Labour’s Relationship to Zionism and the Israeli State

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The authors of this ‘pamphlet’, are all Labour Party members, all members of the health professions. Over the last year there has been a concerted effort to bully the Party into silence on Israel/Palestine, and we have witnessed the Party leadership buckle under the pressure. This campaign aimed, first, to confuse the struggle for civil rights in Israel/Palestine with racial prejudice; and, second, to demonise the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, a grass roots, human rights-based movement of non-co-operation with institutions complicit in Israel’s Occupation, undertaken in response to a call from the collective voice of Palestinian civil society. Our opportunity to express and act upon the compassion and solidarity we feel for the Palestinian people is at risk of being seriously eroded.

Our points of view and those of others like us have been made to sound controversial in the UK, although there is little here that has not been put forward in the pages of Israel’s own daily newspaper, Haaretz. We expect our efforts to be met with counter-arguments, and not further witch hunting. In this way, we hope that the membership will have the opportunity to appraise the relative merits of different points of view in the light of our shared ideals.

Introduction

Last year there was a spate of accusations of anti-Semitism levelled against seasoned anti-racists in the Labour Party. Leading politicians, the BBC, the Guardian and the wider media gave these allegations credence, leaving it to an undercover journalist from the Al Jazeera news channel to expose the politically-motivated lobbying that lay behind the ‘scandal’.

Trump’s election, the real racism of the populist Right, and the danger it poses to democratic life and world peace, puts this local hysteria into perspective. But the questions raised by Al Jazeera’s series ‘The Lobby’ remain unanswered, brushed under the carpet by both the Israeli embassy and the British Government.

The Labour Party featured heavily in these programmes: Israeli officials worked closely with Party activists to undermine those concerned with Palestinian rights, fabricating accusations to bully and harass political opponents. The tactics were unacceptable; moreover the cause they were working for is, we argue, fundamentally at odds with the stated aims and philosophy of the Labour Party.

Central to the attempt to influence Labour Party opinion was the lobby group ‘Labour Friends of Israel’ (henceforth LFI). In this paper we will not comment further on the behind the scenes shenanigans which ‘The Lobby’ exposed, (they have been going on for a long time), but respond to LFI’s open and public platform, the material it has placed on its own website.

A short while ago, Louise Ellman, then Chair of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), declared that it was a ‘grotesque smear’ to suggest an Apartheid system operated in Israel/Palestine. With a flourish she dismissed the opinions of many experienced commentators including South African veterans of their own struggle against racism, who report that the conditions faced by Palestinians are in fact worse than those faced by Black South Africans.  What is missing from the public debate has been any attention to detail: to come to a sound conclusion we need to assess the nature of the relationship between the Israeli State and the Palestinian people against the legal definition of Apartheid in the appropriate UN Convention.  It is a crucial question: Louse Ellman is using her considerable moral authority to deny the experiences of those on the ground.

Additionally Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, recently  declared that ‘the things LFI does – promoting a two-state solution, opposing the BDS movement and supporting those fighting for peace and coexistence – are good things to do, but they are a moral responsibility too for all of us, a commandment’. The ‘enemy’ here is represented by the Palestine solidarity movement. How do we account for this polarisation, when there is such a broad coalition in civil society, including church groups, trade unions and anti-racist movements across the world, convinced that the protection of Palestinian communities and the promotion of Palestinian rights is of critical importance, and indeed a moral responsibility?

Labour’s support for Zionism goes back a long way. There are many reasons why, in the aftermath of the Nazi genocide, the establishment of a Jewish homeland appealed to the Left’s humanitarian ideals. Left-wing interest in Zionism was encouraged too by the idea of the Kibbutz as the basis for a more egalitarian society, and the expectation that a socialist Israel could, by example, undermine the feudalism thought to characterise Middle Eastern societies. How Labour’s identification with the Zionist project has survived the subsequent history of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people down to the present day is much more difficult to understand. Despite the election of the most extreme right wing, pro-settler government in Israel’s history, LFI claims that their support amongst Labour MP’s is growing. We need to turn to the information provided by LFI to find out how this group of activists understand and promote Israel, and in what sense they are its ‘friends’…

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Pamphlet contents

  • Forward
  • Introduction
  • What is Zionism?
  • What does it mean to be a progressive today?
  • What do we find on the LFI website: ‘the two state solution’
  • LFI, Zionism and British democracy
  • The International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace: ‘for Israel, for Palestine, for peace’
  • Modern Day Fellow Travellers
  • LFI and Human Rights
  • Zionism and anti-Semitism
  • What you will not find on the LFI website
  • Conclusion: what kind of a group is Labour Friends of Israel?
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