Free speech on Israel

By Frieda Park

It is now clear that allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party are being used to defend Israel, stifle criticism and to roll back the increasingly successful campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). This was evidenced by the Israeli flags carried by the small group of protesters outside the meeting of Labour’s NEC and at a subsequent (also small) demonstration in Manchester. Also by the insistence on adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) examples of what constitutes anti-Semitism. Seven out of eleven of the examples reference Israel.

By promoting Israel in this way and associating it with current allegations of anti-Semitism against the Labour Party, Israel’s supporters have gone too far. Even the relatively uninformed British public looks with horror at the crimes perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians like the planned demolition of a Bedouin village and the mass shooting of unarmed protesters in Gaza.

The broader right-wing, anti-Labour agenda has also been laid bare. It is no coincidence that many of those taking up this issue are those who always wanted rid of Corbyn or people who had no sympathy with Labour in the first place. Why pick on Labour anyway when anti-Semitism is a bigger problem among Tory supporters? There are even those who in the name of combating anti-Semitism try to censor criticism of banks and in The New Statesman of 27/3/18 Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitt went even further and claimed that by attacking capitalism Corbyn was being anti-Semitic.

The adoption of the IHRA examples was greeted with dismay by many in the Labour Party and beyond. It was brave and principled of Jeremy Corbyn to propose a more strongly worded defence for criticism of Israel knowing that it was likely to be defeated. It was painful that figures on the left, including leaders of major trade unions, supported the IHRA examples. Even if they thought it might put an end to the distraction of the debate round anti-Semitism, it nevertheless disregarded the rights of the Palestinians.

But how to respond to the adoption of the IHRA examples?

Because of how far the strident defenders of Israel have gone they have actually given impetus and focus to the campaign for solidarity with the Palestinians. They have given clarity to what we should be saying and how we should be campaigning on Israel. Above all there is a confidence that we should not be cowed. There will be free speech on Israel. In a welcome move a new network Labour and Palestine was set up at the Labour Party conference to further the cause of Palestinian rights within the Party.

 e should step up campaigning against Israel’s crimes, for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and for solidarity with the Palestinians. This would be supported by the membership of the Party most of whom joined to achieve a just Britain and a just world. It would also be welcomed by the electorate who expect Labour to take a stand for justice and promoting peaceful solutions to conflict.

In addition we should put the ball back in the court of the pro-Israel campaign.

In July a new basic law, a constitutional measure, was passed by the Israeli parliament which declares that “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination within it.” That is to say others are excluded from being properly part of the nation. It downgrades Arabic which is no longer an official langue in Israel and goes on: “The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.” Prime Minister Netanyahu declared: “This is a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel.”[1] Quite so.

By presenting the facts of what Israel does its racist and apartheid policies become abundantly clear. The question we should ask of the defenders of Israel is how they would justify this and what language they would use to describe its actions?


Protest against the killings in Gaza, San Sebastian, The Basque Country Spain 2018