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Palestinians voice concern over Labour’s ‘shrinking space’

A GROUP of prominent British Palestinians have spoken out over “shrinking space” in the Labour Party to discuss their people’s struggle. 

In an open letter to the party, the group, which includes academics, journalists and lawyers, expressed concern at moves by the Labour leadership to extend the application of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism.

The letter pointed to recent comments by shadow communities secretary Steve Reed urging Labour-led councils who have not signed up to the IHRA definition to do so. 

The letter alleges that the leadership has ignored reports of councils using the definition to “limit the rights of Palestinians.” 

This was seen in 2018 when Tower Hamlets council in east London refused permission for a Palestinian solidarity bike ride over fears that it could breach anti-semitism guidelines. 

British Palestinian Policy Council co-founder Atallah Said, a signatory of the letter, said: “Internationalism and the principle of solidarity with the oppressed is at the heart of the Labour movement. 

“These principles should commit Labour to opposing all forms of racism, including the racist laws and policies of the state of Israel that have created a system of apartheid which denies rights to the Palestinian people. 

“The Labour leadership must make clear that it will not adopt any procedures or polices that support the silencing of Palestinian voices and derail principled support for their campaign for justice.” 

Pro-Palestinian campaigners argue that the IHRA definition seeks to silence legitimate criticism of Israel by conflating condemnation of zionism and Israel’s laws and policies with anti-semitism. 

Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and a member of the British Palestinian Policy Council, said that the definition was being used as a “key tool” to “smear advocates of justice for Palestinians as anti-semitic.” 

“For Palestinians, the effect is to deny us the right to bring the facts of our dispossession and ongoing oppression into the public domain,” he told the Morning Star.

“For example, the IHRA is being used to suggest that accurately labelling Israel as a state practising apartheid, a view endorsed this week by the  TUC, is inherently anti-semitic. 

“The Labour Party is now forbidding [constituency parties] to even debate the concerns about the IHRA, despite these concerns having been raised by bodies such as the Institute for Race Relations and leading lawyers and scholars of anti-semitism. 

“This is a McCarthyite process that disables the anti-racist struggle, degrades democratic processes and silences Palestinian voices. It must be resisted.”

EuroPal Forum chairman Zaher Birawi said that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s election had caused “real concern” among British Palestinians due to the his support for “overtly” pro-Israel groups Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement. 

Mr Birawi told the Star: “The influence afforded to these groups under a Starmer Labour enables such groups to interpret and apply the new definition of anti-semitism in a manner that serves to increasingly prohibit legitimate expressions of solidarity with Palestine and Palestinian human rights.”

He said that the current climate in Labour had also affected the ability of Palestinians and groups to organise solidarity events within the party and communicate with its leadership. 

The Labour Party did not respond to a request for comment at the time of writing. 

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