shames those of us who know the situation well. It is a letter that belongs on the pages of all our newspapers, a letter that belongs on the desk of every MP across all parties, a letter that needs recognition at all BBC interviews – such as the one you mention, one read by all Churchmen given place on church notice, boards talked about in schools and educational institutions.In short our public needs education and The Palestinian people recognition.Sadly this is all unlikely and herein is the tragedy, but the world changes as we are now seeing; we can only hope and pray that a ravaged society might become a better society. Thank you for your letter.

  • DAVID ROGER says:

    Excellent . We should send this to all our Labour MPs

  • Jamal El Kheir says:

    Sadly I believe that there are Jews in and of the Labour Party who simply would not rest until Jeremy Corbyn was no longer leader of the Labour Party. Not because he was bad or ineffective but because he was fair and not beholden to a pro Jewish, anti Palestinian norm that we are used to. I hope the new leader will be as honourable, but I’m not holding my breathe. Jeremy Corbyns do not grow on trees. They are very rare and precious in this distinctly unfair world.

  • This is a powerful letter and deserves the widest publicity. I hope it elicits a reply. I wrote to Keir Starmer about the issue on 24 February, though less impressively, thinking he at least would understand what it is to be fair-minded. But I have had no answer. Like Paul Leach (above) I am thinking of abstaining in the leadership vote. How can we support any Labour leader more committed to appeasing the Israeli government than to the cause of justice?

  • Billie Dale Wakefield says:

    Not just thinking of abstaining from the leadership vote, I have done so, have voted for deputy leadership candidates who DID NOT agree to the anti semitic BOD demands.

  • Prue Lilley says:

    I’ve also abstained from the leadership vote, after waiting and hoping for one of them to show a backbone and stand up for Justice for Palestine.
    Was happy to give my vote for deputy to one who stood their ground, and didn’t buckle at the first hurdle. May I say that I fully support your letter but won’t hold my breath waiting a reply.

  • Doug says:

    If RLB is serious about the leadership then she has to move on JVL advice and information
    At moment we are being asked to vote on least worst option
    The only light at end of the tunnel is none of these candidates will last very long as leaders, the membership and new intake into PLP will bring them down in less than a year

  • Karen Sudan says:

    I also abstained from voting in the leadership election on the same grounds. I am a Labour councillor in Crawley, Sussex, have been a Party member for 50 years.

  • Nicola says:

    Brilliant. Let’s hope they reply…

  • Angie says:

    You have my full support! The inhumane treatment is now so blatant and yes, the silence is deafening!!!

Comments are now closed.