Hundreds of supporters of the Palestinians and Jeremy Corbyn met in central London on Tuesday night to defend the right to criticise Israel.
Speakers slammed the attacks that label Corbyn and the Labour left as antisemitic—and said the real purpose was to discredit solidarity with Palestinians.
Richard Kuper of Jewish Voice for Labour said, “That the Corbyn project is under attack is in no doubt—from a large proportion of Labour’s MPS and a large proportion still of Labour’s bureaucracy.
“Labour is also under assault from the pro-Israel lobby which has been alarmed for some time about the prospect of a leader who is in favour of Palestinian rights.”
Corbyn’s enemies want Labour to adopt a definition of antisemitism that stifles legitimate criticism of Israel. They are outraged that Labour’s code of conduct on antisemitism does not say it is antisemitic to call Israel “a racist endeavour”.
This comes from an example associated with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. It has been used to shut down the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, and “Israeli Apartheid” events at universities.
British Palestinian human rights lawyer Salma Karmi-Ayyoub said, “What it’s doing is conflating a couple of things. It says the Jewish right to self-determination means the formation of an Israel. In practice it means Israel—a state in Palestine.
“So if you say, I don’t think that Israel should be in Palestine, or I don’t think Israel should be the state it is—then you are antisemitic according to the IHRA definition.”
She added, “If you’re not allowed to criticise the Zionist nature of Israel then you can’t oppose policies that flow from that. I have been accused of antisemitism by an Israeli spokesperson for saying I want the right of return.”
Corbyn has most recently been attacked for meeting with Palestinian resistance groups such as Hamas. He has been accused of standing with “terrorists” or being unfairly biased against Israel.
But Israel is an aggressive state, heavily armed by the US and Britain, which has oppressed the Palestinians for more than 70 years. Palestinians are right to resist.
Bernard Regan from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said, “The people who most delegitimise Israel are the Israeli politicians who are responsible for the massacres of Palestinians.”
Huda Elmi, a young Labour Party activist criticised the mainstream debate over antisemitism. She said, “The problem is Palestinians have been completely erased from it. They’re trying to subvert our ability to be loud and unapologetic about being anti-colonial.”
Huda said the answer has to be to “Talk about the human rights abuses against the Palestinians. We have to turn it back to that.
“We have stood consistently shoulder to shoulder with Palestinian people. We can’t take steps back from that.”
In the face of the attacks, some trade union leaders and supporters of Corbyn are calling on him to accept the example as part of Labour’s antisemitism definition. Some now talk of finding caveats that protect criticism of Israel.
But speakers at the meeting said this could only lead to more attacks. Author Tariq Ali said, “Jeremy was at his best when he took on the Palestine issue.”
Lindsey German of the Stop the War coalition said, “If the IHRA definition with all its examples is agreed by Labour’s NEC this will be seen by the Palestinians as a defeat for their cause.
“It will make it harder for them and harder for people who want to show solidarity with them in this country.”
And Rob Ferguson from Free Speech on Israel said, “If the IHRA definition is adopted—with whatever caveats—I believe we will see not a putting to bed of the question. But a vicious racking up of the witch hunt—and not just within the Labour Party.”
He added that the way to defeat the attacks is for the left to fight back with a strong movement supporting Palestine and resisting the IHRA definition.
“This represents an attack on the entire left against which we all have to unite,” he said.
“In this hall and on this platform we have different affiliations. I think most on the platform are in the Labour Party. I am in the Socialist Workers Party.
“Our strength lies in our ability to unite across those defences in a shared campaign in solidarity with Palestine.
“We have to confront them with a mass movement that will take on the fight in each campus, in every Constituency Labour Party and in the trade union movement.”
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