Why Palestinians have a problem with the IHRA definition of ‘anti-Semitism’w

First published by the Arab Weekly on 9/9/2018

The conflation of anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism suits Israel.
People wear flag of Israel glasses at a gathering organised by the Campaign Against Antisemitism outside the head office of the British opposition Labour Party in London. (AFP)
Not seeing eye to eye. People wear flag of Israel glasses at a gathering organised by the Campaign Against Antisemitism outside the head office of the British opposition Labour Party in London. (AFP)

If the average person is asked to define “anti-Semitism,” most would likely reply something like “hatred towards Jews because they are Jews.” It is safe to argue that “Israel” would not be mentioned in the same breath as “hatred towards Jews” in any traditional definition of anti-Semitism.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines anti-Semitism as “having or showing a strong dislike of Jewish people or treating them in a cruel and unfair way.” The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “hostility to or prejudice against Jews.”

This sets in context the reason supporters of Israel have been working to create a new definition to reflect what they consider to be the “new anti-Semitism,” one that would conflate anti-Semitism with opinions against Zionism, the founding ideology of Israel. This most certainly would include references to “Israel” in any such definition.

In 2005, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) published a working definition of anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, towards Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

It then brought Israel into the mix by stating: “In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

Several examples were cited as to how anti-Semitism would manifest itself when related to the state of Israel, including “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.”

While supporters of Israel referred to it as a definition, its stated purpose was to “provide a guide for identifying incidents, collecting data and supporting the implementation and enforcement of legislation dealing with anti-Semitism.”

In November 2013, the definition was removed from the organisation’s website in “a clear-out of non-official documents.” A spokesman stated that the document had never been viewed as a valid definition and that “we are not aware of any official definition.”

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which lists 31 countries as members, states that it “unites governments and experts to strengthen, advance and promote Holocaust education, research and remembrance and to uphold the commitments to the 2000 Stockholm Declaration.”

It produced a non-legally binding working definition: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, towards Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The IHRA went further stating: “The following examples may serve as illustrations: Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

Had the statement stopped at the clunky 38 words of the actual definition, then many people would have accepted it. However, once Israel is brought in, its potential effect stretches beyond Jews in any country and links them all to Israel, when many of them do not identify with it.

Scholars have argued that bringing Israel into the definition would affect the ability of the Palestinians to advocate for their rights. Brian Klug, a researcher in philosophy at St Benet’s Hall, Oxford, argued that the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s — and by implication the IHRA’s — definition “proscribed legitimate criticism of the human rights record of the Israeli government by attempting to bring criticism of Israel into the category of anti-Semitism and does not sufficiently distinguish between criticism of Israeli actions and criticism of Zionism as a political ideology, on the one hand, and racially based violence towards, discrimination against, or abuse of, Jews.”

An opinion by Hugh Tomlinson, QC, concluded that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is unclear and confusing and should be used with caution and, in an opinion prepared for the Palestinian Return Centre, Geoffrey Robertson, QC, said the definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the government is “not fit for purpose.”

The United Kingdom’s Conservative government has adopted the full IHRA definition. However, the British Labour Party, which has been engulfed in a controversy over anti-Semitism since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader in September 2015, decided to develop its own code of conduct to deal with anti-Semitism in the party, based on the IHRA definition but clarifying and contextualising the examples related to Israel.

This brought the wrath of the pro-Israel lobby and raised the heat on Corbyn, who has been attacked by some party members for failing to adopt the IHRA definition in full.

While, in the past even Corbyn’s staunchest critics on the matter held back from accusing him of anti-Semitism, some, including MP Margret Hodge, have explicitly called him an anti-Semite. The controversy over anti-Semitism has reached a level that may split the party.

The reality is that Corbyn’s record on fighting racism, including anti-Semitism is exemplary. So why the attacks on him? The answer lies in his support for Palestinian rights, for an end to the suffering of the Palestinians and for recognition of a Palestinian state.

The conflation of anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism suits Israel. Its supporters have suggested — without evidence or justification — that the UK Jewish community would face an existential threat from a Corbyn-led government. The message to the British electorate is not to vote Labour while Corbyn is its leader.

The Labour Party’s adoption of the IHRA definition, including all 11 illustrative examples, was a huge blow to the Palestinians and their supporters. They said they fear it would restrict their ability to describe events leading to the creation of Israel, which they consider a racist endeavour. This is despite the party’s National Executive Committee adding that it would not “in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of the Palestinians.” This statement has been seen by Israel-supporters as a farce. Richard Angell, director of the centre-left Progress group, said: “The Jewish community made it clear and simple to Labour: Pass the IHRA definition in full — no caveats, no compromises.”

While the controversy is currently about the Labour Party, the effect of the adoption of the IHRA definition in full is chilling in that it is designed to curtail criticism of Israel. There has been no assessment made to measure how this would affect the Palestinian people’s ability to campaign for their rights, denied by Israel, without fear that they or their supporters would be accused of anti-Semitism.

It is important to note that the Palestinian people, who have been the victims of the creation of the state of Israel in their homeland and without their permission, have not been consulted about any definition of anti-Semitism that brings Israel into the equation.

While the Labour Party consulted with British Palestinians and solidarity groups about its code, which advised the National Executive Committee against its adoption, it adopted it, raising fears that legitimate criticism of Israel at its inception and its policies may be called anti-Semitism by pro-Israel groups despite the additional statement. This could lead to their suspension or expulsion or at least smear them as racists while an investigation takes place.

Attention turns to other public bodies that will be pressured to follow Labour and adopt the IHRA definition in full. They, too, should be cautious about taking steps through the adoption of the IHRA definition that could curtail discussion on the effect of the creation of the state of Israel through ethnic cleansing and dispossession and its policies on the Palestinian people. This is particularly important now that Israel passed the Nation-State Law, which confirms its apartheid status.

If free speech is to mean anything at all, its principles must be applied equally

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 10/8/2018

The leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, speaks after the announcement of his victory in the party's leadership election, in Liverpool, Britain September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn [REUTERS/Peter Nicholls]

Britain’s two major political parties have been gripped by accusations that they have a problem with racism. In the case of the Labour Party, this allegedly takes the form of anti-Semitism, while in the Conservative Party, it is alleged Islamophobia. Clouding the anti-Semitism issue, somewhat, is the fact that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of such odious racism includes examples which conflate irrational and unacceptable hatred of Jews with opposition to the State of Israel and its policies against the Palestinians.

It has been difficult to avoid the controversy over the Labour Party’s handling of the accusations of deep rooted anti-Semitism against its members. Its Executive Committee’s caution about adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in full, without first considering its impact, has been welcomed by supporters of free speech, including Palestinians and their supporters. Having free and open discussion about the creation of Israel and its impact on the Palestinian people would be very difficult, if not impossible, without falling foul of the IHRA definition of contemporary anti-Semitism.

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” cites the IHRA by way of an example of such anti-Semitism. It explains this further with, “e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.”

As far as Palestinians are concerned, the “ethnic cleansing” of their homeland — a description given by an Israeli historian — refers to the mass expulsion of over 700,000 men, women and children from Mandate Palestine in 1948. Israel has refused to allow the Palestinian Arabs to exercise their legitimate right to return to their land, while giving a “right of return” to any Jew from any part of the world. It is reasonable, I believe, to call that out as racism from the very birth of the state. Fast forward 70 years, and the recent passing of the Nation State Law by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, confirms that not only was Israel created through racism, but it also continues to this day; this law basically self-certifies Israel as an Apartheid state. Palestinians believe that they have every right to talk about such issues openly and honestly without being accused of anti-Semitism. This was articulated very clearly in a recent letter to the Guardiannewspaper.

BBC bows to pressure from Israel and changes Gaza headline

The Labour Party’s attempt to develop an anti-Semitism code that contextualises the examples in the IHRA relating to criticism of Israel, and ensures that its adoption will not have a negative impact on freedom of speech, has been slammed by a number of Jewish organisations in Britain. The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, which claim to speak for all Jews in the UK (although not all Jews agree that they do) led the procession against Labour’s decision, building on their distrust of party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to root out anti-Semitism in the party which goes back almost to the day that he was elected leader in 2015.

Prior to that leadership victory, Corbyn never faced accusations of racism; rather, he was acknowledged as a tireless campaigner against racism in all its manifestations. He has now been accused of racism and anti-Semitism by some of his own colleagues, including veteran MP Dame Margaret Hodge, who initially faced disciplinary action for the manner of her protest; that action was subsequently dropped.

No evidence has been presented by any of Corbyn’s critics, with not one example being provided of the Labour leader demonstrating anti-Semitic tendencies either as a backbench MP for more than three decades or as the leader of HM Opposition for three years. However, and this is possibly the crux of the matter, there is ample evidence of his support for the Palestinian people. Unlike the Conservative government, which has flatly refused to recognise Palestine as a state following Parliament’s decision to call on the Government to do so in 2014, the Labour leader has promised to recognise Palestine as a state if his party wins the next General Election.

Objective observers of the wall to wall coverage of this controversy simply have to conclude that those applying pressure on Labour to adopt the IHRA definition in full are motivated by their mission to protect Israel from criticism. Its supporters imply that it is an internationally-accepted definition, when in fact the “international” arises solely from the name of the organisation that developed it, which has a membership of just 31 countries.

The impact of the adoption of the IHRA definition in full will make anyone — a Palestinian or a supporter of the Palestinian people; individuals or organisations — think twice before speaking about Israeli racism, holding events to commemorate the dispossession of the Palestinians (the Nakba) or labelling Israel as an apartheid state. I am not aware of any other definition of bigotry, discrimination or prejudice against any ethnic, racial or other group, which brings the name and actions of a particular state into the equation.

MAB calls on Conservatives to tackle ‘endemic’ Islamaphobia

Islamophobia is another issue; former Foreign Secretary and Boris Johnson MP is in hot water having been accused of anti-Muslim hatred. There is no international definition of Islamophobia, but none of the dictionary definitions that I have seen brings a foreign state into it; most are variations of “hatred or fear of Muslims or of their politics or culture”. This mirrors traditional definitions of anti-Semitism, which were based around the “hatred of Jews because they are Jews” type of thing. The IHRA definition thus goes much further.

The Islamophobia charges against Johnson arose from his column in the Telegraph written following a visit to Denmark, which has banned the burka or full face veil, the niqab. While the headline above his article was “Denmark has got it wrong. Yes, the burka is oppressive and ridiculous – but that’s still no reason to ban it” and was clearly against the Danish ban, he could not resist having a swipe at those women who wear the face veil. “It is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes,” he wrote.

Jack Straw, UK's foreign secretary, at MEMO's 'Saudi in Crisis' conference, on November 19, 2017 [Middle East Monitor]

Jack Straw, UK’s foreign secretary, at MEMO’s ‘Saudi in Crisis’ conference, on November 19, 2017 [Middle East Monitor]

“If a constituent came to my MP’s surgery with her face obscured, I should feel fully entitled – like Jack Straw – to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly. If a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber then ditto.”His “letter boxes” and “bank robbers” comments prompted outrage across large sections of the Muslim community and brought demands for an apology from Prime Minster Theresa May and Conservative Party chairman Branden Lewis; at the time of writing, Johnson has still not given any indication that he will apologise. Conservative Peer Lord Mohamed Sheikh asked for the party whip to be withdrawn from the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and 100 Muslim women have written to Lewis saying that an apology would be “insufficient”.

Johnson, they insist, must have chosen his words very clearly, making a “deliberate choice” to “inflame tensions in a way that makes it easier for bigots to justify hate crime against us.”Being the person he is, the former London Mayor and Foreign Secretary has generated much debate about the issue. While there has been a general rejection of the “letter box” and “bank robber” labels, it is notable that many contributors to radio and television discussions have rejected the calls for him to apologise, claiming that this would “inhibit free speech”.

The past year has seen a spike in hatred towards Islam and Muslims, though some try to separate the two, claiming that their issue is with Islam and its teachings rather than individual Muslims. This is certainly the position taken by the right-wing UK Independence Party, UKIP, and the recently-formed anti-Islam party For Britain, which is led by “far-right” Anne Marie Waters, a former UKIP leadership candidate. Both parties view immigration as a major issue, but it is Islam and immigration from Muslim countries and how to combat both that figures prominently in their policies. They are also both against the EU; former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has led a campaign for two decades to get the UK to leave the EU.

Nigel Farage, UKIP

Nigel Farage, UKIP

The Leave campaign won the Brexit referendum in 2016. Farage has expressed surprise at the attack on Johnson and used his LBC radio show to castigate Theresa May for requesting an apology from her former Cabinet colleague.The language used by Waters and Gerard Batten, the current leader of UKIP, when talking about Islam is undoubtedly Islamophobic. At a recent rally in support of far-right activist and former leader of the English Defence League Tommy Robinson — who was imprisoned for contempt of court — Batten referred to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, as a “paedophile”. He also claimed that “rape gang members are predominately followers of the cult of Muhammad… But we, the infidels and kaffirs, are not supposed to talk about it. And people who do face possibly criminal prosecution under our so-called ‘hate laws’.”

The Conservative Party has been accused by a number of organisations and individuals of not doing enough to combat Islamophobia, including its former Chair, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi. She pointed out that she has been warning the party “of its ‘Muslim problem’ for far too long,” and called for a “full independent inquiry” into Islamophobia therein.

The Corbyn anti-Semitism row reveals how desperate Israel and its lobbyists are

It is unfortunate that Boris Johnson’s words about the burka and his refusal to apologise will give comfort to the likes of Waters and Batten and their supporters. He may also play to the right-wing gallery of the Conservative Party, whose members also have a problem with Islam and Muslims and have backed his refusal to apologise. They include, of course, many of the people whose support he may need to win a leadership election.

What I take from the recent debates is that free speech must only be protected vehemently when Islam and Muslims are the topic under discussion, but it must be curtailed severely when references are made to Israel and Jewish support for its racist, apartheid policies. That much is clear from the relentless push for the Labour Party, local councils and other public bodies to adopt the IHRA definition in full and without question.

A combination of the toxic debate on Brexit and its focus on immigration two years ago; the open questioning of the value of a multicultural society; terrorist incidents; and the rise of the far-right has led to a rise in Islamophobic incidents in Britain; there has been an increase of 40 per cent in London alone. If Britain is to improve community relations then free speech must come with responsibility; those who seek to express hatred and bigotry must be challenged. The principles involved, though, must be applied consistently without fear or favour for one group or another.

Jeremy Corbyn and Labour have done more than any other party to deal with anti-Semitism but he has had to apologise repeatedly for not doing “more” under pressure from supporters of Israel. It seems that they will not rest until he is ousted. Accusations are now levelled at Muslims that they are raising Islamophobia in the Conservative Party and gunning for Boris Johnson to counter the attacks on Labour and Corbyn. The Labour leader’s critics from the Jewish community, by the way, tend to ignore the fact that there is more rampant anti-Semitism amongst right-wingers than those on the left. This has prompted one Rabbi to denounce Jewish “sympathy” for the far-right.

Those who claim the necessity for freedom of speech to challenge Muslims or the teachings of Islam cannot at the same time exclude other groups from similar robust exchanges. The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism does just that, curtailing free speech on Zionism and Israel by setting boundaries that are not set for any other form of discrimination or bigotry. This is unacceptable, and advocates of free speech should be loud and clear in their rejection of the definition’s adoption in full.

Attempts to smear Corbyn as an anti-Semite ignore Israel-Nazi comparisons made by Jews

 

 

Debate on British Palestinians’ letter to the Guardian on their right to freedom of speech

I joined a debate on RT UK on this letter in the Guardian which I signed on 1/8/2018

Palestinians in the UK speak out for the right to freedom of speech

This letter was published in the Guardian on 31 July 2018

Leading figures, including Prof Karma Nabulsi, Prof Kamel Hawwash, and Dr Ghada Karmi, put their community’s point of view

The fundamental right to free expression, guaranteed by article 10 of the Human Rights Act, is first and foremost the right to “receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority”. We write to provide news of our existence, in the face of current attempts to negate it.

As British Palestinians, some citizens, others still stateless refugees, we remain bound by our common history, when previous generations of Palestinians were violently denied the right to self-determination by the British colonial power ruling Palestine from 1918. Deprived of our sovereign rights to our land, we were dispossessed of it by force in the establishment of the state of Israel, which the British colonial occupation oversaw through 1947 to 1948. There exist vast bodies of publicly available records, scholarly evidence and official testimonies to affirm these facts.

The reality of the Palestinian people’s ongoing dispossession belongs to the public space: Palestinian people have the right to impart information about these present and past injustices, as every British citizen has the right to hear this information, along with the ideas and arguments that emerge directly from it.

Accordingly, any use by public bodies of the IHRA examples on antisemitism that either inhibits discussion relating to our dispossession by ethnic cleansing, when Israel was established, or attempts to silence public discussions on current or past practices of settler colonialism, apartheid, racism and discrimination, and the ongoing violent military occupation, directly contravenes core rights. First, the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, who remain protected by international laws and conventions; and second, the rights of all those British citizens who stand by our side, in the solidarity of a common humanity.

We call on public bodies to actively protect and to promote accurate information about current and past events in the life of the Palestinian people, as part of Britain’s ongoing, and outstanding, colonial debt.

Omar Al-Qattan Chairman of the board of trustees, AM Qattan Foundation, Atallah Said Chairman, British Palestinian Policy Council, Professor Kamel Hawwash University of Birmingham, Professor Karma Nabulsi Univerity of Oxford, Nadia Hijab Author and human rights advocate, Dr Aimee Shalan Charity chief executive, Ben Jamal Director, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Mazen Masri Managing director, Edgo, philanthropist, Sawsan Asfari Philanthropist, founder educational charities, Zaher Birawi Chairman, Europal Forum, Salma Karmi-Ayyoub Barrister, Professor Suleiman Sharkh University of Southhampton, Professor Izzat Darwazeh UCL, Dr Adam Hanieh Reader in development, Soas, Dr Dina Matar Soas, Fares Abu Helal Editor-in-chief, journalist, Dr Nimer Sultany Senior lecturer in public law, Soas, Dr Ghada Karmi Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, Akram Salhab Refugee and migrant organiser, Karl Sabbagh Author and publisher

The PNC meeting was ‘much ado about nothing’

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 7/5/2018

 
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (2nd L) makes a speech during the 23rd session of the Palestinian National Council in Ramallah, West Bank on 30 April 2018 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]
After a 22-year lull, the highest Palestinian legislative authority of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the Palestinian National Council (PNC), finally met in Ramallah for its 23rd session. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas faced severe criticism for holding the meeting in Ramallah, which remains under occupation, thus excluding many members and figures who would not be allowed into the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) by Israel, or who faced arrest and even assassination if they attempted to enter.
The PNC consists of 765 members, including 198 independents, 132 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), 49 representing Fatah, 98 representing other factions and a whole multitude of members representing different Palestinian organisations.

 

The meeting was held in the smart Ahmad Shukeiri Hall in Ramallah, named after the first chairman of the PLO; it was filled to the rafters when Abbas was in attendance over four long days. The front row, reserved for the leadership, looked as familiar as ever; it lacked any significant representation of women, non-Fatah faction representatives or young blood. The 23rd session of the PNC was named the “Jerusalem and protecting legitimacy round” in reference to the dangers Jerusalem faces and the need to renew the legitimacy of a number of the PLO institutions.

The meeting was boycotted by three major Palestinian factions — Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) — and a number of independent figures, including well-known members like Dr Salman Abu Sitta, Abdel Bari Atwan and Dr Anis Kassem.

Dr Salman Abu Sitta at Middle East Monitor's 'Jerusalem: Legalising the Occupation' conference in London, UK on March 3, 2018 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

Dr Salman Abu Sitta at Middle East Monitor’s ‘Jerusalem: Legalising the Occupation’ conference in London, UK on March 3, 2018 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

The meeting kicked off on 30 April with chaotic scenes as attendance was established by every name of the hundreds of existing members being read out and recorded as present or absent; various lists of replacements were placed in front of the ageing Chairman of the PNC, Saleem Al-Zanoun, adding to the confusion. The session concluded with a proclamation that the meeting was quorate, made to rapturous applause.

What followed was another rambling speech by Abbas lasting for 1 hour 48 minutes. Listening to it, I struggled to identify anything significant to take away with me, which was astonishing given the gravity of the situation the Palestinians face. Nor was there anything to distinguish it from his last speech to another PLO institution, the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) in January. While supposed to be reading his speech, Abbas went off script regularly, which is not a good idea when every word is scrutinised by friend and foe alike, especially when it comes to his attempts to present his version of history to an international audience. His explanation of the reason for the Holocaust drew almost universal condemnation, including some from the Israeli Prime Minister, Britain’s Foreign Secretary and the editorial board of the New York Times. While a more accurate translation of what he said gives context to his remarks, he should really have learnt by now that venturing into this area provides an open goal for accusations of anti-Semitism and those want to quote him out of context.

Attendees listened to speech after speech from leaders, members and guests representing various organisations and over 30 friendly states. The general message was one of support for the Palestinian cause, rejection of Trump’s US Embassy move and an emphasis on the importance of holding the PNC meeting. However, it was the many conversations, sometimes heated, taking place behind the scenes about possible names for membership of the PNC, PLO Executive Committee and the PCC that drove the real business of the meeting.

The closing session took place in the late hours of day four, concluding with a shorter speech by Abbas and the emerging decisions of the PNC. Abbas was “re-elected” by proclamation as President of Palestine and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO. The PNC Chairman reminded the meeting how decisions are reached in the PNC, by standing up and applauding. There is no ballot. This drew heavy criticism from Nabil Amer, a former PLO Ambassador to Egypt, who had wanted to stand for the Executive Committee. He was initially told not to speak by Abbas but was eventually allowed to say a few words by the PNC Chairman. He simply reiterated his intention to struggle for decisions to be taken through a ballot and called on the PNC to hold Legislative Council and Presidential elections without delay.

Amer’s remarks were only heard after the PNC agreed to Abbas’s list of members of the Executive Committee, which he claimed had been agreed with “nationalistic factions”. Fifteen names were presented, including seven former members and eight new people. Those familiar to followers of Palestinian politics were Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat and Hanan Ashrawi. Abbas explained that the Committee had kept three seats vacant to allow the PFLP, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which boycotted the meeting, to join the PNC. In the case of Hamas, he conditioned this on the movement agreeing to abide by existing agreements. “We don’t want to see them out of our national unity and we don’t like exclusion,” he claimed.

The PNC was also asked to approve membership of the smaller PCC, which was to take on the terms of reference of the PNC due to the difficulties it faces in meeting annually, as it should. Presenting the names, the newly-installed Executive Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmad, known for his role in negotiating reconciliation with Hamas, stressed the great efforts made to ensure the widest possible geographic and factional representation on the PCC.

Earlier, 35 PNC members urged Abbas to end the sanctions he had imposed on the Gaza Strip since May 2017 to force Hamas, which has controlled the coastal enclave since 2007, to hand over power to the Palestinian Authority. Abbas skated around the subject but confirmed that the April salaries for those on the PA payroll in Gaza would be paid immediately and that the lack of payment had been due to a “technical hitch” and was not intended to punish the besieged workers.

In his closing remarks, Abbas took a swipe at those who boycotted the meeting held under occupation. “When we said [that we will] meet in this beautiful Ahmad Shukeiri Hall we are in our country, in our homeland not under the pikes of the occupier,” he insisted. “Yes, there is an occupation, but we can say what we want here. I am not prepared to go and seek a place to meet in an Arab country or any other when I can meet on my land.”

The closing statement of the 23rd PNC meeting is long but uninspiring. It reiterates the decisions of the PCC held in January, which remain un-actioned, including suspending recognition of Israel until it recognises Palestine and the end of security cooperation with the occupying power.

Much will now be written about the PNC meeting, its legitimacy, operation and decisions. Those who questioned its legitimacy will not change their stance, but what can they do to oppose them? The significant Palestinian factions which boycotted the gathering are unlikely to suddenly accept the invitation to re-join a body that they consider illegitimate. Healing the pain of the division has been taken off the table. Fatah and the small number of individuals around the Palestinian President will continue to operate without wide consultation and take crucial decisions on issues facing the Palestinian people. There is no accountability for the actions of the Palestinian leadership including, the Palestinian National Authority. Has it delivered any meaningful improvement to the lives of Palestinians or moved them closer to achieving their legitimate rights? Can refugees in Jordan, Lebanon or Syria see an end to their exile? Are the Palestinians in the diaspora represented in the PLO’s institutions in the proportion that they should be, or are they simply a number to call upon when the scale of the suffering of the Palestinians since the Nakba needs to be highlighted? Sadly, the reality is that there is no new emerging strategy to meet the aspirations of the Palestinians or to oppose the Trump juggernaut as it implements Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s diktats on “peace” through what is touted as the “deal of the century”.

The 23rd meeting of the PNC has come and gone and will in my view be remembered as one of the least significant events in Palestinian history; it was definitely “much ado about nothing”. However, Abbas pleased the meeting by announcing that Palestinian child prisoner Ahed Tamimi, convicted for slapping an Israeli soldier, will be made an honorary member of the Council. We might have to wait a little longer, but perhaps a President Ahed Tamimi or a member of her generation will one day take up the baton and lead the Palestinians to justice, freedom and equality.

 

Labour, Conservatives and the quest for a Palestinian state

First published by the Middle East Eye on 5/10/2017

As the 2017 conference season in the UK comes to a close, Palestinians can only hope that a future Labour government will recognise their pursuit of justice and freedom

The annual conference season for the political parties in the UK has been in full swing. The Labour pParty held what has been widely reported as a highly successful conference last week.

In contrast to Labour’s conference, the Conservative conference has been widely reported aslacklustre. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was the star in Brighton, where the conference was held, while Prime Minister, Theresa May, was left looking over her shoulder at possible rivals for her job.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, seen as her main rival, made a typically rousing speech in which he talked up Britain’s standing in the world and how it will succeed in going global post-Brexit. Though his subsequent comments on Libya once again brought calls for him to be dismissed.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict did not figure in his remarks.

UK foreign policy

It was left to the government’s international development decretary, Priti Patel, to criticise the Labour leader for failing to condemn the “terror his friends in Hamas have unleashed upon the Israeli people and not once did he condemn or confront his supporters who have launched a wave of anti-Semitism, bullying and abuse against anyone who does not subscribe to their extremist views”.

It sounded as if she was only addressing pro-Israel supporters in the conference hall rather than offering a way forward. May also accused Corbyn of “allowing anti-Semitism and misogyny run free in his party”. Again no mention of Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israel.

In his keynote speech, Corbyn, a long-standing campaigner for human rights, said: “We must put our values at the heart of our foreign policy. Democracy and human rights are not an optional extra to be deployed selectively.” And while he criticised Saudi Arabia and Myanmar for human rights abuses he added that: “We should stand firm for peaceful solutions to international crises.”

While such words are popular with his audience, the biggest cheer on foreign policy issues, however, came when he broke a two-year silence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by appealing to the conference “to give real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people. The 50-year occupation and illegal settlement expansion and move to a genuine two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.”

Although this appeal cheered the Palestinians and their sympathisers, it did not, however, go down well with the ardent supporters of Israel within the party. However, both sides must have noted that he omitted from his speech an important promise made in the now famous Labour manifesto. It committed a Labour government “to immediately recognise the state of Palestine”.

Recognising Palestine as a state is a tangible action that a Labour government can take to demonstrate its commitment to support the Palestinians and their rights, a move which the Conservatives refuse to take. Recognising Palestine also would simply be implementing a decision taken by the British Parliament in 2014 following the Israeli war on Gaza.

The Labour leader’s two-year silence on the Palestinian issue can reasonably be attributed to the vicious attack he has faced since his election at the hands of the pro-Israel lobby both within and outside the party.

The prospect, though judged unrealistic at the time of his election as leader in 2015, of a committed supporter of Palestine and equally outspoken critic of Israeli policies entering 10 Downing Street as British prime minister sent the pro-Israel lobby into panic mode.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May holds up a cough sweet after suffering a coughing fit whilst addressing the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, 4 October (Reuters)

The definition of antisemitism

Accusations of major anti-Semitism in the party were made. In response, Corbyn immediately commissioned an inquiry into anti-Semitism charges appointing respected lawyer and human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti to lead it. The inquiry concluded: “The Labour Party is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism.”

The inquiry and subsequent report were not adequate as far as the pro-Israel lobby was concerned. The lobby’s response was to conflate anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel.

new definition of anti-Semitism, that went beyond the widely understood accusation of “hatred of Jews because they are Jews” was needed to shield Israel from criticism. This came in the form of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Issues related to Israel figure prominently in the examples given by the IHRA to explain the definition, thus making it possible to accuse critics of Israeli policies of anti-Semitism.

This definition was adopted by the government, the Labour Party and a number of local authorities. It is now being used regularly to throw accusations of anti-Semitism around despite a legal opinionwhich described it as “unclear and confusing and should be used with caution”.

The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) and Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) are two organisations that work within the Labour party to influence its policy in support of Israel. LFI members were furious that the Labour leader did not address their fringe.

This year the JLM proposed a rule change that will tighten explicitly the party’s stance towards members who are anti-Semitic or use other forms of hate speech, including racism, Islamophobia, sexism and homophobia. The rule change was adopted, with the pro-Israel Jewish Chronicle reporting: “The changes mean Labour members could face expulsion and other punishments for Jew-hate.”

However, the rule change means the IHRA definition could be used to accuse individuals criticising Israel of anti-Semitism and they could then be suspended or expelled. The pro-Israel lobby becomes the gatekeeper on what is acceptable criticism and what crosses their lines.

However, the rule change did not go unchallenged.

The emergence of a new group, the Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), representing Jewish socialists who support Palestinian rights, provided some pushback against the pro-Israel lobby in the party.

Two of its members spoke against the rule change but more significantly spoke for parts of British Jewry that the JLM cannot claim to represent. The importance of the emergence of JVL cannot be overemphasised. In future, the Labour Party cannot develop policy that might impact on British Jews or policy on Israel and only speak to the JLM. This should bring a fairer representation of Jewish views than in the past.

As the 2017 conference season ends, the Conservatives continue with business as usual in supporting Israel and paying lip service to the suffering of the Palestinians, while there is hope that a Labour government would act to support the Palestinians in their quest for justice and freedom. For Palestinians that cannot come quickly enough.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).  He appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwashHe writes here in a personal capacity.

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

Photo: Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn acknowledges his audience prior to giving his keynote speech at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Britain, September 27, 2017 (Reuters)