Starmer’s silence on Palestinian solidarity day speaks volumes

JVL Introduction

Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian refugee and activist who has lived in Britain almost all her life.

She is not alone in finding Keir Starmer’s “slavish devotion to Zionism” increasingly baffling.

Has he really come to  believe that support for Palestinian rights – to which Labour is committed – would end all chance of winning support from Jews in Britain?

If so it says little about his much-vaunted human-rights credentials – and even less about his views of Jews in Britain, seeing them as a monolithic bloc, united by anti-Palestinian sentiment.

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye on Tue 1 Dec 2020. Read the original here.

Starmer's silence on Palestinian solidarity day speaks volumes

By his attendance at a pro-Israel event, the Labour leader could not have chosen a more calculated way to gratuitously insult the Palestinians

As a Palestinian and member of the Labour Party for over 30 years, I find the Labour Party leader Keir Starmer’s slavish devotion to Zionism increasingly baffling.

On 29 November Starmer and his deputy leader, Angela Rayner, attended a conference organised by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), and Labour Friends of Israel (LFI).

Of all dates in the year, Starmer could not have chosen one more calculated to gratuitously insult the Palestinians. His visit coincided with the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, a major event in the Palestinian calendar, held on 29 November each year since 1977.

Its purpose is to remind the world that the question of Palestine remains unresolved. The “inalienable rights of the Palestinian people”, defined in the 1975 UN General Assembly Resolution 3376, as self-determination and the right of refugee return, are still unfulfilled.

A glaring insensitivity

Every 29 November the UN sends out special messages of solidarity with the Palestinians from the secretary general, the presidents of the General Assembly and Security Council, and heads of other UN bodies and NGOs.

Publications, meetings and films are organised. Subsequently, the UN publishes an annual bulletin, recording these messages, speeches and events.

What message is Starmer sending to the Palestinians on this special day? Or his deputy, who promised the JLM conference to suspend “thousands and thousands” of Labour members (for antisemitism), among whom many may well be Palestine supporters? In a speech full of contrition, she advised Labour members to “get real” about antisemitism. Starmer’s attendance at the JLM/LFI conference would seem to signify at best a glaring insensitivity towards Palestinians, or worse, ignorance of their cause. That is unlikely.

I have written to Starmer to ask him why he ignored the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people and whether or not it was an oversight or that he genuinely believed Palestinians have a lesser claim on his attention than other communities living in Britain. I did not receive any response before this column went to print.

Starmer’s change of heart

Before he became party leader, he was not known for his Zionist sympathies. As a former barrister specialising in international human rights, Starmer would have honoured the UN Day of International Solidarity with the Palestinian people without hesitation.

His past record against the illegal Iraq war, his membership of Labour Friends of Palestine, and his condemnation of the Trump Middle East peace plan as “a farce, inconsistent with international law and human rights protections” all point him in that direction.

In 2015 he spoke at an election hustings on Palestine organised by Camden Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and later declared: “We can promote peace and justice around the world” against the backdrop of Stop the War campaigners holding Palestinian flags.

But since becoming party leader, Starmer has changed. He has embarked on a courtship of the Israel lobby, the antithesis to his earlier positions on Palestinian rights. In January 2020, he adopted the Board of Deputies’ “Ten Pledges” without caveat.

These included the International Holocaust Remembrance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism that conflates antisemitism with anti-Zionism. This conflation has been at the heart of the antisemitism allegations against the Labour Party. Its aim to link criticism of Israel, and by extension support for Palestine, with  “antisemitism” has so far been highly successful in hounding out these supporters.

Starmer now describes himself as a “Zionist without qualification” who believes in the state of Israel.

Starmer has never visited Israel, but has promised to do so with the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) whom he met in July.

LFI was formed in 1957, not long after Israel’s establishment, in solidarity with Israel’s Labor Party. Today, a quarter of the parliamentary Labour Party, and a third of the shadow cabinet are members, in addition to 35 in the House of Lords. In September, a further six from the front bench joined.

Do they know they’ve joined an organisation that described itself in 2003 as a lobby group in Westminster to promote the state of Israel? Would a Labour Friends of South Africa during the apartheid era ever have existed?

Labour and antisemitism

Yet, Starmer is full of praise for LFI, which, according to him, has played a “crucial role” in helping to promote a balanced debate on the Middle East, and a “peaceful two-state solution”. But in 2017, LFI’s deep ties to the Israeli embassy were exposed in an Al Jazeera four-part documentary, The Lobby.

It would be reasonable to conclude from the above that Starmer’s commitment to Zionism had made him anti-Palestinian. He ignored the 29 November Day of Solidarity with them because he quite simply didn’t care. But that would be wrong. It is more likely he was driven by the logic of his conviction that he must make up to those he believes to represent the Jewish community for his party’s alleged antisemitism.

And his deputy merely followed his lead.

He thinks, in this way, the party can regain those Labour members and voters lost to it by antisemitism if it does penance for its sins. That is why Starmer formally apologised to the High Court, and the party made a six-figure payout in July to seven whistleblowers for their “hurt and distress”.

The whistleblowers had sued the party for defamation after it criticised their testimony to a 2019 BBC Panorama investigation into Labour antisemitism. The party, then under Jeremy Corbyn, had been advised it had a strong legal defence against the defamation charge, but Starmer ignored that.

Putting these facts together, we must assume that he believes overt support for the Palestinians could vitiate all his efforts to endear Labour to the Jewish community. And he may or may not be right about that. But the danger of buying into the Zionist agenda in this way is that he becomes an accessory to the suppression of Palestinian rights.

Was that the message he wanted to convey to the Palestinians on their international day of solidarity?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Ghada Karmi is a former research Fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. She was born in Jerusalem and was forced to leave her home with her family as a result of Israel’s creation in 1948. The family moved to England, where she grew up and was educated. Karmi practised as a doctor for many years working as a specialist in the health of migrants and refugees. From 1999 to 2001 Karmi was an Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, where she led a major project on Israel-Palestinian reconciliation.


Comments (13)

  • DJ says:

    I agree with the sentiments of this article. The Labour leadership is clearly sideling the Palestinian cause to appease the Israeli lobby in the UK. This is what happens when you buy into the false narrative that criticism of Israel is antisemitic. All this talk about changing the “culture” in the Labour Party and making it a”safe and welcoming place for the Jewish community” is nothing more than a cynical attack on those who dare to call for Palestinian justice and the right to free speech on Israel. Calling out Israeli oppression of the Palestinians is being defined as “threatening” the”Jewish community” because the pro Israeli lobby deem it to be “offensive”. Challenging those who support the oppression of the Palestinians is being presented as antisemitism. Anti Palestinian racists are presented as “victims” of a hostile environment in the Labour Party. Logic is being turned on its head to shield Israel from criticism. This is all being done at the expense of the Palestinians.

  • Harry Law says:

    With the prospective loss of members Starmer needs more donations from the millionaires, there can be no bigger sleeze merchant than David Abraham’s, a perfect match for Starmer.
    Keir Starmer personally wrote to David Abraham’s asking whether he would consider donating to the party [the Times Nov 2020]. Also Starmer received £50,000 from Israeli firsterTrevor Chinn only published after his election as Labour leader he said he would be happy to give more “if Labour committed to “the right policies”[Guardian 2020] Now I wonder what those right policies could be? “Recently published data shows Labour leader Keir Starmer received a £50,000 donation from pro-Israel lobbyist Trevor Chinn – information which was not disclosed until after polls had closed in the leadership election”. [the Canary]
    Remember this… British Labour Party under police investigation over illegal donations
    4 December 2007
    The police investigation into Labour Party funding, launched after Prime Minister Gordon Brown admitted that donations by property developer David Abrahams were illegally funnelled through middlemen, will not be a re-run of the “Cash-for-Honours” scandal.

  • DJ says:

    Always good to see Palestinian contributions to this site. Their struggle is our struggle. Fighting antisemitism and anti Palestinian racism are part of the same struggle! I hope we hear more Palestinian voices on this site. Unity is strength.

  • Kuhnberg says:

    The Guardian’s uncritical support of Keir Starmer amounts to an attack on free speech, and is potentially antisemitic in that it silences a significan strand of Jewish opinion. Today i posted an account of the November 29 conference below the line. One poster took issue with the following statement:

    “Rayner, interestingly, seems to have been landed with the unenviable job of Labour obedience enforcer, threatening at November 29’s conference of the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel, to suspend thousands of party members for insisting on debating the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn. Many of those same rebellious members, incidentally, see Starmer and Rayner’s attendance at Sunday’s conference as a calculated insult to the Palestinians, since it had been scheduled to take place, no doubt by accident, on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Not a good look, perhaps, for a party that wants to remain impartial on the issue of Israel. “

    The poster asked why an English person should be bothered about Israel. I replied:

    “Israel, regrettably, is the key issue of our times. The modern world is a uniquely interconnected place. What happens in Gaza or Jerusalem affects what happens in London, Washington and Berlin in a very real way: and how we judge those events is an index of where we stand in every department of our lives. I don’t want to cite parallels, but I genuinely believe that if the problem of Israel is not solved in a just and honorable way it could prove a flashpoint for a third world war. Alternatively, the Palestinians could just roll over and disappear, much as you want the left to. As I said before, I don’t believe that will happen.

    As to Starmer, the way the left sees it, he is the one who started the war on the left, and if you poke a hornet’s nest you shouldn’t blame the hornets if you get stung.

    I’m not a troll, as should have been obvious, My grandparents were murdered by the Nazis, so I have a very real apprehension of what antisemitism is and what Israel was founded to achieve. To my sorrow I believe it has taken a grievously wrong turn, and if the injustices being enacted there are not reversed it will be a tragedy not just for the Jewish people but for the entire planet.“

    After this the entire thread, including my original comment, was moderated. I have complained to the Guardian on the grounds that the moderator’s action infringed my freedom of expression and was potentially antisemitic in that it refused to print a viewpoint held by many left-wing Jews.

  • Stephen Beadle says:


    That such a comment was removed by moderators at the Guardian is sadly no surprise these days. It operates on a hair-trigger as far as any comments that deviate from the approved narrative are concerned- even those that feature the Guardian’s own reportage, in some cases!

    And then there is the recurring case of Steve Bell’s vanishing cartoon strips when they are deemed a little too honest for Guardianista sensibilities.

    Sadly, it now seems many, many years since the Guardian was a truly radical, campaigning newspaper that took on Establishment vested interests without fear or favour.

    Now, it resembles just another comfortably-off, middle-aged, slightly chubby round the waist, middle-class time-server, counting down to retirement and not wanting to do anything that rocks the boat and upsets the boss.

  • goldbach says:

    Stephen is right. But we should accept that The Guardian is no longer a guardian of free speech and progressive values, as it was under Rusbridger. It is now a mouthpiece of the establishment with a propaganda section that it calls Journal. I gave up buying it long ago but will accept a handed-on copy because the crossword, unlike the rest of Journal, is of a good standard.
    They will ignore complaints. The only way to have an effect on the Guardian is to hit it in the bottom line – just don’t buy it.

  • Janet Crosley says:

    Having posted on a LP site about KS not recognising the UN Day of Palestinian Solidarity, l was told 29 th Nov was the wrong date .
    This year the UN changed it to 1st Dec.
    This made KS look ok! Did people know about this change? Can the UN do this? Why would they.? I have asked my Palestinian friends in Israel but haven’t heard as yet.

  • The Guardian’s Comment is Free is another example of doublethink since comment is anything but free!

    However I disagree with Gharda that Starmer is trying to win over the Jewish community. Why would he see that as so important when is quite cavalier about losing the support of the Muslim/Kashmiri community which is 8 times as large?

    Nothing Starmer does will win over more than a quarter of the Jewish community. Why? Because it’s not in their class interests to vote Labour.

    What Starmer is concerned with is winning over the British Establishment and to do that he must convince them that he is 100% in support of US foreign policy, which Britain slavishly adheres to.

    Israel is the lynchpin of that policy hence his and Rayner’s obscene cavorting at the weekend.

    The problem for Starmer is that he shows no sign of winning over the working class that deserted Labour at the last election.

  • Linda says:

    For anyone who doesn’t know, both The Canary and Skwarkbox (which do cover issues of interest to us who are politically “left of centre”) seek small donations to help them keep going. The lowest “one off” donation is £10, I believe, but I’m sure any sum (however tiny) would be much welcomed.

  • Ian Hickinbottom says:

    I sent an email immediately after attending the International Rally for Palestine, to both Starmer and Rayner accusing them of supporting and condoning apartheid and the actions of an apartheid regime.
    The simple fact is that Starmer in his eagerness to please his paymaster (s) and distance himself fro Corbyn, and his role in Corbyn’s front bench and disastrous promotion of a 2nd referendum. Any solidarity he may have felt with the Palestinian population has been sold to the highest bidder.

  • Roshan Pedder says:

    I agree with all who say that that the Guardian has hit rock bottom and the only course of action left is to stop paying for it. However, I urge everyone to do so with a direct message to the Editor – no matter how brief or long. In May this year I sent a eight page letter to Kath Viner informing her that as a loyal reader of 40 plus years I had finally had enough and was cancelling my subscription. I was astonished to receive a very substantial reply the very next day from the Subscriptions Editor on her behalf. I didn’t buy into any of his arguments and told him so. The point is to let them know you are abandoning them with reasons why.
    [email protected]

  • Ian Kemp says:

    Yes I also last yr sent a letter to Kath Viner . She did not bother to even acknowledge me letter. yes the Guardian has certainly gone quite fast since she took over. This needs to addressed ASP. maybe she should resign before The Guardian becomes The Telegraph or the Times.

  • Kuhnberg says:

    Starmer’s motives for joining the omertà against Israel’s HR abuses fall into a number of categories.

    1. Cosying up to the Tory establishment.
    2. Silencing critics like the BOD and the media on the issue of AS.
    3. Enabling Israel to get away with its abuses without public scrutiny.
    4. Clearing out the left from Labour, thus cementing his grip on Labour and satisfying centrists within the party and an increasingly right-wing public.
    5. Winning power in 2024.

    The last object is probably paramount. All those who continue to support him on the basis that a Labour government of whatever stripe is preferable to a Tory one should reflect on the fact that few individuals settle for enabling one abuse only, and that democracy is ill-equipped to deal with bad but popular leaders. When someone shows you who he is, you would do well to believe them. Were Starmer to become PM, it seems unlikely that he would do anything to improve equality, further human rights at home and abroad, or call power to account. I voted for him and Rayner in the belief they would follow a progressive and fair-minded path; I have never been so mistaken in my life. Their recent actions have left me with no alternative but to leave the party. Had I not done so I would doubtless have been one of the thousands to face suspension on cooked-up charges of antisemitism .

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