Delegates to Labour Party conference sent a resounding message of solidarity to Palestinians on Tuesday.
The floor of the conference hall was a sea of waving Palestinian flags as delegates passed a motion supporting Palestinians. It condemned the racist treatment of Palestinian refugees by Israel and US president Donald Trump, and the massacres of protesters in Gaza.
Delegates cheered and chanted “Free Palestine” as delegate Colin Monehen from Harlow moved the motion.
“I want to say this to every Palestinian—we have heard you from the darkness and we cannot and will not ignore you,” he said.
The motion slammed the decision of US president Donald Trump to cut funding to UNRWA, “which provides emergency assistance and basic provisions to Palestinian victims of the Nakba of 1948, when the majority of Palestinian people were forcible displaced from their homes.
“Conference condemns this aggressive attempt to rewrite history, and erase the victims of the 1948 war, who were expelled or fled from their homes in Palestine.”
It also highlighted the killings of protesters in Gaza demanding their right to return to the land they were expelled from in 1948. And it called for an end to British arms sales to Israel.
Seconding the motion, Zahed Ali from Wolverhampton South West said, “The great return march is a broad-based and popular protest by the Palestinians to make their voices heard. They are willing to die to make their voices heard.
“We must stand with the Palestinians, not least because our own government is complicit when it sells arms to Israel.”
Ali Ahmed from Cardiff Central described the racism of the Israeli state he experienced on a recent trip to Palestine. “When I was going to Tel Aviv I was stopped for one hour. When I was coming out of Palestine I was stopped for four hours.
“Why? Because my name was Ali Ahmed. Just because of my name and my skin colour.”
The Labour right were outraged that the issue of Palestine had even reached the conference floor.
Right wing faction Labour First—whose chief organiser Luke Akehurst is a full time director of We Believe in Israel—described the debate as “divisive” before it had even happened.
And Daily Mail commentator Dan Hodges said debating Palestine meant “taunting one of Britain’s minority communities.
“That is the purpose of today’s debate on Palestine. To say to Britain’s Jews ‘we are antisemitic and there is nothing you can do about it’”.
Supporters of Israel have relentlessly sought to link solidarity with Palestine to antisemitism.
They want support for Israel to be seen as an integral part of Jewishness—and criticism of the Israeli state as inherently antisemitic.
After months of attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and the left, Labour adopted a definition of antisemitism that says it is unacceptable to “describe the existence of a state of Israel as a racist endeavour”.
This has been used to clamp down on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. Anyone who points out Palestinians were ethnically cleansed during Israel’s creation—or supports a one state solution for Arabs and Jews—could face accusations of antisemitism.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry encouraged the idea that criticism of the racist state’s right to exist is tantamount to antisemitism in her conference speech.
She said some people “use support for Palestine as a cloak for their sickening hatred of the Jewish people and their desire to see Israel destroyed”.
She then added, "Those people stand for everything that we have always stood against and they must be kicked out of our party in the same way that we kicked [1930s fascist] Oswald Mosley out of Liverpool."
Chair Rhea Wolfson also tried to shut one delegate down for suggesting that accusations of antisemitism were “slurs,” used by supporters of Israel.
Delegate Steve Lapsley from Derby South spoke in favour of the motion and said he offered “solidarity to my Palestinian brothers and sisters.”
But he also suggested the motion, “shows no recognition to genuine internationalism. If we condemn one right wing regime, we condemn them all.
“There are many in the Jewish community asking, why only Israel. Why has it taken so long to recognise the fears of the British community?”
But other speakers said it was right to focus on Israel because of Britian’s complicity in its crimes.
Claire Lees from the Unite union said, “Britain has a responsibility for creating the plight of the refugees in the first place.”
And Mansoor Ayub from Wycombe said, “This motion highlights the injustices suffered by the Palestinian people—injustices begun by the British Empire.
“This summer shows the urgent need for education about British history. We have much to learn as a party—not least about the Nakba and why the Palestinians were made refugees.”