Britain’s Labour Party has become embroiled in another feud with its pro-Palestine members following reports that former leader Jeremy Corbyn and pressure group the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) have been banned from speaking later this month at the annual party conference.
The build up to the conference could not have got off to a worse start with reports that senior Labour officials are continuing their crackdown on pro-Palestine activism. According to the leader of Young Labour, the PSC and Corbyn, who is a patron of the pro-Palestine group, were banned from speaking at a side event organised by the party’s youth wing.
Young Labour is the umbrella group for all party members under 27 years of age. Its leadership is aligned with the party’s Left and adopts a more progressive position than that of the parliamentary Labour party. Critics say that the party has taken a very hostile anti-Palestine position under the leadership of Keir Starmer.
Details of the latest row was reported by the chair of Young Labour, Jess Barnard, in a series of tweets. “The most concrete information I have been given is that anyone from Palestine Solidarity Campaign will be refused as a speaker, as will Jeremy Corbyn,” she said. “Appalled that PSC who have had a space at conference for years would be silenced.”
In fact, it was reported that the party is refusing to allow Young Labour’s own conference to go ahead this year. Barnard pointed out that an annual Young Labour meeting is a requirement of Labour’s rule book. Moreover, she noted that she has had no contact from Starmer’s office since his election as leader last year: “No acknowledgement we exist, no reply to emails, nothing.”
A statement issued by the PSC today said that Labour had apologised for informing Young Labour that the organisation cannot be given a platform at the conference. It explained that following its conversations with informed Labour sources it emerged that a senior Labour official feared that the PSC’s support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign might violate the highly controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism. Seven of the eleven examples of anti-Semitism cited in the report conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism.
The PSC confirmed that it will have its usual stall at the Labour Party conference and a meeting at the Fringe. It will also be taking part in the Youth Rising for Palestine event hosted by the World Transformed alongside Young Labour, and the organisation will have speakers at other events during the conference.
Nevertheless, the pro-Palestine group was critical of Labour’s handling of the situation. “The key question is how can it be that the PSC, an anti-racist organisation that is the largest Palestine solidarity group in Europe, with a broad base of support and affiliations from 14 trade unions and the TUC could be considered illegitimate to provide a platform speaker?
“More deeply, how can it be that support for the call from Palestinian civil society for a campaign of BDS, a campaign rooted in anti-racist principles, could be regarded as possibly anti-Semitic by a senior official within the Labour Party?”
The group argued that the answer lies in “the significant efforts made over a long period of time by the Israeli state and its allies to delegitimise the global campaign for Palestinian rights, most particularly by conflating that campaign with anti-Semitism.”
It added that, “This programme of delegitimisation has sought to prevent the description of the oppression experienced by Palestinians as a form of apartheid; to avoid discussion of the history of ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their lands; and to block support for the Palestinian call for a programme of BDS which would continue until Israel ceases its violations of Palestinian rights.”