Socialist Worker

Labour sources reveal how party retreated over Palestine solidarity

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2621

The lobby outside the NEC meeting

The lobby outside the NEC meeting this week (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Socialist Worker can reveal what happened in the Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting this week which saw a retreat over Palestinian rights. NEC sources pointed to the role of trade union leaders and Momentum members in the decision to agree a definition of antisemitism that restricts criticism of Israel. 

“Everyone knew the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition would be passed, but we didn’t know whether there would be caveats,” one source told Socialist Worker. “Once the GMB, Unison, Unite and Usdaw union leaders had said Labour had to accept the definition and all the examples, well, then the die was cast.

“I was watching the union reps on the NEC. Don’t tell me they weren’t communicating with their general secretaries or at least people very high up in the union.

“The right were loving it. It seemed to me that [deputy leader] Tom Watson was just sitting back and enjoying the retreat by the left. 

Another source says, “It was a shock when Jeremy came forward with his personal statement that included saying it was legitimate to describe the circumstances around foundation of Israel as racist because of their discriminatory impact.

Stand with Palestine after Labour Party accepts antisemitism definition
Stand with Palestine after Labour Party accepts antisemitism definition
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“Some NEC members immediately supported Jeremy, but many of the Momentum supporters didn’t. The press have highlighted Rhea Wolfson coming out against Jeremy, but she was far from the only Momentum supporter who did that. 

“Some people said we shouldn’t minute what Jeremy had put forward because it wasn’t good for the media to know his views hadn’t been accepted. But it had already been leaked.

“I had been expecting there to be clearer protection for pro-Palestinian voices, but that didn’t happen.

Crucial

“To be honest there’s a degree of demoralisation about it. Jeremy’s supposed to be in charge of the party and the left all say what a wonderful leader he is. But they didn’t support him at a crucial time.”

These accounts rightly point to the role of the union leaders and the backsliding of some who call themselves pro-Corbyn in Momentum.

But the process didn’t start this week. The union leaders also pressured Corbyn to drop opposition to Trident nuclear weaopons, and at the same time as the NEC was meeting the GMB union was putting out a statement that it now backed “a public vote on the final Brexit deal”.

It’s likely that the attempt to make Labour shift its position over Brexit will intensify at this weekend’s Trade Union Congress conference.

The opposition to the betrayal of the Palestinians could never have won if it was confined to the NEC or Westminster. It had to be rooted in the wider pro-Palestine movement.

Corbyn himself was trapped inside the world of manoeuvres and compromises. He put first the desperate search to keep Labour united, rather than relying on the mass campaigning where he was powerful during the leadership elections and the general election.

Inside Labour, at crucial moments the parliamentary pressures completely outweigh activity outside parliament.

But the fight for Palestine is far from over. In every union, university and institution there has to be opposition to further imposition of the IHRA definition and examples. And there has to be a fight to reverse the NEC’s move this week.

Open Letter from trade unionists calling for opposition to the further implementation of the IHRA definition and for solidarity with Palestine. Go to bit.ly/IHRAletter

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