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UK Labour Party officials block debate on motion calling for sanctions on Israel

Thousands attend a protest organised by the Stop the War Coalition and Palestine Solidarity Campaign in support of the Palestinian people, to mark the 71st anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, on May 11, 2019 in London, England [Tayfun Salcı / Anadolu Agency]
Thousands attend a protest organised by the Stop the War Coalition and Palestine Solidarity Campaign in support of the Palestinian people, to mark the 71st anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, on May 11, 2019 in London, England [Tayfun Salcı / Anadolu Agency]

In the latest episode of UK Labour's internal row over Israel and Palestine, party officials have blocked a debate on sanctions against the occupation state. Members were expected to debate a motion yesterday calling for sanctions on Israel but senior officials stepped in to prevent the discussion from taking place over fears that it would trigger "anti-Semitic behaviour".

The motion was meant to be discussed in the Hove and Portslade Constituency Labour Party (CLP), near Brighton in the south of England. The local Labour branch, called for Israel to "end its violation of the human rights of Palestinians" and for the UK government to "impose legal sanctions on Israel," specifically an end to arms sales and "trade with illegal settlements."

Several prominent studies concluding that Israel was practicing apartheid were cited in the motion to support a policy change towards the occupation state. The report published by Human Rights Watch in April which concluded that Israel had "crossed a threshold" required to be labeled as a state committing crimes against humanity by practicing apartheid, was among the studies cited.

Despite their being no apparent problems with the motion, the chair of the Hove and Portslade Constituency Labour Party (CLP) is said to have ruled that members would not be allowed to even discuss it.

READ: British MP demands action against Israel as civilian casualties mount in Palestine

The discussion "would undermine the party's ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular Jewish members," a regional party officer had advised her, the chair is reported saying in the Electronic Intifada. It was claimed that "the motion from Goldsmid and Hove Park branch requesting sanctions against Israel risks opening a debate that will stir up internal conflict in our CLP and may lead to further anti-Semitic behaviour." No further explanation was given, or what "anti-Semitic behaviour" would allegedly be opened up by a motion calling specifically for sanctions against a state that prominent rights groups have said is practising apartheid.

Critics have pointed out that the position taken by the chair is itself anti-Semitic as it assumes that all Jewish members of Labour will be pro-Israel and opposed to sanctions against the violent, racist state. One of the examples listed in the controversial definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the Labour Party states that equating Israeli policy with Jews is a form of Jew-hatred.

The blocking of a debate on the motion comes as Labour leader Kier Starmer has come under repeated criticism over his position on Israel and Palestine. Last week Starmer was warned that he is at risk of deepening the fracture within the Labour Party and triggering mass defection if he fails to demonstrate a commitment to real policy change towards Palestine and address the growing scourge of Islamophobia.

Earlier this month Starmer pressed on Prime Minster Boris Johnson to advocate for a Palestinian state during G7 talks in Cornwall. Speaking from the dispatch box during Prime Minister's Questions, the Labour leader used his final question to highlight Israel's latest aggression on Gaza and the occupied West Bank while urging Johnson to support the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.

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