Labour Friends of Israel calls on a Starmer government to transform policy

Patrick Wintour

The Guardian  /  October 5, 2023 

Group says party ‘freed of the stain of antisemitism’ can promote two-state solution and reverse Tory apathy to Middle East.

An incoming Labour government “freed of the stain of antisemitism” can seek an Israeli settlement freeze, promote a two-state solution and call out democratic backsliding not only by the Palestinian Authority, but also by the Israeli government, according to a pamphlet from Labour Friends of Israel.

The pamphlet is designed to mark a breakpoint from Labour’s debilitating debates about antisemitism, and promote a detailed policy solution to the Israel-Palestine question around which the majority of people in the party can gather.

The current Labour party, the authors say, “is one free of the stain of antisemitism and anti-Zionism and cognizant to the threat posed by the Iranian regime to Britain and its allies, most especially Israel”.

The pamphlet, from the largest pro-Israel group in the party, is steadfast in defending Israel, but striking for the degree to which it is prepared to criticize the political direction of the current Israeli coalition and its call for an Israeli settlement freeze.

One of the authors, Michael Rubin, Labour Friends of Israel director, writes: “Benjamin Netanyahu’s self-serving efforts to emasculate the independence of the judiciary, and the repellent actions and rhetoric of his far-right allies, go beyond routine policy disagreements.

“They imperil both democratic norms and the rule of law. And they threaten what, for many of us, is so special about Israel’s character: not simply that it is the homeland of the Jewish people but that it is a beacon of democracy, the rule of law and minority rights in the Middle East.”

The cause for hope, Rubin writes, is that the Netanyahu government’s actions and character have produced a broad-based opposition movement.

The authors, who include MPs and academics, argue the Conservative party has shown “a stunning disinterest in the Middle East” with the abolition of the post of a dedicated Middle East minister. Labour should restore the post on day one of coming to power.

The authors support a settlement freeze “as part of a series of steps designed to narrow the parameters of the conflict and foster confidence”. That “must be accompanied by, and be part of a process involving, reciprocal confidence-building measures on the part of the Palestinian Authority and Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia”.

They call for Labour to stick by its plan to proscribe Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a position the Conservative government has resisted, despite backbench pressure.

It also proposes a British-led international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace, modelled on peacebuilding in Ireland, as well as investment in an independent viable Palestinian state through renewed investment in the Palestinian Authority.

This should seek to end incitement and fight Palestinian corruption, including by publishing the annual review of the authority’s compliance with its aid agreement with the UK.

They call for a donors’ conference focused upon an emergency green infrastructure plan for Gaza, where unemployment is more than 40%, linked to a credible monitoring system to ensure Hamas does not divert reconstruction materials to military purposes.

The report concedes that the UK alone has limited leverage, but can in conjunction with Europe help a Biden administration, especially if Israel is prepared to make concessions in return for a US-brokered normalization with Saudi Arabia.

But one of the authors, Toby Greene, a visiting fellow at LSE, warns maintaining a consensus in Labour will be difficult since “the extremism of the current Israeli government, the diplomatic vacuum, and the propensity for violent escalations, are likely to fuel the boycott, divestment and sanction movement, with all its divisive implications for Labour”.

On Wednesday, Labour headquarters was accused of censorship after it cut the words “end apartheid” from a Palestine Solidarity Campaign fringe meeting due to take place at its party conference next week.

Patrick Wintour is diplomatic editor for The Guardian