Writing for the Spectator this week, journalist and author Peter Oborne asked if the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) is having a chilling effect on British politics. Protesting that “the Tories never condemn the naked racism of Benjamin Netanyahu, Oborne observed that , “[T]he CFI pulled off what looks like yet another coup with the remarkably muted British government reaction to Israel’s killing… on the Gaza border.”
The sway that CFI has over the vast majority of Tory MPs, Oborne claimed, has obvious historical parallels with when similarly powerful institutions had such an effect on politics. Citing the former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who remarked that, “There are three bodies no sensible man ever directly challenges: the Roman Catholic Church, the Brigade of Guards and the National Union of Mineworkers,” Oborne suggested that “today it’s tempting to add a fourth name to this list: the Conservative Friends of Israel.”
Denouncing the silence of the CFI over the killing of Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces in Gaza, Oborne asked what many this week have been asking about the group’s sister organisation, the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI): “Is it simply the London outpost for Netanyahu’s Likud party?”
While it appears that the accusation has not been given the attention it deserves within the Conservative Party, Labour is experiencing a mini crisis over the behaviour of Labour Friends of Israel. The one-sided tweet issued by the pro-Israel lobby group, which blamed Palestinians for getting shot by Israeli soldiers, was widely condemned. LFI was forced to change its statement, and further humiliation followed when it later apologised for what many denounced as callous disregard for Palestinian lives.
A source close to the Labour Party has told MEMO that two MPs were so outraged by LFI’s controversial comment that they have deserted the group. Judging by the reaction of senior members of the party and other Labour-affiliated organisations, dissatisfaction with LFI appears to run deep within Britain’s main opposition party.
Grahame Morris MP, the Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, has told MEMO that he was “deeply disturbed to see the callous remarks” tweeted by Labour Friends of Israel. “To lay blame with the Palestinians for their own deaths is victim blaming,” he insisted, “and to over emphasise the role of Hamas, using them as a scarecrow, is a complete misrepresentation of what took place.”
Citing statements released by its organisers, Morris pointed out that, “The Great Return March was organised by Palestinian civil society and non-affiliated groups as a protest against the dispossession of the Palestinian people and in support of their right to return to their homes from which they were expelled in the Nakba.”
The MP for Easington called on LFI to “reassess their position, ensuring not to echo the positions of the parties making up the Likud-led coalition in the Israeli government.” He went on to suggest that his parliamentary colleagues might also wish to rethink their support for Labour Friends of Israel at this time. “Organisations which use the name of the Labour party, and seek to influence the views of Labour MPs, have a responsibility to ensure that they sign up to and abide by policies, principles and statements made by the party.”
Pointing out the conflict between the values of the Labour Party and Israel, Morris said: “Both Israeli society and Israeli politics has lurched far to the right. Organisations such as LFI, whose primary goal is to support Israel and build ties between Labour UK and Israeli Labour, appear to be engaged in efforts to defend the indefensible when they promote policies that are out of touch with reality and bear no resemblance to the values of our party.”
Ultimately, the Labour MP concluded, it is for LFI to determine its direction and way forward. “However, I hope that in future it will acknowledge the important role of international law, justice and equality as the best pathway to peace, an end to violence and conflict, and the realisation of the two-state solution that we all wish to see.”
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