While Palestinians are being killed and injured in their hundreds by Israeli occupation forces in Gaza, here in the UK, the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) has stoked controversy with a tweet that appears to blame the victims of Israeli aggression for the violence.
The lobby group, which has the support of over 80 Labour MPs and is at the centre of the recent anti-Semitism row, took to Twitter to comment on clashes between Palestinians protesting against the US embassy opening in Jerusalem and Israeli occupation forces.
More than 61 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 3,000 have been injured in the past 24 hours. There are, however, no reports of any Israeli casualties. Despite this fact the LFI directed its condemnation for the violence at the Palestinians and accused protestors of inciting their own killing.
In its tweet, LFI said: “Tragic events on the Gazan border; all civilian deaths are regrettable. Hamas must accept responsibility for these events. Their successful attempts to hijack peaceful protest as a cover to attack Israeli border communities must be condemned by all who seek peace in the Middle East.”
The comment quickly sparked controversy on social media. Critics pointed out that the pro-Israeli group at the centre of a witch-hunt against the Labour leader Jeremey Corbyn had dropped its mask and shown its true face. The lobby group was denounced as nothing but “Labour apologists for Netanyahu”, in reference to the Israeli prime minister.
Some denounced LFI saying “the most inappropriately named organisation in British politics is Labour Friends of Israel when they pretend to care about anti-Semitism while only focusing on covering up for Israeli foreign policy and attacking anyone critical of it”.
Others pointed out that LFI, which claims to support a two-state solution and has called on Corbyn to show “balance” did nothing apart from blaming the Palestinians for their own deaths.
More importantly for the Labour Party, LFI was accused of “making a mockery of Labour values”. Labour party members reacted in disgust saying that the tweet was “deeply concerning” and called on all Labour MPs to denounce the lobby group and carefully consider their support for an organisation that saw fit to write a tweet that seemed to blame the victims for the deaths.
Labour members appalled by the tweet called for the LFI to be investigated because they believe the Pro-Israeli group brings the Labour party into disrepute. LFI was denounced as a mouth piece for the current Israeli government, whose members include settlers and members of the Knesset that openly call for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and oppose the two-state solution. Twitter users pointed out that LFI was in direct conflict with the policies of the Labour Party.
Critics went on to highlight the work of LFI. The lobby group was accused of “amplifying the worst extreme right-wing Zionist propaganda by the Likud government” and having “nothing whatsoever to do with the professed values of the Labour Party”. A former British diplomat even concluded that LFI was nothing but a “well-funded entryist front solely intended to promote the interests of a violent, expansionist and aggressive foreign state.”
LFI’s work in whitewashing Israeli aggression and defending ongoing Israeli colonisation has, of late, been the centre of attention . Most recently, it has been embroiled in the anti-Semitism row that has gripped the Labour Party. Critics have pointed out that the allegations are a witch-hunt led by Blairites, LFI and a number of pro-Israeli Jewish groups in the UK. The lobby group’s chair, MP Joan Ryan, was even caught by an undercover Al Jazeera investigation fabricating allegations of anti-Semitism against a party member who questioned Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The torrent of criticism forced LFI to delete the tweet but its second statement did little to fix its image.
Statement from LFI on yesterday's violence on the Gazan border. pic.twitter.com/jmSFx3uqTs
— Labour Friends of Israel (@_LFI) May 15, 2018
Twitter users pounced on the revised statement saying that it displayed callous disregard for the death of Palestinians.
One activist wrote: “Hi @_LFI I see you’re trying to change up your press release from yesterday a little bit and yet you still manage to be absolutely atrocious & inhumane with your words…. ‘minimise civilian casualties’??? This isn’t a war between two opposing militaries it’s a one-sided massacre”.
The revised statement was seen by some as being “somewhat less awful but it’s still absolutely awful. The message I get from reading this is that you think some lives are less important than others”?
MEMO contacted a number of Labour MPs who are members of LFI, including its Chair Ryan and Vice Chair Louise Ellman, about the comments to see if they agree with the lobby group’s statement but has so far received no response.
This morning, Ryan made a statement at the British Houses of Parliament which more or less repeated the tweet from yesterday. “The death toll on the Gazan border yesterday was truly terrible and the violence must stop. Hamas must end its cynical exploitation of the peace process and the IDF must show restraint and do all they can to minimise civilian casualties [MEMO emphasis],” Ryan said.