Labour Party Conference and Palestine

JVL Introduction

As we approach the 2021 Labour Party conference, in the face of hostility, proscriptions and a tsunami of threatened “investigations” and “auto exclusions”, it is important not to lose sight of our socialist priorities.

One of these is Palestine.

Just in case you missed it, it appears that Labour Party Young Socialists were told they couldn’t have a speaker from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign! See the story from Jess Barnard, Chair of the Young Socialists at the end of the compilation below.

That decision was rapidly reversed before it blew up spectacularly in the Party’s face and Palestine Solidarity Campaign has come out strongly to defend the legitimacy of its political work.

Labour and Palestine, equally, is determined to keep Palestine n the agenda and has produced a petition affirming that: “Labour must build on – not step back from – its commitments to immediate recognition of the state of Palestine and an end to the blockade, occupation and settlements as outlined in the 2017 and 2019 manifestos, and in the motions passed by the Party’s annual conferences in 2018 and 2019.

PSC Statement on Labour Party Conference

PSC, 2nd September 2021

As in previous years, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign will be hosting a meeting at the Labour Party Conference and has booked an exhibition stand at the venue. Our fringe meeting has for many years been one of the best attended at the Conference.

However, earlier this week, Young Labour revealed they had been informed by a party official that they could not invite PSC to address one of their events at Conference. When pressed for a reason, they were informed that PSC’s positions were ‘controversial’. PSC made its own enquiries and was informed by well-placed sources that a high ranking official had stated that PSC’s support for the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) might violate the IHRA definition of antisemitism. After strong representations from Young Labour and from PSC, Young Labour were informed in a meeting late on Wednesday that this had been a mistake, that PSC could of course be invited and an apology was given.

We have no desire to exaggerate the nature of this incident. PSC was not banned from the Conference and the message that we were not suitable to be on a Young Labour platform was quickly reversed after interventions. However, it is impossible to ignore the context within which this issue arose and the broader concerns to which it speaks.

The key question is how can it be that PSC, an anti-racist organisation that is the largest Palestine solidarity group in Europe, with a broad base of support and affiliations from 14 trade unions and the TUC could be considered illegitimate to provide a platform speaker? More deeply, how can it be that support for the call from Palestinian civil society for a campaign of BDS, a campaign rooted in anti-racist principles could be regarded as possibly antisemitic by a senior official within the Labour Party?

The answer of course lies in the significant efforts made over a long period of time by the Israeli state and its allies to delegitimise the global campaign for Palestinian rights, most particularly by conflating that campaign with antisemitism. This programme of delegitimisation has sought to prevent the description of the oppression experienced by Palestinians as a form of apartheid, to avoid discussion of the history of ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their lands, and to block support for the Palestinian call for a programme of BDS which would continue until Israel ceases its violations of Palestinian rights.

A ruling by the European Court of Human Rights found advocacy for BDS to be a protected form of freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgment that Israel’s system of oppression over Palestinians meets the definition of apartheid is one now shared by B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights organisation and Human Rights Watch.

Despite these realities, there is a coordinated effort to try to define such advocacy to be antisemitic, and at the heart of the heart of this campaign is the utilisation of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. The effect is to create a cloud of suspicion around raising the cause of Palestine, which leads to a chilling effect. It leads directly to a climate within which a senior official in the Labour Party can conclude that it is ‘safer’ not to invite PSC lest the charge of antisemitism arise.

In 2018, when the Labour Party was being placed under enormous pressure by pro-Israel groups to adopt the IHRA, PSC was amongst many organisations who lobbied the NEC and the then General Secretary warning of the dangers of its adoption. Our minimal demand, if the party were to succumb to that pressure, was that significant safeguards would need to be introduced to ensure protection of the right to raise the facts of the oppression faced by Palestinians and to call for action to address them. Since that time the evidence of how the IHRA definition is being used to suppress freedom of expression has mounted, as has the chorus of voices bringing attention to these facts.

Significantly, earlier this year a group of more than 200 mostly Israeli, but entirely Jewish scholars of antisemitism and the Holocaust produced the Jerusalem Declaration. This definition of antisemitism creates a useful tool for combatting hatred of Jewish people without the pitfalls of the IHRA definition’s conflation of antisemitism with legitimate advocacy for Palestinian rights.

PSC and allied organisations, including representatives of the Palestinian community in Britain, has made numerous attempts to meet with Keir Starmer and with David Evans to discuss these concerns. We are now pushing again for this meeting to take place in the aftermath of this latest incident. The key item we wish to discuss is the action the leadership will be taking to ensure that the space to discuss the oppression faced by Palestinians and the necessary action to address it is fully protected in the Labour Party.

Our ask of the Labour Party as a whole is of course much broader. It is to live up to its values as an internationalist movement which stands always with the oppressed and never with the oppressor. We are asking CLPs to debate and take to Conference this motion which articulates the immediate actions the Labour Party should be taking to show solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for justice.

We look forward to welcoming Labour Party members to our exhibition stand and to our fringe meeting on Sunday September 26th. Free Palestine!

Labour Must Speak up for Palestine

Labour and Palestine petition – please sign it here

“As an internationalist and democratic socialist party, it is the responsibility of the Labour Party to speak up for Palestine and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their fundamental rights, including to self-determination.

Earlier this year, the international community and labour movement widely condemned Israel’s militarised violence against the Palestinian people, including the attacking of the Al Aqsa mosque, the forced displacements from Sheikh Jarrah and the deadly assault on Gaza.

The seriousness of the situation facing the people of Palestine is confirmed by the fact the International Criminal Court is holding an inquiry into abuses committed in the occupied Palestinian Territories since 2014.

The continuing de facto annexation of Palestinian land by accelerated settlement building alongside statements of Israel’s continuing intention to proceed with annexation, show it is clearer than ever that the Israeli State is intent on eliminating any prospects of Palestinian self-determination.

Major reports by Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem have added weight to the TUC’s warning that Israel taking these steps would represent ‘another significant step’ towards the UN Crime of Apartheid and strengthen the Palestinian call for the ICC to investigate.

Labour must build on – not step back from – its commitments to immediate recognition of the state of Palestine and an end to the blockade, occupation and settlements as outlined in the 2017 and 2019 manifestos, and in the motions passed by the Party’s annual conferences in 2018 and 2019.

We must support “effective measures” including sanctions, as called for by Palestinian civil society, against actions by the Israeli state that are illegal according to international law. This must include action to ensure that Israel stops the building of settlements, reverses any annexation, ends the occupation of the West Bank, ceases the blockade of Gaza, brings down the Wall and respects the right of refugees to return to their homes under international law.”

Sign the petition here

Jess Barnard Profile picture

31 Aug, 9 tweets, 2 min read

This is a disappointing and difficult thread to post, so buckle up!
A few months ago, myself and @lara_eleanor met with David Evans once we were told the party would not be holding a young labour conference this year, despite it being a rulebook requirement.We tried to negotiate, made the case for democratic engagement but were outright refused. I asked David Evans if he would inform young members that this was his call and if he would provide YL with more resources at national conference to make up for it. He agreed to both.Its worth noting here that during all this we have had nothing from Keir Starmer or the leaders office since being elected almost a year ago. No acknowledgement we exist, no reply to emails, nothing.Months ago the entire YL committee submitted our proposals for young labour day at conference, well within the deadline given. Everything we do and all our speakers have to be approved by the party. I have been pushing for an update on this multiple times a week with no joy.

So we are now three weeks to conference with the party giving us no information, and just today they have said there is no capacity for due diligence checks until 20th september – these are the necessary checks for every speaker at conference potentially ruling out YL day.

The most concrete information I have been given is that anyone from Palestine Solidarity Campaign will be refused as a speaker, as will Jeremy Corbyn. Ive requested this in writing with reasoning. Appalled that PSC who have had a space at conference for years would be silenced.

Myself and a couple of committee members will now be working around the clock to pull together events with or without the help of the leadership. Young members have bought tickets, paid for travel and accommodation to be here and were promised a YL day by the national party.

Its been a difficult decision to post this, because I had hoped David genuinely wanted to work with us moving forward after our meeting – that offer still stands from our end and I hope he and those around him step up to deliver what was promised to young members.

I felt it was important to set the record straight that we as a committee are doing everything within our power and capacity to deliver for all young members and will make sure any young member who bought tickets will not be let down. In solidarity!



Comments (9)

  • Linda says:

    I sense SOME progress here, both concerning arrangements for the Labour Conference and on broader issues (eg the sheer variety of independent organisations becoming less awed by the IHRA definition of what anti-semitism is and less willing to support it).

    I think Starmer and Evans feel their hold on power is fast slipping away and they now don’t know what to do (about anything).

    Their initial attempt to exclude Corbyn from the Labour Conference and then the unexplained backtracking from that decision is a case in point I think. Their hearts said “we don’t want Corbyn there”. Starmer and Evans’ heads said “we’re not strong enough to cope with the backlash or the media interviews if we don’t allow him in”.

  • John Spencer says:

    Please can we have the name of the senior official?

  • John Bowley says:

    More shoddy behaviour by Keir Starmer and David Evans: trying to suppress what is said or who is there at the Labour Party Conference. Starmer and Evans are misfits in a Democratic Socialist political party.

    Thank you, again, Jewish Voice for Labour, for putting this report together.

    I agree completely that the IHRA definition of antisemitism is unsuitable for its purpose as it leaves too much scope for deliberate misinterpretation.

    It is past time that a better definition, such as the Jerusalem Declaration, was introduced. Those slow on clearer definition have vested interests.

  • Yes the backtracking of the Labour Party from their attempt to exclude all mention of Palestine is welcome. Likewise the admission of Jeremy Corbyn, whose presence outside the conference might cause more embarrassment.

    However I do wish that this old discredited idea of recognition of a Palestinian State was firmly buried.

    There is no Palestinian state. What there is is an apology for a Bantustant and the discredited Quisling regime headed by Abbas. The same regime that murdered Nizar Banat, whose thugs attacked peaceful demonstrators and which coordinates with Israeli security.

    The Abbas administration should be given no recognition in its pretend state. Two states has gone. It is an apartheid solution which leaves a racist far right Israeli state in place.

  • Nick Elvidge says:

    good on you all, well done, it will be known as the Resistant Conference lol – dont forget to bring your placards – “Free Palestine” and “For the Many (not the few)”!!!

  • Sabine Ebert-Forbes says:

    I think that they are slowly realising that many members are not letting themselves be intimidated by them and still fight on. I think they have bitten off more than they could chew, with their ‘forward defence’ against jewish and non-jewish socialist members. But I am very clear in my mind that positive change for LP is only possible with a Leadership that guards, nurtures and values our socialist, internationalist and democratic values and principles. The current one falls short on any of this.

  • Huw Spanner says:

    I simply cannot understand why the PSC insists on saying that Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem “have added weight to the TUC’s warning that Israel taking these steps would represent ‘another significant step’ towards the UN Crime of Apartheid”.

    In fact, HRW and B’Tselem have made it clear that Israel *is already guilty* of apartheid (and not just in the occupied territories but “from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea”).

    In 2020, Yesh Din published a detailed legal opinion that the “systematic oppression and domination” of the West Bank constituted an “apartheid regime” but its counsel later underlined that this did not rule out the possibility that “the Israeli regime in its entirety is an apartheid regime”. Others, such as Ronnie Kasrils, Alon Liel, Desmond Tutu, Denis Goldberg, Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, made that judgement years ago.

    Surely, it is easier to galvanise liberal and left-wing opinion by identifying Israel as an apartheid state than by claiming that it still isn’t quite there yet but it’s getting ever closer?

  • Kuhnberg says:

    It’s disappointing, in that the smallest victory seems all too often more like a damaging compromise, leaving the main issues – ethnic cleansing, apartheid, police and settler brutality, land and water theft and a glaring inequality before the law – unmentioned and unmentionable. Meanwhile the situation on the ground is like a flimsy container holding increasingly volatile gases under high pressure, about to explode at any moment with unbearable violence. The strength and weaponry of the IDF (paid for with US dollars in exchange for a convenient bridgehead into the middle east) guarantees that the chief losers in any conflict will be the Palestinian people. I greatly fear there will be another massacre. While this is likely to increase the support for Palestinians among young people worldwide, that will be cold comfort for those who have to endure yet more dispossession and humiliation and collective punishment, with no real end in sight.

  • Jess Barnard should cling to the knowledge that the movement is YOUNG labour. Stay true to your socialist principals and you will all outlive the unspeakable repressive, dictatorial and tory mineded creatures who are Labour leadership. Their days are numbered. They know it and must hate you!!

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