In Keir Starmer’s Anti-Racist Universe, Palestinians Don’t Count

Keir Starmer addressing Labour Friends of Israel’s Annual Lunch, 16th November 2021

JVL Introduction

Barnaby Raine pulls no punches in his deconstruction of Keir Starmer’s recent speech to Labour Friends of Israel.

Rivkah Brown who commissioned this article for Novara Media said the speech left her “furious, hopeless and speechless”. She was not alone in her reaction.

Raine goes behind Starmer’s nausea-inducing rhetoric of extolling Labour’s imperial past, embracing Israeli leaders as “Social democrats who made the desert flower,” in Harold Wilson’s fine words.

He finds behind it a “precise racism… the racism that mocks with its talk of equality amid the endurance of racist violence. In refugee camps and emaciated bantustans, Palestinians are punished so that Europe can feel better about its centuries of antisemitism…”

The underlying reality is entirely ignored so Labour can – once again – stand four-square behind Israel, a country that, says Starmer, “is the first to acknowledge that at times she falls short” of her goals of “complete equality of social and political rights to all”.

Absolutely, give or take a 54-year-old occupation, war crimes, impunity, apartheid, an embedded anti-Palestinian racism and so much more.

And all in the presence of an applauding Israeli ambassador utterly committed to the continuing expropriation of the Palestinians and the racial purity of the Jewish state.

This article was originally published by Novara Media on Thu 18 Nov 2021. Read the original here.

In Keir Starmer’s Anti-Racist Universe, Palestinians Don’t Count

Keir Starmer is a racist endeavour.

My mother once told me that a book she’d found on my desk had radically altered her politics. Before Their Diaspora, by the great Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, features photographs of Palestinian life – bustling and serene, urban and rural – before 1948. As a teenager in Habonim, the “socialist Zionist” movement, and later as a volunteer on a kibbutz, my mother had been taught that these people did not exist; that Palestine was empty land when Jews arrived to colonise it, the terra nullius fabled by colonisers from Australasia to the Americas. If there were any Palestinians, my mother remembers being told, they were a tiny band of savages. It is eerie to know that atop the ruins of the homes and schools captured in these pages, different homes and schools now stand, while exiled former residents dream of return.

There is a tension in the colonial project. On the one hand, indigenous populations must be sufficiently subhuman to justify their destruction: “It is natural for a superior race to dominate an inferior one,” as Winston Churchill said. Palestinians were clearly one such “inferior” race: Churchill described them as a “dog in the manger”, and in 1944, the Labour party called euphemistically for the “transfer” of Palestinians from their land. On the other hand, indigenous populations are sufficiently human that their cleansing conjures shame. It is a memory that must be repressed. Israel’s current ambassador to Britain calls the Naqba an “Arab lie”. Harold Wilson claimed that Israel’s ethnic cleansers “made the desert flower”. There was barely anyone here before, just sand. Civilisation came to the wilderness.

This week, at a lunch organised by Labour Friends of Israel, Keir Starmer quoted Wilson’s chilling rendition of the old colonial cliché without embarrassment. He also called former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres a “comrade in the international struggle for equality, peace and freedom”. That same Shimon Peres said “I am at peace” after his army killed 106 civilians sheltering in a UN compound in Lebanon in 1996. He signed a secret nuclear deal with Apartheid South Africa. He celebrated the imposition of military law over Palestinians after 1948, stressing that the freedom to seize their land and homes would aid “Jewish settlement and Jewish immigration”, and called for “settlements everywhere” after 1967. He blamed Palestinians when Israeli forces gunned down their children on a beach in 2014. That Starmer called him a comrade in a speech ostensibly about anti-racism only highlights the colonial predicament. To coin a phrase, some people don’t count.

To most Israelis, let alone Palestinians, Starmer’s speech would have sounded bizarre. Israel is constructed by Starmer – much as the European Union often was by its British admirers in the Brexit debate – through a set of projections that fix an imaginary country with little relation to reality. He extolled Amos Oz, Yitchak Rabin and the Oslo process in front of an applauding ambassador who regards all three as dead. Starmer clung to old hymns about the two-state solution while praising Trump’s Abraham Accords (designed singly to exclude the Palestinians and normalise the status quo of occupation) and the current Israeli government, whose prime minister has repeatedly insisted that there will never be a Palestinian state. Its ambassador to Britain, speaking alongside Starmer, has previously attacked the Board of Deputies of British Jews for talking of two states. She openly yearns to see the Israeli flag flying over Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Consider the contrasts. Starmer spoke of Israel’s “lively tradition of debate, dissent, and disagreement,” and said the current Israeli government “is showing the difference progressive politics can make in power.” That government has labelled Israel’s six leading human rights organisations terrorist groups. It plans to demolish an EU-funded school for Palestinians in the West Bank, bulldozing 16 other schools too, while approving 3,000 new homes for Jewish settlers. For Starmer to single out the government that blockades Gaza, starving its people of electricity and basic essentials, as offering “humanitarian” assistance to the strip reads like a cruel and contemptuous joke. Palestinians are at best objects of thin pity (Starmer wants a two-state solution for them, after all). They are not human beings with voices: when virtually the whole of Palestinian civil society calls for boycotts of the state that dispossesses them, they’re castigated and dismissed. Colonial thinking works like class society, by coding people differently along a hierarchy of rights. It would not be acceptable for Britons to be treated like this; Palestinians, though, are playthings for other people’s political wrangles.

We live in an era of anti-racist racism. Racism today does not generally come cloaked in the language of the subhuman, but in the language of equality. No wonder such an age feels it urgent to attack Critical Race Theory, which claims that racism describes a social structure and not only individual bigoted speech acts. Black Lives Matter: we must kneel to say it, then defend the police forces that kill Black people. Texan rangers are probably invited to unconscious bias training before whipping Haitian refugees. The defenders of Enlightened Europe condemn xenophobic nativism while guarding Poland’s barbed-wire borders against freezing migrants. After the Holocaust, the anti-colonial revolutions and civil rights struggles of the twentieth century, we feel no awkwardness at rhetorically insisting, as Starmer does, on human equality while permitting and even perpetuating the facts of dispossession and humiliation that define a racist world order.

Grasping this post-1945, post-1968 novelty is important. Discourses of antisemitism are transformed by it, since embracing an antisemitic image of Jews as simultaneously outsiders and the apex of whiteness can now aid the defenders of a white world order to portray its war on the savages as an anti-racist crusade.

This is the precise racism at work in Starmer’s text, the racism that mocks with its talk of equality amid the endurance of racist violence. In refugee camps and emaciated bantustans, Palestinians are punished so that Europe can feel better about its centuries of antisemitism. An ounce of Europe’s guilt is expunged with each new weapon sent to disappear the Palestinian people. Every document of civilisation remains a document of barbarism.

Barnaby Raine is a doctoral student at Columbia University and a faculty member of the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research.

Comments (12)

  • Hassan says:

    How many more examples does everyone need to see that the labour party is a dead end ? Corbyns submissive response to his own disciplining by Sir Keir is representative of the middle class leftists, like noravirus media, who write think pieces about this stuff but, when push comes to shove will still promote labour.

  • Stephen Flaherty says:

    Hassan, it’s more a belief in TINA – There Is No Alternative. I mean, if not Labour then what? Seriously, lets examine the alternatives:

    1) The Green Party: Whilst we might agree with a lot of their ideals, the Green Party are not a socialist party. Besides, they’ve got no chance of winning any more than a handful of MPs under our ridiculous electoral system. They’ve been stuck on one MP for over a decade. If they’re lucky, they might get another 2-5 or so in the next decade or so. Maybe a dozen or so in the decade after that. European Green parties have never got beyond minor party status (though some have been in coalition governments, as minor parties) and there’s no reason I can see for assuming the UK Green party would be any different.

    2) A new socialist party. Well this has been tried before – anybody remember Respect? And if tried again, it’d likely go the same way. Which is that, under our ridiculous electoral system, it’d win 1 seat, maybe a few if they were lucky, perhaps up to a dozen if they were incredibly lucky. And then they’d slide into irrelevance, losing all those seats in the process. The most they could do – if they were really, really “successful”, like the SDP were when they split off from Labour in the 80s – is to split the anti-Tory vote whilst winning those dozen or so seats, thereby cementing the Tories in power for a generation or so.

    3) Retire from politics, don’t vote for anyone and become one of those people who mutter and moan about how crap the political establishment is and how they’re all as bad as each other. Whilst, perhaps, an inevitable end point, I imagine most of us would like to put this off as long as possible (some of us may have already gone through a similar phase back in Blair’s day).

    Those are, pretty much, our only three alternatives. And none of them are attractive. Tell me I’m wrong. I’d like to be. But I don’t think I am.

  • steve mitchell says:

    What a disgraceful comment by Hassan. Just another attack on Corbyn and the Left in general who in the main are NOT middle class. I was a member of the Party for six decades until Corbyn was thrown under a bus. I spring from the Northern industrial working class .

  • Jill Azzouzi says:

    And today hamas are designated a terror group by pritti patel. No mention of the 100 years of terror the Palestinians have endured or their right to defend themselves

  • Stephen Richards says:

    The Race War is coming in the Age of Illusion & Double Speak.

  • Amanda Sebestyen says:

    I’ve been inspired by Barnaby Raine’s blazingly acute writing in Salvage, and I’m so glad to read this here. He’s got Starmer bang to rights , and the world order we live in with its ‘barbarians at the gates’. When even Channel 4 news is channeling ‘It’s all Putin’s fault’ as we literally watch Polish troops water-cannoning families and children in midwinter, and now backed up at the border by UK soldiers. Not to speak of our own walls of water with people drowning in them every week, and new draft laws proposing that ‘our’ border force can let migrants fall into the sea with impunity.
    So glad that BR has got over his dismissive comments about crusty old antizionists – cf his article in Red Pepper not too long ago – because I know that many younger Jewish campaigners for Palestinian rights are reluctant to connect with us in JVL. This is a bridge we need to build.

  • Ali H says:

    ‘War on the savages as an anti-racist crusade” – very well said. Orwellian anti racist racism. Not a good look when you see through it.

  • Richard Hobson says:

    I recognise myself and my feelings in much of this discussion. Drop Labour? I certainly won’t vote for Starmer just as I never voted for Bliar. With a new leader who adopted socialist policies and genuinely tried to unite the party, not expel a great tranche of it, I would probably reconsider.
    Re a new socialist party, it would only work if it got the support of one or more large trades union. Then it could move forward on a broader base than any previous effort. I’d certainly support it as I’m sure would many others.
    Finally, Hassan’s comments about Jeremy Corbyn are grossly unfair. The Peace and Justice Project shows Starmer precisely what he should be doing and shows up his pathetic and shameful leadership of the Labour Party for what it is.

  • Doug says:

    Calling them racists hasn’t worked, not when they can describe the Jewish State as a beacon of light, you have to accept the English Language has been murdered in cold blood
    They have put time and resource to this crime against humanity, the response is pathetic
    So what are you going to call them that cuts through
    The strapline above is to my mind Jews, always with the oppressed never the oppressor
    You cannot be part of the Jewish Community if you support the racist state of Israel
    It supports my belief you cannot be a Christian and support those responsible for Food Banks and starving children, the cheap and nasty Tory party

  • Hassan says:

    @Stephen Flaherty – I see what you mean but, the pitfalls of the TINA (and ‘lesser of two evils’) approach, is that its getting us nowhere; labour are using things like “Tory scum” and “vote labour to get rid of the Tories” in place of actual policies that might benefit us.
    As for the greens, from what I see theyre a middle class party and, in Brighton where theyve had/have seats, have been complicit with austerity measures (so not that different to some labour councils).
    The last thing we need is more left factions, so its right to caution yet another socialist party, but at the same time, if we stay in labour for the sake of it and all the major unions just continue pouring our subs into the party, despite them not representing us, nothing will change.

    @steve mitchell – your right, Corbyn had above average approval from the working class, and below average approval from the middle class, although did still have a wide appeal to a similar percentage of the middle-classes as Owen Jones, someone who features quite a bit on noravirus media.
    I think shows like Red Star Radio do a better job of articulating the problems of the labour party and the petit bourgeois leftists who support it so would recommend giving it a listen.

  • George Wilmers says:

    See also the excellent Tysky Sour/Novara Media video with Barnaby Raine and Michael Walker at

  • Alan Stanton says:

    Has Keir Starmer learned nothing from Boris Johnson and Donald Trump? On the photo above he stands framed by only two flags. And both flags looking desperately tired. Not waving but drooping.
    Entirely the wrong message. I can’t believe any fake-us group would be impressed.

    Wake up Keir, mate. Tell your laptop-carriers to watch the telly and YouTube, taking careful note of modern ways to do the flag-thing.

    Ideally you have a wall of a dozen flags.

    But in any case, all flags must be fresh-laundered, pressed, and identically rolled-up. You should stand dead centre with rolled flags at a slight slant away from you; making a frame in which you seem larger and more important. Plus leaving room for any dramatic hand gestures.

    For cameras the pulpit/lectern becomes the bottom of the frame. Please scrap the plastic! It’s tacky and unmodern. Recycled oak-look veneer is good. At least pretend to be saving the planet.

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