Hundreds of Labour Party members showed they are determined to keep standing in solidarity with Palestinians, at their annual conference on Sunday.
More than 250 people attended a fringe meeting hosted by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) on Sunday evening. Just minutes before, Labour Party delegates had voted overwhelmingly to put a discussion on Palestine onto the conference agenda.
It showed there was a mood among Labour delegates to hit back at attempts to silence support for Palestine and criticism of Israel. Months of accusations and smears aimed at the left have sought to equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism.
Supporters of Israel want to claim that Israel is integral to Jewish identity—and so opposing Israel is antisemitic.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, adopted by the Labour Party earlier this month, says it is antisemitic to call Israel a “racist endeavour”.
This could mean that opposing Israel’s founding ideology of Zionism or pointing out that Israel was founded through ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, could be branded antisemitic.
But speakers at the meeting hit out at the idea that opposition to Israel is antisemitism.
Hugh Lanning from the PSC said, “If you pass racist laws, if you operate in a racist way, there is nothing wrong in calling you a racist state.”
And Palestinian Hazem Jamjoum from the Al-Shabaka Palestinian Policy Network, said, “Israel has been able to get away with racist apartheid laws.
“Palestinians have been holding the line against this racism for 70 years and it’s exhausting—and we’re called terrorists and antisemites because of it.”
Speakers from the floor promised to keep speaking out for Palestinians. One said she would go back to her Constituency Labour Party and “insist that we get a discussion on this.”
Another told Socialist Worker that the antisemitism row had “made people more wary” to raise the issue of Palestine. But she said it had “also made the Palestinian issue more prominent”.
Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, told the meeting that anyone who thought Labour’s antisemitism definition was “going to silence us from supporting the Palestinian cause, or silence us from calling Israel what it is—an apartheid state—they are very much mistaken.”
He echoed Labour’s general secretary Jennie Formby, who told the conference on Sunday morning, “We will not allow the voices of Palestinian people to be silenced and members must be able to speak out against the terrible injustices they face”.
Yet McCluskey and Formby were both behind the pressure put on Labour’s leadership to accept the definition. McCluskey said this was “to make sure that the attacks on Jeremy were eased so that we could continue the fight”.
But the Labour right showed on Sunday how they will continue to use Labour’s definition to attack the left and anyone who criticises Israel.
At a fringe meeting for the Jewish Labour Movement, (JLM) MPs lined up to attack Corbyn and call for expulsions of more Labour members.
Many made it clear they wouldn’t tolerate criticism of Zionism, or opposition to Israel’s “right” to exist as a Jewish state that discriminates against Palestinians.
Ian Austin—a vocal anti-immigration MP—called on Labour’s leadership to “boot the racists out of the Labour Party.”
These included people who “call the establishment of Israel a racist, colonial project.”
“This is the poison that has been brought into our party”.
MP Stella Creasy said, “For those apologists who say this is about Palestinian rights, we must stand with the millions around the world who support a two state solution.”
She said Labour should “challenge those who use anti-Zionism to conflate with being in favour of Palestinian rights.”
“Always in the Labour Party we have had a tradition of policing very carefully those criticising capitalism and promoting conspiracy.
“Between opposing governments of the world and the terrible things we think they’re doing, but not saying therefore we oppose the state of Israel in its very existence.”
Jon Lansman, founder of Labour left group Momentum, also spoke at the JLM meeting. But rather than defend the right to criticise Israel, he said he wished Labour had adopted the antisemitism definition earlier.
Yet as the meeting showed, giving in to the right’s demands only opens the door to more attacks on the left and the right to support Palestinians.
The best way to respond to the attacks is to speak up for Palestinians and argue why it’s right to call Israel a racist state.
People at the PSC meeting promised to take Palestinian flags into conference on the day of the Palestinian debate. They wanted to, in the words of the PSC’s Ben Jamal, “be a sea of Palestinian flags” on the conference floor.
One speaker from the floor spoke of her recent trip to Palestine and said, “We must not be scared by the IHRA.”
And there was applause for Palestinian write Ghada Karmi when she finished the meeting with, “One of the mistakes made by this party and its leadership has been not to face their accusers head on.
“You have to face them head on.”