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By our parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt
DELEGATES at the Labour Party conference overwhelmingly backed a motion expressing solidarity with Palestine and condemning Israel’s apartheid policies today, delivering another grassroots rebuke to the party leadership.
The passing of Young Labour’s historic motion, which marks the first time a major British political party has backed the United Nations’ definition of Israel as an apartheid state, came after shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy failed to mention the country’s occupation of Palestine in her keynote speech.
The motion, passed by a show of hands after only a handful of people were allowed to urge support for it, also called for a ban on “any arms trade used to violate Palestinian human rights,” and demanded that Labour “stand on the right side of history,” condemn illegal settler violence and demand an end to the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza.
It was backed by a host of trade unions, including the GMB, whose national president Barbara Plant urged those in the conference hall to vote in favour.
A massive majority of delegates have also voted for motions calling for public ownership of key industries — a move rejected by Sir Keir Starmer on Sunday despite his backing for it during the leadership election campaign — and for a new wave of council housing to be built, a policy the party’s top team has failed to endorse explicitly.
Reacting to the vote, Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) chair Kamel Hawwash said: “We welcome this important and historic motion, which represents a significant step for Labour in acknowledging the reality of the system of apartheid imposed by Israel on Palestinians.
“Despite huge pressure imposed on Labour to reverse policy commitments made at conference in 2018 and 2019, this demonstrates the strength of solidarity with the Palestinian people among Labour’s grassroots members and within the trade union movement.
“It is time impunity ended and accountability started.”
It followed TUC congress motions passed in 2020 and 2021 that also acknowledged reports identifying Israel as practising the crime of apartheid as defined under the Rome Statute.
The vote came after Young Labour chair Jess Barnard condemned the party for allegedly describing the fight for Palestinians’ right to self-determination as “too controversial” a topic for Labour’s annual get-together, taking place in Brighton.
The party’s bureaucracy was forced to backtrack and apologise for a “mistake” after initially telling the grassroots group that the PSC would be banned from speaking at its events during conference.
Speaking at a Palestinian rights fringe evening on Monday night, Ms Barnard said: “We stand with Palestinians in their right to freedom, their right to justice, their right to their lands.
“And if it is controversial for us to call on our party, our government, to stop arming Israel, then let’s be controversial.”
She said the party’s actions are a “shame on anyone who calls themselves a socialist, anyone who claims to represent workers, [and] anyone who claims to be anti-imperialist.
“The actions of the [Labour] leadership did not represent Labour. They represent the behaviour of people who flee cowardly away from issues of justice. It’s the actions of people who are afraid to stand up for what is right.”
Labour delegates also backed an emergency motion condemning the Aukus pact with the US and Australia against China, saying it was “a dangerous move that undermines world peace.” Sir Keir has publicly welcomed the pact.
At the same meeting, Leeds East MP Richard Burgon reiterated his support for the Palestinian cause, urging the crowd to put pressure on parliamentarians to back his Bill to outlaw arms sales to Israel when it goes to the Commons in December.
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