Spectacular defeat for Israel lobby at Labour Party conference

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  September 27, 2021

In a spectacular defeat for the Israel lobby, delegates to Britain’s Labour Party conference overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Monday condemning the “ongoing Nakba in Palestine.”

Calling for sanctions and an arms embargo, the resolution highlights recent reports by human rights groups concluding “unequivocally that Israel is practicing the crime of apartheid as defined by the UN.”

“We welcome this important and historic motion which represents a significant step for the Labour Party in acknowledging the reality of the system of apartheid imposed by Israel on Palestinians,” said Kamel Hawwash, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

“Despite huge pressure imposed on Labour to reverse policy commitments made at conference in 2018 and 2019, this demonstrates the strength of solidarity with the Palestinian people amongst Labour’s grassroots members and within the trade union movement,” Hawwash added.

“It is time impunity ended and accountability started.”

The resolution backs the International Criminal Court investigation into war crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

It endorses other “effective measures” as “called for by Palestinian civil society” – an affirmation of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that aims to end Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights and international law.

It also explicitly affirms “the right of Palestinian people, as enshrined in international law, to return to their homes.”

Israel and its supporters oppose letting Palestinian refugees return to the homes and lands from which they were expelled or fled just because they are not Jews.

The Palestinian BDS National Committee, the steering group for the international boycott campaign, also hailed the “landmark motion.”

The annual party conference is where the main opposition Labour Party votes on the policies that it is supposed to implement when in government. In practice, however, the leadership often ignores the will of the party’s grassroots.

Nonetheless Monday’s vote signals that years of purges and bogus anti-Semitism smears aimed at stamping out support for Palestinian rights have failed.

“The motion passed on a ‘show of hands,’ so overwhelmingly that its opponents didn’t even bother asking for a recount or card vote,” the left-wing news site The Skwawkbox reported.

The vote came “a day after many delegates were browbeaten and intimidated into passing support for the party’s ‘dangerous’ new disciplinary rules designed to prevent free speech on the conduct of Israel,” The Skwawkbox added.

Since the 2015 election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, the party’s right-wing along with Israel lobby groups have mounted a years-long campaign to smear, suspend and expel members who support Palestinian rights.

Despite Corbyn’s 2019 ouster, the right has continued the purge, culminating in the recent expulsion of globally acclaimed filmmaker Ken Loach.

Corbyn’s replacement, Keir Starmer, won the party leadership after a campaign funded with Israel lobby money.

After taking office, Starmer moved immediately to shift the Labour Party in a sharply pro-Israel direction.

Israel lobby groups expressed anger after Monday’s vote.

Lawmaker Steve McCabe, chair of Labour Friends of Israel, said the resolution was “completely unacceptable, grossly inaccurate and morally repugnant” and that it “propagates the apartheid smear.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews endorsed that attack on the resolution.

Israel lobbyists continued their smear tactics Monday, making it unambiguously clear that they fully equate criticism of Israel and solidarity with Palestinians, on the one hand, with anti-Jewish bigotry, on the other.

Their frustration is understandable. Politicians like Starmer can be bullied and bought, but ordinary Labour members are proving that their commitment to Palestinian rights and solidarity runs broad and deep.

Ali Abunimah is Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books