As in previous years, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign will be hosting a meeting at the Labour Party Conference and has booked an exhibition stand at the venue. Our fringe meeting has for many years been one of the best attended at the Conference.
However, earlier this week, Young Labour revealed they had been informed by a party official that they could not invite PSC to address one of their events at Conference. When pressed for a reason, they were informed that PSC’s positions were ‘controversial’. PSC made its own enquiries and was informed by well-placed sources that a high ranking official had stated that PSC’s support for the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) might violate the IHRA definition of antisemitism. After strong representations from Young Labour and from PSC, Young Labour were informed in a meeting late on Wednesday that this had been a mistake, that PSC could of course be invited and an apology was given.
We have no desire to exaggerate the nature of this incident. PSC was not banned from the Conference and the message that we were not suitable to be on a Young Labour platform was quickly reversed after interventions. However, it is impossible to ignore the context within which this issue arose and the broader concerns to which it speaks.
The key question is how can it be that 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 antisemitic by a senior official within the Labour Party?
The answer of course 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 antisemitism. 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.
A ruling by the European Court of Human Rights found advocacy for BDS to be a protected form of freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgment that Israel’s system of oppression over Palestinians meets the definition of apartheid is one now shared by B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights organisation and Human Rights Watch.
Despite these realities, there is a coordinated effort to try to define such advocacy to be antisemitic, and at the heart of the heart of this campaign is the utilisation of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. The effect is to create a cloud of suspicion around raising the cause of Palestine, which leads to a chilling effect. It leads directly to a climate within which a senior official in the Labour Party can conclude that it is ‘safer’ not to invite PSC lest the charge of antisemitism arise.
In 2018, when the Labour Party was being placed under enormous pressure by pro-Israel groups to adopt the IHRA, PSC was amongst many organisations who lobbied the NEC and the then General Secretary warning of the dangers of its adoption. Our minimal demand, if the party were to succumb to that pressure, was that significant safeguards would need to be introduced to ensure protection of the right to raise the facts of the oppression faced by Palestinians and to call for action to address them. Since that time the evidence of how the IHRA definition is being used to suppress freedom of expression has mounted, as has the chorus of voices bringing attention to these facts.
Significantly, earlier this year a group of more than 200 mostly Israeli, but entirely Jewish scholars of antisemitism and the Holocaust produced the Jerusalem Declaration. This definition of antisemitism creates a useful tool for combatting hatred of Jewish people without the pitfalls of the IHRA definition’s conflation of antisemitism with legitimate advocacy for Palestinian rights.
PSC and allied organisations, including representatives of the Palestinian community in Britain, has made numerous attempts to meet with Keir Starmer and with David Evans to discuss these concerns. We are now pushing again for this meeting to take place in the aftermath of this latest incident. The key item we wish to discuss is the action the leadership will be taking to ensure that the space to discuss the oppression faced by Palestinians and the necessary action to address it is fully protected in the Labour Party.
Our ask of the Labour Party as a whole is of course much broader. It is to live up to its values as an internationalist movement which stands always with the oppressed and never with the oppressor. We are asking CLPs to debate and take to Conference this motion which articulates the immediate actions the Labour Party should be taking to show solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for justice.
We look forward to welcoming Labour Party members to our exhibition stand and to our fringe meeting on Sunday September 26th. Free Palestine!