Open Letter to the Labour Party from British Palestinians

JVL Introduction

British Palestinians write to the Labour Party, expressing their fears about the closing political space for talking both about Palestinian history and about their ongoing dispossession.

In the face of  the IHRA definition and more, they assert their right “to accurately describe our experiences of dispossession and oppression, to criticise the nature and structure of the state that continues to oppress us and to openly criticise the ideology of Zionism which informs the actions, policies and laws of that state.”

The call for solidarity with Palestinians fighting their oppression, including support for action via the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.

This article was originally published by Medium on Wed 16 Sep 2020. Read the original here.

Open Letter to the Labour Party

We write as British Palestinians. Many of us are members of the Labour Party, some are not.

We have previously expressed our fears of how the space to publicly bring the facts of the Palestinian people’s history and ongoing dispossession into the public domain was under severe threat.

Then, as now, our concerns were rooted in a clear opposition to antisemitism believing that, alongside all forms of racism, it should not be tolerated within the Labour Party, the Palestinian solidarity movement, nor broader society.

We write now to address our specific concerns relating to developments within the Labour party since that time.

We believe that an internationalist Labour Party has a special responsibility to redress the ongoing injustices against the Palestinian people, denied their right to self-determination during the British Mandate because of the role Britain played as a colonial power leading up to the 1948 Nakba, when Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes.

We welcome commitments made by the party, at recent party Conferences, including rejection of Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” and any proposed solution not based on recognition of the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and to return to their homes as enshrined in international law.

We welcome the call by the Leadership team for a ban on settlement goods in response to Israel’s proposals to annex further swathes of Palestinian lands, including illegal settlements.

However, we remain deeply concerned about steps being taken which will only serve to shrink the space in the Labour party for British Palestinians and other members to assert their rights to campaign for an end to the oppression of the Palestinian people.

We respectfully but unequivocally reject any assertion that dealing with antisemitism must necessarily reverse policy commitments to protect Palestinian rights. Respect for Palestinian rights is not incompatible with the struggle against racism and antisemitism; in fact, it is integral to that struggle.

We are extremely concerned by any conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism. Zionism is a political ideology and movement that has led to our dispossession and that sustains a state that discriminates against us and denies us our collective rights whether as victims of military occupation, unequal citizens of the Israeli state or living in exile as refugees denied the right of return to our homeland. Benjamin Netanyahu recently described the proposed annexation of further swathes of the West Bank, a proposal rightly condemned by the Labour Party, as “ another glorious chapter in the history of Zionism”. We cannot but reject this ideology and to deny us the right to do so is a form of anti Palestinian racism

We note with concern statements made by the Labour leadership affirming support for the usage of the IHRA definition and examples, including within Labour Party disciplinary procedures, without reference to the concerns regarding the threat those examples pose to the rights of Palestinians and to party members advocating for justice for the Palestinian people.

We are alarmed to note the stated intention of the Shadow Communities Secretary to urge all Labour-run councils who have not adopted the IHRA to do so, ignoring the evidence of how councils have previously used the IHRA to limit the rights of Palestinians, and of others advocating on their behalf.

In 2018 the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the British Palestinian Policy Council made submissions to the NEC that called upon the Labour party to confirm its unequivocal commitment to the principles of freedom of expression as outlined in Article 10 of the Human Rights Act. They called upon the party to recognise the right of Palestinians to legitimately describe their experiences of oppression including by reference to terms such as settler-colonialism or apartheid. These submissions joined warnings of the threats posed by the IHRA examples to core Palestinian rights and to freedom of expression from Palestinian civil society as well as over 80 BAME organisations, including Black Lives Matter UK, prominent members of the Jewish community, leading lawyers and academic experts on antisemitism and the Institute for Race Relations.

We reiterate our call that the right of Palestinians to accurately describe our experiences of dispossession and oppression, to criticise the nature and structure of the state that continues to oppress us and to openly criticise the ideology of Zionism which informs the actions, policies and laws of that state, be upheld both as a right of a people under oppression and as a right of freedom of expression respected and supported by the Labour Party leadership. Furthermore, the rights of other British citizens to respond to calls for action including via the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement to address that oppression, should also be supported and upheld.


Dr Hafiz Alkarmi — Chairman of the Palestinian Forum in Britain
Iyas Alqasem — Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) exec and founder and trustee of Hope and Play charity for Palestinian children.
Omar Al-Qattan — Businessman and Philanthropist
Sawsan Asfari — Executive director of the Galilee Foundation
Tamara Ben-Halim — Human Rights Advocate
Zaher Birawi Chairman — Europal Forum
Selma Dabbagh — Author
Professor Izzat Darwazeh — UCL
Professor Kamel Hawwash — University of Birmingham
Feras Abu Helal — Editor-in-chief, Journalist
Nadia Hijab — President, Palestinian think tank
Ben Jamal — Director PSC
Dr Ghada Karmi — Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter
Dr Ahmad Khalidi — St Antony’s College, Oxford
Chris Khamis — Labour International
Omar Mofeed — Ealing central and Acton constituency Labour Party ( CLP)
Adnan Sabbah — Lawyer
Atallah Said OBE — Former Chair, British Palestinian Policy Council
Ali Saleh — President of the (Association of the Palestinian Community in the UK (APCUK)
Kareem Samara — Composer/Musician
Aimee Shalan — Humanitarian and human rights advocate
Professor Suleiman Sharkh — University of Southampton


Comments (23)

  • Irene Brennan says:

    The points raised by leading Palestinians should be treated with respect and in a spirit of solidarity. No one in the Labour Party can honestly argue that the Palestinian people have not been subject, over decades to grave injustice. The vast majority of party members support the struggle for Palestinian human rights. This must be reflected in the policies of the Labour Party towards Palestine and Israel. I support the above criticisms of the IRHA definitions and how they are presently understood and applied.

  • RC says:

    The more or less official LP document “No room for antisemitism” disgracefully omits from its thumbnail sketch of Zionism and the Israeli state any mention of the Nakba – the crucial founding moment of that state. “”No room for Palestinians” is the clear implication. Since 1944 Conference’s ethnic cleansing resolution against the Palestinians – passed unanimously – the LP has proudly declared itself a racist party, and in its uncritical endorsement of the ‘IHRA”s misdefinition of AS has intensified that racism. Persecution of nonZionist Jews as traitors, self-haters or ‘the wrong sort of Jew’ is distasteful enough, but at least we may regard it as a badge of honour. The Palestinian victims of British imperialist and Zionist racism have no such consolation. Unlike the Nazi holocaust, the Israeli nakba of the Palestinians continues day by day, week by week and year by year, enthusiastically endorsed by large sections of the LP. Tepid verbiage of a ‘two-state solution’ and toothless deprecation of annexation serves as left cover for LP indifference to the ongoing settler theft, ethnic cleansing and murder of Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza. But nakba denial, far from being officially unacceptable is almost compulsory in today’s LP. It is very much to the credit of signatory and other Palestinians that they continue to tolerate, support and work for a party that officially declares them to be unwelcome. Double standards indeed. No decent socialist or democrat can sanction this disgraceful situation.

  • Paul Smith says:

    ‘nakba denial’: now there’s a slogan around which to organize.

  • Emma Gaiger says:

    Excellent open letter.The Palestinian voices and point of view must not be silenced.Democratic discussion and debate is not achieved by ignoring and shutting down opinion and support for the Palestinians .The injustices that they continue to face must be highlighted as should any injustice.

  • DJ says:

    RC. You are absolutely right. Too many people in the Labour Party have their heads in the sands on this issue.

  • Sabine Ebert-Forbes says:

    I agree and support the points raised in this open letter. I cannot understand why LP is hanging on to using that ihra definition which his inventor has stated is unworkable. Furthermore I felt that Mr Starmer’s statement that he is a total Zionist (or words to that effect) was highly inappropriate. To me it means that he has therefore stated that he is biased in favour of the state of Israel. This also then means that the view points, concerns, experiences of Palestinian people are being not listened to and are subsequently ignored and oppressed. As a party which prides itself on being internationalist and open, we have a duty to openly challenge those who oppress and harm others or discriminate against them. If we see racism then we need to challenge those who perpetrate it regardless of who they are.

  • Dee Howard says:

    When the LP leadership expels members who are only supporting conference decisions you have to wonder who owns this party – the members or the highly paid, undemocratic right wing leadership?

  • Frank Evans says:

    The Labour party leadership and shadow front benches are morally bankrupt clearly defined by their silence , on this subject
    Solidarity comrades

  • Philip JONES says:

    So the present leadership of the Labour Party all of whom claimed during the election of Starmer that they were Zionists are therefore supporters of apartheid. It defies belief.!!!

  • Jacqui butterworth says:

    This annihilation of Palestine must stop. Neatly three quarters of their land has been taken by Israel- there must be justice for Palistine

  • Malcolm Segall says:

    As a Jewish member of the Labour Party and a forthright supporter of the Palestinian cause, I fully endorse the viewpoints expressed in this open letter, including the criticism of the IHRA so-called definition of antisemitism against which I have also written recently in a JVL blog.

  • Stephen Williams says:

    And so what are we going to do about it? The only way I could think of supporting our comrades was to make a formal complaint, via the online form, about the manner in which the leadership treats Palestinians.
    However, there must be better ways; after all I have submitted eight complaints by the same means, not one of which has been acknowledged. let alone answered.

  • Martyn Meacham says:

    I doubt if the Zionist supporting tory, Starmer and his cronies will even read or listen to anything to do with Palestine and the Palestinian people. Even if he does, and he speaks, his words will be meaningless, hollow.

  • All members of the Labour party should add their signatures to this, and if the party refuses to endorse this letter then it can no longer claim to be a party of social or political justice, and will rightly condemned as a party supporting oppression.

  • George Wilmers says:

    Mark Seddon, a former Editor of Tribune, has exposed the moral cowardice and complicity in racism now afflicting many in the Labour Party. Writing in Deep Dive about the refusal of Labour supporting publications to publish the open letter he notes:

    “It is extremely concerning that at least two left leaning media outlets, the New Statesman and LabourList have refused to publish it. That Tribune has failed to respond to the request to publish, is extremely disappointing.

    It would certainly appear that the bitter arguments around allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party may be having the effect of shutting down advocates of the Palestinian cause, a cause with which the Labour Party has long identified. This, of course, may be one the of the intended consequences desired by some of the protagonists. It should and must be resisted…. ”

  • Gemma Spencer says:

    I totally agree with the open letter, thanks G

  • DJ says:

    Supporters of the IHRA definition of antisemitism claim that it doesn’t rule out criticisms of the actions of the Israeli state. They just don’t like us stating the fact that it is based on ethnic cleansing and apartheid and is therefore a racist endeavour. As soon as we do this we are guilty of antisemitism and should be banished from political discourse. Anybody engaged in actions to fight against Palestinian oppression like the BDS movement or Palestine Action have to be criminalised. They just don’t want to face up to 72 years of injustice. It is up to all right minded people to force them to.

  • Doug says:

    Can someone answer a simple question which goes to the heart of everything we discuss on here
    Are Vexatious claims of Anti Semitism ‘Hate Crimes’ and is it possible to prosecute them
    Now that would be progress and something to look forward to, our day in court

  • RH says:

    The neglect of the Palestinian cause by the leadership of the Labour Party has been shameful.

    It is up to the membership to unequivocally oppose the inherent sectarianism of the IHRA ‘definition’ at local level and (when the restoration occurs) at Conference, in order to restore an even-handed approach to all racist endeavors, including that of the Israeli state.

  • Colin Lomas says:

    Following this Open Letter to Labour Party from the group of Palestians I send the letter below (starting “To Ealing MPs”) to the three Ealing Labour MPs.
    My message was sent with a deep feeling of frustration. I felt I had to do something.
    If you have a Labour MP, please send a message to them. Adapt it of course if you want or if you’re pressed for time, send it verbatim.
    Cheers Colin Lomas
    PS. Last Friday the TUC conference overwhelmingly endorsed a statement calling Israel an apartheid state. What a contrast with the Labour Party!


    To Ealing MPs – Virendra Sharma, James Murray, Rupa Huq

    A large group of Palestinans in UK has just sent an appeal to the Labour party. They are deeply concerned that the party – despite lofty statements all over the place about a just peace in Palestine-Israel – is moving even further towards uncritical unconditional support for Israel.

    The situation is deteriorating day-by-day. The West Bank settlements continue to expand. Settler violence is worsening all the time, with the barely-hidden approval of the Netanyahu government. The mildest protest by a Palestinian is now legally classed as “terrorism” which allows the uncontrolled IDF soldiers to make even more arrests, and so on and on and on…

    Yet, almost daily, Labour party members are suspended – with some vague reference to “racism”. Jewish Voice for Labour has revealed that in a huge number of cases, the individual has publicly criticised Israel.

    Everybody – including Kier Starmer – knows the reality of life for the Palestinians but our party leader has stated that the party needs an even “more rigorous anti-Semitism strategy”, which is euphemism for preventing open discussion on Palestine-Israel.

    This totally unbalanced approach to the Israel-Palestine problem will haunt the Labour Party for years.

    I urge you to use any opportunity to raise the party’s policy on Israel-Palestine and the misuse of the disciplinary system to curtail discussion.

    Colin Lomas [address and phone number suppplied]

  • Susan Greaves says:

    I usually only comment if I have something to say that others have not said but I am making an exception today in order to express my support for this open letter and agree with everything said above by other commentators. I speak as a non Jewish person accused of anti-semitism in a “vexatious” and completely false claim of anti-semitism, neither suspended nor reinstated…my case simply ignored by the LP Disputes panel for 18 months.

  • DJ says:

    Our message to the NEC, labour councillors and MPs. Stop endorsing the IHRA definition. To do so is a betrayal of the Palestinians. You can oppose antisemitism and support Palestinian justice. This definition is divisive. Defending one minority group at the expense of another is counterproductive.

  • DJ says:

    “To do so” should be”Not to do so”apologies again.

Comments are now closed.