Stories

Britain’s election and the fate of the Palestinians

Britain faces a fateful choice on Thursday.

Vote Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party into government or return the Conservative Party’s Boris Johnson as prime minister.

The fate of the Palestinians, always shoved to the end of the line, has not been an issue with any kind of national profile in the course of this wretched election campaign.

In part, this is simply because as voters in Britain, we naturally have our own pressing domestic concerns – especially the gradual sell-off of the National Health Service.

But in large part it is also down to a four-year long witch hunt over a non-existent “Labour anti-Semitism crisis.”

This has made many sympathetic Labour politicians fearful to even discuss Palestine. They know the Israel lobby will immediately jump down their throats.

Jeremy Corbyn, a decades-long veteran of the Palestine solidarity movement, has cowered before this relentless smear campaign.

Labour

But the Israel lobby has not had things all its own way.

Grassroots activists have fought back and the Labour Party has been dragged – kicking and screaming – into the movement for justice in Palestine.

The contrast between Corbyn’s Labour and Johnson’s Tories on the issue is stark.

Corbyn, after all, is the man who told me in a 2015 interview that Palestinian refugees “deserve their right to return home.”

Despite the fact that this is a simple expression of international law as embodied in UN General Assembly Resolution 194, it is unprecedented for any major British party leader to support the Palestinian right of return.

Corbyn’s recognition of the Nakba – the central crime of Zionism in 1948, when the majority of Palestinians were expelled at the barrel of a gun from their homeland – was finally cemented in Labour Party policy earlier this year.

After a long grassroots struggle, delegates at the party’s conference voted almost unanimously to recognize this crime done under the auspices of British imperialism – and to support the right of return.

Only five years ago, that would have been impossible to even imagine.

The same delegates also voted for Labour to impose an arms embargo on Israel. This was the second year running the conference had endorsed this key demand of the Palestinian-led movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

While the call to recognize the Palestinian right of return has not yet been translated into policy, this year’s election manifesto does contain a committment to end British arms sales to Israel and to Saudi Arabia.

Conservatives

The Conservative manifesto is the polar opposite.

It contains a threat to ban local authorities from boycotting foreign countries – a move clearly aimed at protecting Israel.

In contrast to Labour’s call for the right of return, Conservative leader Boris Johnson has called Israel’s foundation – and by implication the Nakba – “one of the most stunning political achievements” of the 20th century.

When Johnson was foreign minister in 2017, an undercover Al Jazeera investigation exposed the depths of Israeli interference in both main British political parties.

But although Israeli embassy agent Shai Masot had been caught on camera mocking him as an “idiot,” Johnson rushed to help the Israelis cover-up the affair. He swiftly accepted an insincere apology by the Israeli embassy and declared the matter closed.

Should Johnson win this election his home affairs minister will almost certainly be the incumbent, Priti Patel.

In 2017, Patel was forced to resign as a government minister, after a national scandal broke out over secret meetings she had held with Israelis.

Currying favor with Israel

Supposedly part of a “holiday” in Israel, she had actually discussed British policy towards the country during those meetings with minister, business leaders and lobbyists.

Since they were not properly arranged by her governmental department, or attended by civil servants, the meetings were deemed to be in violation of ministerial rules. This led to her forced resignation.

But Johnson brushed all this under the carpet earlier this year when he took over the party, rehabilitating her as his new home secretary.

It is worth remembering what Patel was actually up to in Israel.

Her meetings were arranged by Stuart Polak, a member of Britain’s unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords. He is a leading figure in Conservative Friends of Israel, a pressure group within the ruling party.

Government ministers at the time “accused Ms. Patel of trying to win favor with wealthy pro-Israeli Conservative donors,” according to the BBC.

One of her meetings was with Gilad Erdan, the Israeli minister in charge of Israel’s semi-covert global war against the BDS movement.

The choice is clear

There’s no guarantee that if Labour wins on Thursday it will actually enact the arms embargo against Israel.

But at least there is party policy in place that can be used by activists to keep demanding the ban.

With the Conservatives back in government, there would instead be a guarantee that British ties with Israel and persecution of the Palestine solidarity movement will ramp up.

The choice for British voters who care about human rights in Palestine is clear.

(Source: The Electronic Intifada)

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