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AT Labour conference last year, Jeremy Corbyn’s call for the party to give “real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people” provoked the loudest applause of his entire speech.
In fact, any conference speaker who raised the issue of Palestine was met with deafening cheers. This spoke to the instinctive recognition by Labour grassroots members of the grave injustice of Israel’s decades long denial of Palestinian rights and, what’s more, their desire to see real action to end it.
The huge level of support for Palestinians within the Labour Party reflects a broader trend in British public opinion.
A poll commissioned last year by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) showed that twice as many people in the UK population overall sympathised with the Palestinian cause over Israel.
The contrast was even more marked in the younger generations. People under 50 were four times as likely to support Palestinians, while among 18 to 24-year-olds that rose to five times as likely.
On top of this, almost half the public felt that Britain should review its trade and financial relationships with illegal Israeli settlements. Almost a third were in fact ready to support a ban on importing settlement goods right now.
Perhaps most importantly, 43 per cent of those surveyed felt the Palestinian call for boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) was reasonable — more than three times the number who felt it was not.
This evidence reflects the extent to which all the main British political parties are out of step with public opinion in terms of their policy on Palestine.
The diminishing public support for the status quo when it comes to policy on Israel/Palestine speaks to the crisis of legitimacy faced by Israel.
Just as the election of Donald Trump emboldened the right the world over, Israel has abandoned all constraint in its extension and exertion of power over Palestinian lives since the US president came to power. Its far-right government knows it can count on Trump’s support no matter what.
But this had made it harder for Israel to hide the real nature of the regime of oppression it has established behind a facade of a normal functioning liberal democracy. Despite the slick hasbara, reality breaks through.
The reality is that 2017 saw the greatest rate of settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since Oslo.
The reality is that Israel has tightened its siege on Gaza and responded brutally, with live fire, to unarmed protesters in the Great March of Return.
Since these demonstrations began on March 30, at least 173 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more injured.
The reality is that the nation-state law passed in July officially codified the institutional discrimination which has long been rampant in Israel, constituting the final nail in the coffin for the myth of a “democratic” Israel.
It cemented with constitutional weight already existing laws such as those allowing 43 per cent of towns and villages in Israel to remain Jewish only and exclude residency to Palestinian citizens.
And in the past month we have seen the United States action — at Benjamin Netanyahu’s request — to defund UNRWA. This is part of a project not just to debilitate an agency responsible for the direct welfare of millions of refugees but to redefine the status of the refugees to remove their inalienable and UN-stipulated right of return.
But in a year when the need for concrete action such as a two-way arms embargo should have been top of the agenda, debate has instead focused on the question of the right to legitimately criticise Israel.
Specifically, there have been attempts to redefine anti-semitism in a way that suggests it is anti-semitic to accurately describe Israel’s racist laws, policies and practices and advocate action to address them.
In August, Palestinian civil society wrote directly to the Labour Party.
Their message was simple — end British complicity in supporting Israel’s system of oppression and stand on the right side of history.
Help us struggle against apartheid and win equal rights for all.
With urgency and clarity, they called for unambiguous condemnation of all forms of racism, an official endorsement of a military embargo on Israel and unequivocal support for Palestinian rights.
It’s time to turn the conversation back to the Palestinian people. It’s time to address the facts of their historical and continuing dispossession under an Israeli system which allocates rights according to racial and ethno-religious identity. It’s time to put our energies into meaningful solidarity.
That’s why PSC is calling for a day of solidarity with Palestinians at conference on Tuesday September 25. On that day, we’ll be giving out hundreds of Palestinian flags so delegates can express their support.
Throughout conference, we ask you to come to the PSC stall to have a photo taken holding a solidarity sign of your choice: “I Support Palestine,” “Stop Arming Israel” or “Boycott Divestment Sanctions.”
Tweet your messages and videos of support using the hashtag #Labour4Palestine.
In addition, we will be distributing draft CLP motions on a range of campaign issues, including building support for an arms embargo and advancing the movement for boycott divestment and sanctions.
Palestinians have asked the labour movement, alongside the whole of British civil society, to act in support of freedom, justice and equality. At this conference, it’s time for Labour to answer that call.
Ben Jamal is the director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
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