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

Ireland’s decision to advance boycott bill could be the tipping point for justice for Palestine

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 12/7/2018

2011_1-8-Labourers-work-in-the-jewish-settlement-SL00-12

Construction workers build illegal settlements in Jerusalem [Sliman Khader/Apaimages]

The Palestinian people are in need of some good news to boost their morale at an extremely difficult time in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality.

There has been little good news, particularly since US President Trump took office, recognised Jerusalem as capital of Israelmoved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv in record time, defunded UNRWA and leaks of his “ultimate deal” for resolving the conflict indicated it could not be accepted by the Palestinian people.

Palestinians in Gaza continue to march to the fence separating them from their occupiers to demand that they be allowed to return peacefully to their homes on the other side. Their peaceful endeavour has been met with brutal force resulting in over 130 killed mostly by Israeli snipers and over 10,000 injured with some sustaining horrendous injuries and others losing limbs.

Most Western governments expressed concern about the level of casualties but none acted in a way that would send a strong message to Israel to refrain from its murderous acts. As in past episodes of Israeli aggression, it was left to ordinary people all over the world to show solidarity with the Palestinians, knowing that real change in Israeli behaviour would only come when governments took action that translated words into real pressure on Israel.

Most western powers, including the UK and other EU countries hid behind the tiresome and ineffective “we are against boycotts as they are unhelpful when we are trying to bring the two sides round the negotiating table”. In other words, they did not have the bottle to call Israel’s ambassadors in to say, in no uncertain terms, that unless Israel stopped the violence and its illegal policies, it would face sanctions.

The recent escalation in demolition of Palestinian properties, particularly targeting Bedouin Palestinians in what Oslo defines as “Area C”, brought howls of displeasure but no action. The strongest the UK could muster for example was a warning that if the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahamr was demolished and its residents forcibly transferred, this could amount to a war crime. At the time of writing, the village had a brief reprieve as the Israeli courts revisit the decision to allow the demolition but the expectation is that Israel will demolish the village soon.

Demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar: Another chapter in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine

The demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar is linked to the settlement enterprise, which Israel uses to tighten its grip on the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). The international community considers the settlements “illegal under international law”.

Bizarrely, this position has not resulted in what Palestinians and their supporters see as the logical extension of this, which is that trade with the illegal settlements is illegal too. Goods and products from the settlements have had little trouble making their way to the EU market. The strongest action taken to distinguish between products from the settlements and those from within the internationally recognised Israeli areas has been to label them, thus providing consumers with information on which to base their decision as to whether to buy the products or to shun them. The extent to which this has made any impact on the ground is difficult to assess. However, it is reasonable to conclude that it has had little or no difference as Israel has not been squealing about it.

Funding for Settlements - Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

Recently, Human Rights Watch reported that Israeli banks “profit” from the illegal settlements as they “help support, maintain, and expand” them by “financing their construction in the occupied West Bank.”

In reality, change will only come when governments begin to exert real pressure on Israel, which could come through reassessing relations with it, perhaps reducing diplomatic representation as South Africa has done, or imposing sanctions on it when it acts illegally. The settlement enterprise is an open and shut case. They are illegal and trade with them sustain them and should end to help dismantle them if those governments are serious about peace.

Almost all western governments see boycotts, including those of the illegal settlements as unhelpful and in some countries those promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) have faced hostility, been accused of anti-Semitism and efforts to implement boycotts of companies that are complicit in the settlement enterprise have come under attack, as in the UK. Bizarrely, those same countries say that the settlements are “harming” the chances of a two-state solution, are an “obstacle to peace” and in the case of the E1 area, which provides the only access to East Jerusalem for Palestinians, would “deal a fatal blow” to the two-state solution.

If the world is serious about helping end the conflict then governments must act. The EU can play a role in this but is refusing to do so. It was therefore left to one of its smaller members, Ireland to show leadership and for a brave independent Senator, Frances Black, to bring to Senate a bill to ban the import of settlement goods.

Under pressure from Israel, the Irish Government, which does not support boycotts, postponed an initial attempt to bring the bill to a vote in January of this year. However, on the 11th of July the “Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018” was debated and passed. The vote was 25 in favour, 20 against and 14 abstaining. While there are still a number of stages to get through before it becomes law; this now paves the way for Ireland to become the first EU country to ban the import of products from the illegal Israeli settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

#LandGrab

Israel’s response was as expected. Its Foreign Ministry slammed Ireland after it passed the bill, stating that the “Irish Senate has given its support to a populist, dangerous and extremist anti-Israel boycott initiative that hurts the chances of dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians”. It further claimed that the law will “have a negative impact on the diplomatic process in the Middle East,” and that it will “harm the livelihood of many Palestinians who work in the Israeli industrial zones affected by the boycott.”

Chief Palestinian Negotiator, Saeb Erekat, congratulated Ireland on the decision to pass the bill, stating that he wished to

extend our sincere appreciation to the Irish Seanad for standing tall for the principle of justice by approving this historic motion banning trade with the illegal Israeli colonial-settlements in Occupied Palestine.

It is important that the Irish Government now listens to the Irish people and moves to supporting this bill as it actually supports the two-state solution and the illegality of the settlements policy on the conflict. If it does that and successfully navigates its way through any legal difficulties this may pose, then Ireland, a friend of the Palestinian people, could be the pioneering country that begins to deliver justice to the Palestinian people and peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It will of course come under pressure from Israel, its strong lobby and even the EU to find a way of pulling back from the brink of implementing an ethical boycott of an illegal enterprise. However, it must stand firm and remember that the others have no credible policy to resolve the conflict, including the United States. Israel has had decades of appeasement and faced no accountability for its breaches of international law. It is time this began for peace.

Ireland could be providing the necessary tipping point that others could rally round, especially the EU, which has in the past talked the talk but never intended to walk the walk to deliver justice to the Palestinian people.

As for Israel and its shameful backers in its illegal endeavours, the countdown to the end of the illegal settlement enterprise started in Dublin on the 11th of July. The clock is ticking.

Israeli forces displaced 1,347 Palestinians in the occupied #WestBank last year… all from home demolitions!

#HomeDemolitions #Palestine #ZionistState #OccupiedPalestine

MEMO infographic by QUAD Business House –https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170509-israel-denies-h…/

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Report on seminar: UK panel on Mideast peace urges EU to take broker role

Anadolu Agency 24/1/2018

The US cannot continue to be accepted as an “honest broker” for peace, says speaker at panel organized by EuroPal Forum

 

UK panel on Mideast peace urges EU to take broker role

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

LONDON

It is time for Europe to lead for peace in the Middle East following the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a London panel heard Tuesday.

The message was conveyed by speakers at the panel “Trump’s Jerusalem Promise: Time for Europe to Lead for Peace in the Middle East” organized by the EuroPal Forum – an independent and non-party political organization based in London working to build networks throughout Europe in support of the promotion and realization of Palestinian rights.

Speaking at the panel via a recorded video message, Julie Ward, a member of the European Parliament from the Labour Party, underlined that since U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel on Dec. 6, there has been an increase in violent actions by Israel’s occupying forces against the Palestinians.

Ward said Trump’s decision is a “serious provocation for those who have been pursuing a peaceful solution to the Palestinian cause”. She said Trump’s decision to reverse seven decades of foreign policy has dismayed the majority of the world’s leaders, dashing the hopes of peace campaigners from both sides of the conflict.

Stressing that Trump’s decision goes against all peace efforts by all parties and encourages Israel’s continuing violation of human rights, Ward said “it is clear that the U.S. would not be a productive partner” in the peace process.

“We are pushing the EU to take action…in the European parliament,” she added.

Toby Cadman, a barrister and international law specialist, pointed out that the rejection of Trump’s decision by the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council and by a very high number of the member countries at the General Assembly despite threats made by the U.S. administration was “significant”.

Cadman said whether Trump will implement his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem still remains to be seen, but the U.S. could not continue to be accepted as an “honest broker” for peace when such a decision had been made.

Another speaker, Dr. Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian academic, writer and activist, argued that with the latest decision, the U.S. administration “has made very clear that Israeli and U.S. interests are identical”.

“And therefore, the gloves are off. It is very clear that the U.S. not only isn’t an honest broker, it is not an independent broker, but it is totally identified with Israel,” Karmi said.

Recalling the cuts by the U.S. administration in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Karmi said someone else should fill this gap.

“The EU becomes very important with this vacuum of international support for the Palestinians…Why the EU is now relevant is of course because it is very much involved in this business.”

Karmi said the EU has funded both Israelis and Palestinians in various fields and is therefore an ideal body to play the role.

“What is the EU’s position on Palestine and Palestinian people’s future? First, peace can be achieved by two states, by the creation of a Palestinian State and having a two-state solution. Secondly, there has been a concern by the EU from the beginning with the refugee issue.”

Karmi said the two-state solution has been the “bedrock” in EU policy toward the conflict and urged the EU to press on Israel for a possible two-state solution. She said the EU could suspend a visa waiver program in place for Israeli citizens which makes it possible for them to travel freely across Europe.

“That’s a very small action that the EU could start with,” she said.

Regarding Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, Karmi said “we must not think about the U.S. in this context. We have to free ourselves from this kind of thinking.”

Prof. Kamel Hawwash, an academic from Birmingham University and a writer, was among the speakers at the EuroPal Forum’s panel.

Recalling his recent entry rejection by Israeli officials, Hawwash argued that the EU should refuse entry for Israeli settlers.

“The last UN resolution about the settlers [from the occupied Palestinian territories] … distinguished between Israel and the occupied territories.

“The EU can actually escalate the distinction through an action to do with settlement… it must be about imposing some sort of sanction… If I am denied entry as a British citizen to Israel, why is it that Israeli settlers are allowed to come in?”

However, Hawwash also urged Palestinians to look at their own means to activate a peace process first and then start searching for support as well.

One of the organizers, Zaher Birai, told Anadolu Agency that he hoped the panel would “send a clear message that it is unacceptable… to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital”.

Birai said British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s statement yesterday “was worrying” despite the previous messages of support for Palestinians from the British government.

“Clearly, with Jerusalem now having been recognized by the U.S. as the capital of Israel, one would expect some symmetrical movement in the other direction to get things moving,” Boris Johnson said during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Johnson on Tuesday was accused of putting a two-state solution at fresh risk after suggesting Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital is a “moment of opportunity” for peace.

Trump’s controversial decision has sparked a wave of condemnation and protests across the world.

The full 193-member UN General Assembly met for a rare emergency special session regarding the decision, and 128 members voted in favor of a resolution which affirmed that the issue of Jerusalem is a final-status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions. Nine countries voted against and 35 others abstained in the vote held on Dec. 21 last year.

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)

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