Starmer and Truss are accomplices to Israeli apartheid
As the annual Labour and Conservative Party Conferences draw to a close, both Party leaders appear to be more focused on meeting the interests of Israeli lobbying groups rather than appealing to the needs and interests of potential UK voters in the next general election.
This year’s Labour conference has left a sombre tone amongst the party’s left-grassroots majority. Indeed, since Keir Starmer assumed leadership of the party in April 2020, he seems to have inexhaustibly made it his focus to purge members from the party who have the slightest sympathy for people under blockade, occupation and apartheid: Palestinians.
Since becoming Labour leader, Starmer and unelected Labour officials have been committed to tearing apart the party’s left leaning majority. As Al Jazeera’s Labour Files investigation showed, they have spied on, ‘investigated’, suspended and expelled hundreds of members who have merely used their freedom of speech to voice their support for Palestinian human rights.
''Whilst the UK’s main opposition party are fawning over Israeli lobby groups’ support, so is Liz Truss’s new government. Just weeks into her first prime ministerial term, Truss has already made a promise to Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, that she is committed to moving the UK Embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem.''
Among those the Labour party are attempting to purge is Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, a founding member of Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), a group who are anti-Zionist and actively criticise Israel. She was recently elected to the National Executive Committee of the party (NEC) and was set to speak at this year's Labour conference. However, Wimborne-Idrissi was suspended by senior Labour party officials just days before the conference, in an attempt to not only silence her, but to crush any dissent in the party against Israel.
Another Jewish Labour member the party is attempting to purge is Andrew Feinstein, who served as an MP under Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and worked in genocide prevention including lecturing at Auschwitz. He is under investigation by the Labour party for his solidarity with Palestine.
This year’s Labour conference was the first in several years that no motion on Palestine was passed. In comparison to its conference in 2021, during which motions were passed declaring Israel an apartheid state, supporting sanctions against illegal Israeli settlements, as well as the halting of all UK arms sales to Israel, amongst several others.
So far, not one major newspaper in the country has dedicated a solitary word to covering the shocking revealations in The Labour Files on Al Jazeera.— Lowkey (@Lowkey0nline) September 25, 2022
One of the only speakers to reference Palestine in a speech at this year's Labour Conference was MP David Lammy, who is currently the Shadow Foreign Secretary. Lammy, a prominent member of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), had only recently returned from a Labour Friends of Israel all-expenses-paid trip to Tel Aviv and Ramallah. In his speech he said he supported, “a negotiated peace based on a two-state solution with a safe and secure Israel alongside a sovereign and prosperous Palestinian state”. Empty words that only echo the interests of the current Israeli government and not those of Palestine’s civil society.
Not only has Starmer made his unequivocal support for Israel clear in his short time as Labour leader, but he has also exposed his anti-Palestinian racism in the process. In a speech he was delivering to Labour Friends of Israel in 2021, he repeated a deeply problematic quote from former Labour leader and Prime Minister, Harold Wilson that, ”Israeli Social Democrats made the desert flower”. This statement, said before the current Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, who was in attendance, is inherently racist. It infers that Palestinians were somewhat incapable of managing their own land, whilst also ignorantly overlooking the long standing history and the deep connection between Palestinian agriculture and Palestinian livelihoods.
Furthermore, Starmer gave an exclusive interview to The Jewish Chronicle on the second anniversary of him becoming leader of the Labour Party where he vocally rejected the ground-breaking reports on Israeli apartheid by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem. He even attempted to play up to the interviewer by inadvertently promising he would denounce these reports during this year's Labour conference. This is a particularly alarming statement for Starmer to make given his background as a human rights lawyer.
It is an astounding point in history, where the main opposition party in the UK cares less about workers’ rights, human rights, anti-black racism, islamophobia, internationalism and solidarity with the oppressed as it does with its purge of members who support Palestinian human rights.
Whilst the UK’s main opposition party are fawning over Israeli lobby groups’ support, so is Liz Truss’s new government. Just weeks into her first prime ministerial term, Truss has already made a promise to Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, that she is committed to moving the UK Embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem.
In addition to following in Trump’s footsteps, Truss re-affirmed her support for Israel during a speech at the Conservative party conference to a crowd from the parliamentary lobbying group, Conservative Friends of Israel. She described herself as “a huge Zionist and a huge supporter of Israel”.
The tendentious tone present at both the Labour and Conservative party conferences has set its own precedent that Parliament will have no qualm in passing the controversial anti-BDS legislation – something the Tories have been trying to do since Boris Johnson became PM in 2019.
The Bill, which will stop public bodies from imposing their own boycotts of foreign countries, is an attack on civil liberties and democracy. It would mean public bodies are banned from being able to support the peaceful BDS movement, which aims to pressure Israel to comply with international law and end its illegal occupation of the West Bank through the promotion of boycotts and sanctions.
Both the continuation of Truss’s leadership, and the possibility of Starmer becoming PM, offer no possibility for justice when it comes to the people of Palestine. If the two leaders' priorities involve bending over backwards for oppressive regimes overseas, how can we trust either of them in any position of power?
Farrah Koutteineh is head of Public & Legal Relations at the London-based Palestinian Return Centre, and is also the founder of KEY48 - a voluntary collective calling for the immediate right of return of over 7.2 million Palestinian refugees. Koutteineh is also a political activist focusing on intersectional activism including, the Decolonise Palestine movement, indigenous peoples rights, anti-establishment movement, women’s rights and climate justice.
Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @key48return
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