The current debate about alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and the ensuing clamour for eradicating this scourge from British politics is one that British Palestinians have followed with great interest; there has also been some concern. All British Palestinians I have spoken to over the past week or so have been troubled by this controversy. First, the presence of anti-Semitism – which we abhor – in this country, as well as the impact that this storm may have on campaigning for Palestinian rights and a just solution to our cause. There are many Jews in the Palestine solidarity movement in this country who are robust in their condemnation of Israel's contempt for international law and who support strong measures to bring pressure to bear on the state until it accepts and follows the laws and conventions that the rest of the world is expected to abide by. And, indeed, until the Palestinian people obtain their freedom and legitimate rights. They support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign because they see it as a peaceful campaigning tool and because it makes legal and moral demands. We as Palestinians are horrified if some BDS colleagues face hatred in this country simply for being Jews; if, indeed, any Jew is thus persecuted.
We are, however, troubled that the recent storm engulfing the Labour Party and, in particular, Bradford North MP Naz Shah and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, two supporters of Palestinian rights, has given Israel's apologists, including senior politicians, the opportunity to expand the definition of anti-Semitism rather deviously to effectively include not only criticism of Israel but outrage at what it does. This is not clever nuancing, but disingenuous and dangerous scheming.
The Labour Party has initiated an inquiry into anti-Semitism and the two Labour politicians should have a fair opportunity to explain their remarks; it will then be up to the party to decide what the consequences should be. I believe that one of the challenges the inquiry has to wrestle with will be precisely what definition of anti-Semitism is used to decide guilt or otherwise. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has published a document which may help them in their endeavours. It includes a repudiation of the claim that there is an accepted definition of anti-Semitism that conflates what we have traditionally understood this to mean with criticism of Israel, the so called and discredited definition prepared by the European Union Monitoring Committee (EUMC) on Racism and Xenophobia.
Over the past few days I have heard claims that this storm has been manufactured in order to damage Labour's chances in the 5 May elections and that once this has passed people will sit and wait for the fallout. If Labour does badly then the pressure for a change of leader will mount. Some are even claiming that the groundwork for replacing Jeremy Corbyn, a well-known supporter of Palestinians and, even more importantly, an anti-racist campaigner for justice and human rights, has started in earnest. But what if Labour does well at the polls? Would that indicate that there is a much wider problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and its supporters or will it simply indicate that the British people also have other issues that concern them that impact on their daily lives and they see Labour as a preferred alternative to the Conservative Party? Pro-Israel supporters cannot tolerate a party led by a politician who supports Palestine and this has been troubling them since he was elected as leader last year.
As far as British Palestinians are concerned, we seek support for our liberation movement from across the political spectrum, racists and bigots excluded. Our cause is a just one – and supported by international law – and so we expect that those campaigning for justice, equality and human rights across the globe will join us in our quest for freedom and independence. Hence, we need to ensure that they are not hesitant about supporting our cause for fear of being labelled racists and, in particular, anti-Semites. This is where we see the long-term danger from the current storm.
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We believe that Israel's declared policy to tackle and intimidate both individuals and organisations campaigning for Palestine by labelling them as anti-Semites is in full flow, aided by organisations in Britain which either lobby for Israel explicitly or operate a dual role by claiming to represent the Jewish community while placing Israel at the top of their list of lobbying objectives with decision-makers, especially governments. There is, of course, nothing illegal about this. We Palestinians and our supporters also lobby for government pressure on Israel to end its illegal and racist policies.
It is, though, not acceptable to find government ministers, including senior figures such as Justice Secretary Michael Gove, spouting Israeli hasbara (propaganda). Take, for example, his recent declaration that the BDS movement is worse than Apartheid and his labelling of those committed to the BDS movement as anti-Semites. Neither is true, but when said with the authority of a Secretary of State it is dangerous simply because of the office he holds. In labelling BDS as anti-Semitic he is actually labelling myself and many other Palestinians who support the peaceful movement as a Jew-hater. I and, no doubt, all of my fellow British Palestinians, reject and condemn such an accusation. This label is extended to our supporters, many of whom in the past campaigned against Apartheid in South Africa until it collapsed and continue to campaign on other issues in support of the oppressed. Gove is not the only senior politician to level such accusations.
We British Palestinians stand with our Jewish fellow citizens in their fight against anti-Semitism and our joint fight against any form of racism in this country and elsewhere. We ask them equally to understand that we support peaceful means for ending Israel's occupation, racism and its refusal to implement the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to our country. The BDS movement is a peaceful tool for achieving this. Labelling it and therefore many Palestinians as anti-Semites is inaccurate, wrong and dangerous. Please stop it. It does not help to achieve peace. It is both possible and reasonable to want anti-Semitism eradicated and still campaign for sanctions on Israel until it ends its occupation and oppression.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.