UK Labour Party apologizes to pro-Palestine group after ban confusion

Labour Party conference in 2019 (BNC)

Alex MacDonald

Middle East Eye  /  September 3, 2021

Information issued on ban of Palestinian Solidarity Campaign a ‘mistake’, political party says following controversy surrounding Young Labour conference.

The UK Labour Party has apologized to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) after party activists said they had been told that the pro-Palestinian group would not be allowed to attend the party’s annual conference.

Confusion arose following a Twitter thread posted on 31 August by the Chair of Young Labour (YL), Jess Barnard, in which she said she had been told by the party’s general secretary that the youth wing would not be able to hold their own events at Labour’s main annual conference, set to take place from 25 September in the city of Brighton.

“Months ago the entire YL committee submitted our proposals for young Labour day at conference, well within the deadline given. Everything we do and all our speakers have to be approved by the party. I have been pushing for an update on this multiple times a week with no joy,” she wrote on Twitter.

“So we are now three weeks to conference with the party giving us no information, and just today they have said there is no capacity for due diligence checks until 20 September – these are the necessary checks for every speaker at conference potentially ruling out YL day.”

She said that the “most concrete information” she had was that members of PSC would be barred from speaking at the event, as would former party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Her comments led many to believe that PSC was to be banned from the conference as a whole, despite having previously held events and stalls in previous years.

In a statement on Friday, PSC said it had been in touch with party officials and was informed that the comments made to Barnard about the group being forbidden from speaking were “a mistake”.

“PSC made its own enquiries and was informed by well-placed sources that a high ranking official had stated that PSC’s support for the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) might violate the IHRA definition of antisemitism,” said the statement, referring to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s guidelines on antisemitism, which have been condemned by some for conflating criticism of the state of Israel with antisemitism.

“After strong representations from Young Labour and from PSC, Young Labour were informed in a meeting late on Wednesday that this had been a mistake, that PSC could of course be invited and an apology was given.”

Antisemitism controversy

For several years, Labour has been caught in a controversy around antisemitism in the party, especially under Corbyn’s leadership.

A staunch supporter of Palestinian rights, Corbyn had been accused of failing to tackle antisemitism within the party, while his association with Palestinian political campaigners was held up as proof of his own antisemitic leanings.

His successor Keir Starmer expelled Corbyn from the party last year following the release of a report into institutional antisemitism in the party, a move that was later reversed after an appeal – though Corbyn still sits as an independent MP in the House of Commons.

Numerous left-wing activists in the party, including Jewish ones, have also been expelled for a variety of reasons, including activity linked to pro-Palestinian campaigns.

In its statement, PSC said that the Young Labour controversy was indicative of how pro-Israel campaigners had been effective in their attempts to “delegitimize” pro-Palestinian activism in the UK.

They said the push for the party to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which led to party infighting in 2018, had created “a cloud of suspicion around raising the cause of Palestine, which leads to a chilling effect”.

“PSC and allied organizations, including representatives of the Palestinian community in Britain, has made numerous attempts to meet with Keir Starmer and with (Labour General Secretary) David Evans to discuss these concerns,” said the statement.

“We are now pushing again for this meeting to take place in the aftermath of this latest incident. The key item we wish to discuss is the action the leadership will be taking to ensure that the space to discuss the oppression faced by Palestinians and the necessary action to address it is fully protected in the Labour Party.”

Middle East Eye contacted the Labour Party for clarification, but had yet to receive a response by publication time.

Alex MacDonald is a reporter at Middle East Eye