- Created: Wednesday, 02 June 2010 09:19
- Written by Steve Palmer
The first Labour government, led by Ramsey MacDonald
2/11/17: The article below on the Labour Party and Zionism was published in Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! nearly 35 years ago. It showed how Labour has always been a pro-Zionist party. A more recent appreciation of its position was given recently by Israeli ambassador Mark Regev, the former spokesperson for IsraeIi Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when he attended a Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) reception at Labour’s conference and commended the party’s ‘proud history of supporting Zionism’. He was joined by LFI member and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, who has ensured the removal of any Labour opposition to the occupation, the settlements or the siege of Gaza from Labour policy. She is attending a dinner in celebration of the infamous Balfour Declaration. Leader Jeremy Corbyn continues to profess support for the Palestinian people, but has also stated unequivocally: ‘I recognise and support the right of the state of Israel to exist’, adding ‘I admire the verve and spirit of the towns and cities in Israel – the life and the way people conduct themselves, I admire the separation of legal and political powers and the system of democratic government that is there.’ He cannot face two ways forever.
The British Labour Party and Zionism 
[The responsibility for establishing the Zionist state of Israel lies right here, in Britain. And the British Labour Party is the primary political instigator and supporter of the Zionist state. This article was written in 1983 to expose the role played by the Labour Party throughout its entire existence, which is continuing today through the fascistic genocidal blitzkrieg conducted by the Israelis against the people of Gaza].
The 1917 Balfour Declaration of the British government supported the ‘establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’. Though the Balfour Declaration had been issued by Tories, it was rapidly endorsed by the Labour Party and the TUC in their 'War Aims Memorandum’, adopted in December 1917:
'Palestine should be set free from the harsh and oppressive government of the Turk, in order that this country may form a Free State, under international guarantee, to which such of the Jewish people as desire to do so may return and may work out their salvation free from interference by those of alien race or religion.’
The Declaration had several imperialist aims. One was an attempt to counteract the struggle by the Bolsheviks to overthrow the Russian government and take Russia out of the imperialist war then raging. A later Colonial Office memorandum, written for Winston Churchill in 1922 explained:
‘The earliest document is a letter dated 24th April 1917 in which a certain Mr Hamilton suggested that a Zionist mission should be sent to Russia for propaganda purposes. It is clear that at that stage His Majesty’s Government were mainly concerned with the question of how Russia (then in the first stages of revolution) was to be kept in the ranks of the Allies. At the end of April the Foreign Office were consulting the British Ambassador at Petrograd as to the possible effect in Russia of a declaration by the Entente of sympathy for Jewish national aspirations. The idea was that such a declaration might counteract Jewish pacifist propaganda in Russia.’
A memorandum from Ronald Graham, Assistant Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to Lord Hardinge, Permanent Under Secretary, dated 13th June 1917, remarks:
‘We ought therefore to secure all the political advantage we can out of our connection with Zionism and there is no doubt that this advantage will be considerable, especially in Russia …’
The British imperialists were contemptuous of the indigenous Palestinian population – and said so quite openly to one another. Balfour explained in a Memorandum to Curzon that:
‘In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country … Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.’
The Declaration had been made without reference to the Palestinian people, who overwhelmingly opposed it. It was therefore inevitable that a Zionist state in Israel would be a racist state, and an outpost of imperialism in the Middle East.
It was the racist British Labour Party which was to be the midwife to the birth of the Zionist state. This was the logical outcome of the strong Zionist ties and sympathies of the Labour Party, allied to its unswerving support for British imperialism. In 1920, Paole Zion, the British section of the International Organization of Socialist Zionists, had affiliated to the Labour Party, and from the early twenties, the Zionist current in the party grew rapidly.
The central problem which taxed the Zionists, following the Balfour Declaration, was the need to build up the Jewish Zionist colony in Palestine, the Yishuv: in 1918, Jews in Palestine – the supposed homeland – formed less than 10% of the Palestinian population. Without massive Zionist immigration into the country, the plan for a Zionist state would have collapsed. By 1929 the Jewish population had nearly trebled to 156,000. The Zionists owned 4% of the land, but 14% of the cultivable area. The Zionists, vigorously supported by their racist trade union Histradut, strictly enforced a policy of exclusively Jewish employment, both on the land and in industry.
The Macdonald Letter
In August 1929, weeks after a new Labour Government had taken office, hundreds were killed and many more injured in violent riots in Jerusalem. A government enquiry showed that the root cause of the hostility between Palestinian Arabs and Jewish settlers was the expulsion of peasants from land acquired by the Zionists, and recommended curtailing further Zionist immigration. Labour Colonial Secretary, Lord Passfield (formerly Sidney Webb), issued a White Paper recommending caution over unrestricted immigration to Palestine.
The Zionists unleashed a storm of fury. The Labour Prime Minister, Ramsey MacDonald, took control of Palestine out of Passfield’s hands and passed it over to a Cabinet committee which, jointly with the Zionist Jewish Agency, drafted a letter which MacDonald read to Parliament on 13 February 1931. The letter, addressed to Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leader who was to become Israel’s first President, overturned the White Paper:
'The obligation to facilitate Jewish immigration and to encourage close settlement by Jews on the land, remains a positive obligation of the Mandate, and it can be fulfilled without prejudice to the rights and position of other sections of the population of Palestine.’
It was a testament of Labour support for Zionism, and as Weizmann remarked, the reversal in policy had a decisive effect on the establishment of the state:
‘It was under MacDonald’s letter to me that the change came about in the Government’s attitude, and in the attitude of the Palestine administration, which enabled us to make the magnificent gains of the ensuing years. It was under MacDonald’s letter that Jewish immigration into Palestine was permitted to reach figures … undreamed of in 1930.’
MacDonald also expressed the Labour government’s support for the Zionists’ policy of apartheid in employment, which was directed against the Palestinian Arabs:
‘It is necessary also to have regard to the declared policy of the Jewish Agency to the effect that in “all the works or undertakings carried out or furthered by the Agency it shall be deemed to be a matter of principle that Jewish labour shall be employed.” His Majesty’s Government do not in any way challenge the right of the Agency to formulate or approve and endorse such a policy.’
Labour’s complete contempt for the Palestinian Arabs was further confirmed by another incident recounted by Weizmann:
‘The first indication I had of the seriousness of MacDonald’s intentions was when he consulted me with regard to the appointment of a new High Commissioner to replace Sir John Chancellor.’
There is no record that the Labour Party consulted the Palestinian Arabs, expelled from land acquired by Zionists, over who they would prefer as High Commissioner.
The First Intifada – 1936-9
Throughout the 1930s, Arab resistance in Palestine to Zionist encroachment increased until it broke out into open rebellion against the British state in 1936. The rebellion began in April with the launching of a general strike which lasted six months. The British responded by dynamiting houses, criminalising freedom fighters, and killing 1,000 people. Even as the general strike was still in progress, the British Trades Union Congress (TUC), meeting in Plymouth, showed its racist support for Zionism and contempt for the Palestinians:
‘The Congress earnestly hopes that the British Government … will take all the necessary measures to bring the present disorders to an end.’
The Government followed this advice. The rebellion was crushed after three years by 20,000 British troops who left more than 5,000 Arabs dead and 14,000 wounded.
A Zionist militia had been formed, armed and trained by the British, called the ‘British Settlement Police’. It was similar in composition and purpose to the ‘B Specials’ or UDR in British-occupied Ireland, and by 1939 it numbered 21,500 Zionists – one in 20 of the Jewish population! The British also formed joint terror squads with the Zionists, similar to the SAS, known as the ‘Special Night Squads’. Led by a British officer named Orde Wingate, these provided training for future members of the Zionist, terror gang known as the Irgun. The Zionist deputy head of these squads was Moshe Dayan, later to become notorious in the 1967 ‘Six-day War’. Dayan later, remarked:
‘In some sense every leader of the Israeli Army even today is a disciple of Wingate. He gave us our technique, he was the inspiration of our tactics, he was our dynamic.’
After the rebellion was crushed, remaining opposition was further undermined by the policy spelt out in the Tories' 1939 White Paper. This recommended sharply restricted Jewish immigration, regulation of land sales, and rejected a Jewish state, holding out promises of Palestinian self-government in the future. At its May conference, the Labour Party condemned these immigration restrictions at a time when European Jews were being brutally massacred by fascism, but it became clear that this criticism was simply ammunition to further Zionist designs:
‘This Conference reaffirms the traditional support given by the British Labour Movement to the re-establishment of a National Home for the Jewish people in Palestine. It recognises that considerable benefits have accrued to the Arab Masses as a result of Jewish immigration and settlement. This Conference is convinced that under the policy of the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate, the possibility exists for continued and increasing peaceful cooperation between the Jewish and Arab peoples in Palestine.’
1944: ‘The Static Arab’
In December 1944, the annual Labour Party Conference passed its strongest pro-Zionist motion to date:
‘There is surely neither hope nor meaning in a “Jewish National Home” unless we are prepared to let Jews, if they wish, enter this tiny land [Palestine, not Britain] in such numbers as to become a majority. There was a strong case for this before the war. There is an irresistible case now, after the unspeakable atrocities of the cold and calculated German Nazi plan to kill all Jews in Europe. Here, too, in Palestine surely is a case, on human grounds and to promote a stable settlement, for transfer of population. Let the Arabs be encouraged to … move out as the Jews move in. Let them be compensated handsomely for their land and let their settlement elsewhere be carefully organised and generously financed. The Arabs have many wide territories of their own; they must not claim to exclude the Jews from this small area of Palestine, less than the size of Wales. Indeed we should reexamine also the possibility of extending the present Palestinian boundaries, by agreement with Egypt, Syria or Transjordan.’
The racism behind-this motion was made clear by its drafter, Hugh Dalton, later Labour Chancellor:
‘In Palestine we should lean, much more [!] than hitherto towards the dynamic Jew, less towards the static Arab.’
This shameless racism proved embarrassing even for the Zionists. Commented Weizrnann:
‘I remember that my Labour Zionist friends were, like myself, greatly concerned about this proposal. We had never contemplated the removal of the Arabs, and the British Labourites, in their pro-Zionist enthusiasm, went far beyond our intentions.’
The 1945 Labour Government
After the war, another Labour government was returned to power. Its policy towards Palestine was dictated by the Labour Party’s concern to safeguard Britain’s overall imperial interests. The war had weakened British imperialism. Britain had negotiated a massive dollar loan from US imperialism. Since Sterling could not be freely exchanged for other currencies, scarce US dollars had to be conserved to pay back the US imperialists. Since oil from the Middle East did not have to be purchased with dollars, the control and security of these resources was therefore of vital importance to British imperialism, quite apart from its energy needs. Bevin, the Foreign Secretary, expressed Labour’s problem very clearly:
‘His Majesty’s Government must maintain a continuing interest in the area, if only because our economic and financial interests in the Middle East are of great importance to us and to other countries as well. I would like this fact faced squarely. If these interests were lost to us, the effect on the life of this country would be a considerable reduction in the standard of living. Other parts of the world would suffer, too. The British interests in the Middle East contribute substantially not only to the prosperity of the people there, but also to the wage packets of the workers of this country. Nor can we forget our old and valued friendships with the peoples of the area.’
To defend its empire, the Labour government, as Bevin hints, attempted to draw conservative elements of the Arab states into support for its designs. From this perspective, the establishment of a Zionist state in Palestine was – at this time – a threat to British imperialist interests. Richard Crossman, strongly pro-Zionist, claims that this was because Bevin identified Zionism with communism:
‘I tried to convince him that it was just because the leaders of the Yishuv were of Russian origin that nearly all of them were fanatically opposed to Russian Communism. Moreover, apart from a minority of fellow travellers, I added, the leadership of the Histradut … felt that the one Labour movement in the world whose ideals they shared was the British. But nothing could shake his idée fixe that the British position in the Middle East … was threatened by a Jewish-Communist conspiracy …’
More plausibly, Mayhew, then Bevin’s Under-Secretary, argues that Bevin was opposed to a Zionist state because it would stimulate radical nationalism in the Arab states which might be directed against imperialist interests:
‘Its success would condemn the Middle East to decades of hatred and violence, and above all – this was his immediate concern – that by turning the Arabs against Britain and the Western countries, it would open a highroad for Stalin into the Middle East.’
Bevin’s fears of communist influence in the Middle East were not fanciful: the Labour government was already waging war against the Greek people led by communists, and in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan autonomous republics with Soviet backing had been established after the war.
But the Zionists began a war of terror against the British in Palestine; in the Labour Party, tension on the question mounted. Within the Cabinet there was deep sympathy for the Zionists. At one point Richard Crossman visited John Strachey, a member of the Cabinet Defence Committee, and asked his advice about an act of sabotage planned by his Zionist friends:
‘The next day in the Smoking Room at the House of Commons, Strachey gave his approval to Crossman. The Haganah went ahead and blew up all the bridges over the Jordan.’
It is impossible to imagine a British Cabinet approving a similar IRA operation!
The political atmosphere inside the Labour Party can be gauged from a pamphlet which Michael ‘Peacemonger’ Foot wrote together with Crossman entitled A Palestine Munich. Dismissing any danger to the future Zionist state from the surrounding Arab states, the pamphlet remarks:
‘There is nothing which any of these states can do in the nature of formal warfare either individually or collectively, that could not be countered by an airborne brigade or even an airforce demonstration.’
The pamphlet explained the conflict in racist terms:
‘Tribal, dynastic and religious antagonisms take more fanatical forms in the Oriental than in the Western world…
… the liberal era has never dawned on these countries. Such political mass movements as exist have a closer resemblance to the mass movements of the European Middle Ages than to those of the era of enlightenment.’
Although it might be expedient to preserve friendship with the states of the Arab League, this would backfire and threaten British imperialism:
‘Once we had defeated the Jews for them, the Arabs would demand immediate withdrawal of our troops from Palestine, and stage a revolt if this were not conceded. Then the last base for the defence of Suez would have gone.’
Far better to back the Zionist settlers and to partition the state:
‘The government of the Judean State would be eager to negotiate a treaty of alliance with Great Britain ... such a-treaty would leave in British hands the port of Haifa and such airfields and installations as we require … Britain would be in a far stronger position than she is at present.’
In the event, it was the Zionist terror campaign, and not the danger of nationalism or communism which threatened imperialist stability. With the encouragement of US imperialism, the Labour government announced that it would withdraw British troops from Palestine by 15 May 1948. The Labour Party breathed a sigh of relief, and Weizmann remarked, ‘Now, thank God, we can live on friendly terms.’ Labour had created Zionist Israel and paved the way for genocide against the Palestinian people.
The terror squads were now turned on the Palestinian people. On 9 April 1948 the Irgun, led by Menachem Begin, conducted the massacre of Deir Yassin, when the Zionists butchered 254 Arab men, women and children in cold blood. This was only a particularly gruesome example from a genocidal wave of terror which drove 900,000 of the 1,300,000 Arab population out of Palestine, and left the Zionists holding 77 % of the land.
With their state established, the Zionists began to threaten the countries bordering their statelet, carrying out repeated attacks on them. When the Egyptian leader Nasser requested arms from the United States to defend his country, he was told he could have them provided that he joined the US puppet states in the anti-Soviet Baghdad pact. Nasser refused and negotiated for arms with Czechoslovakia. The US imperialists then withdrew finance from the Aswan Dam project, vital to irrigating the Egyptian land. On 26 July 1956, Nasser announced the nationalisation of the Suez canal; instead of its revenues going to enrich imperialists, they would be used to finance the Aswan Dam.
The British and French imperialists were up in arms. And so was the 'socialist’ Labour Party which condemned the nationalisation as ‘high-handed and totally unjustifiable’. A week later, Labour leader Gaitskell likened Nasser to Hitler and Mussolini and called on the government to supply the Zionists with British arms. Labour also made it clear that it did not rule out the use of force.
Despite weeks of imperialist wheeling and dealing, it became clear that Britain and France did not have the support of the US to use force, while the socialist countries and oppressed nations were siding with Egypt. Labour became increasingly worried that the use of force might endanger imperialism’s wider interests. This opposition was entirely limited to criticising the government’s tactics, and had nothing to do with anti-imperialism.
On 12 September, Gaitskell told the Commons that:
‘If the government do this, they will leave behind in the Middle East such a legacy of distrust and bitterness towards the West that the whole area will be thrust almost forcibly under Communist control. This is the greatest danger of all.’
The British and French secretly arranged for puppet Israel to invade Egypt at the end of October, so that they could intervene 'to keep the two sides apart’ – in fact to attack the Egyptians. When the news of the British invasion broke, the Labour Party did not attack the violation of Egyptian freedom nor did it utter even a whisper against the slaughter of the Egyptian people. Instead it condemned the government for losing an opportunity to attack the socialist countries, threatened with counter-revolution in Hungary.
The British and French imperialists backed down after the US showed its opposition for its own imperialist reasons – and after the Soviet Union threatened Britain and France with rocket attack.
The Six Day War
In the 1960s, the Zionists staged a series of provocations against the Arab states. These reached a point where they could no longer be ignored, and Egypt, when she responded, was drawn into the carefully laid Zionist plans to occupy the Sinai and other territories. Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran on 22 May 1967. The British Labour Cabinet met the following day. According to Wilson, the Cabinet decided that:
‘Though several ministers were committed friends of Israel and of Israeli leaders, we were all agreed to urge the utmost restraint, at a very difficult time, on her.’
In fact, the Labourites had decided to give the Zionists full imperialist backing. The same day, Abba Eban flew to London:
‘From the airport in London, I drove with Ambassador Remez to Downing Street …'
Wilson’s reply was forthright. The Cabinet had met that morning and had reached a consensus that the policy of blockade must not be allowed to triumph; Britain would join with others in an effort to open the Straits.’
Some ‘restraint’! When George Thomson, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, was dispatched to Washington, he was accompanied by a senior member of the naval staff in order to co-ordinate British plans to open the straits with the Pentagon.
Labour’s plans to send a British American naval force to sail through the Straits of Tiran had been delayed by the reluctance of the French imperialists to join in the adventure and was pre-empted by the Zionists’ own attack on the Arab countries. Although the force never attempted to open the blockade, Labour had exhibited its usual enthusiasm for imperialist schemes. And this particular scheme had, without doubt, encouraged the Israelis to begin the Six-day War.
October 1973 War
In his book The Chariot of Israel, Harold Wilson explains the Labour Opposition’s reaction to the war of October 1973, waged by the Arab states against Israel, and which threatened to liberate the Occupied Territories from Zionist rule:
‘It was Labour who provided all the activity. As soon as the news of the invasion became known I telephoned the Israeli Ambassador … I was in contact with him each day to hear of developments. The first thing he told me was that Mr Heath’s Government had placed an embargo on the shipment of spares and ammunition to Israel needed for the Centurion tanks Britain had supplied when Labour had been in power. As soon as the Prime Minister, Edward Heath, returned to London, I went to No.10 to press him to change Government policy on spares and ammunition. When he refused, James Callaghan and I took up the issue publicly.’
With such obliging support from the Zionist errand-boys of the Labour Party, it is a wonder that the Israelis bothered keeping their own Ambassador in London! Wilson goes on to quote the Israeli Foreign Minister, Abba Eban:
‘The decision of Edward Heath and his government in London came as a specially harsh blow ... the British example affected other European countries … It was only when Harold Wilson’s Labour Government came to power that the scar in our relations began to heal.’
This brief survey of recent Palestinian history shows Britain’s responsibility for conceiving and nurturing the Zionist monster. It also exposes the key role consistently played by the Labour Party in this process throughout the entire period – at times even outdistancing the Zionists themselves. A golden testimony to services rendered by Labour comes from the late Zionist Prime Minister, Golda Meir:
‘From the very beginning of the labour movement in Palestine we were in close contact with the international labour movement, with the British Labour Party, and Trades Union Congress in England, and with the labour federations in the United States. We believed in these organisations, in their programs and policies, and we were certain that they, above all, in moral sympathy with our purpose would help us.
'Probably one of the greatest factors in helping us to overcome our initial difficulties was the fact that from the very first, since 1917, we constantly received encouragement from the British labour movement and in later years from the American labour movement.’
It is true that recently there have been gestures of support for the Palestinians from sections of the Labour Party. At the 1982 Conference a motion was passed reversing the formal politcy of the party. Dundee’s Labour Council has flown the PLO flag at the City Hall. Such gestures deserve support.
Yet they do not represent a trend and may have been encouraged by less generous motives than solidarity. Support for the Palestinians can easily be reconciled with attempts to share in Arab countires oil wealth. Representatives of no less than 12 Arab oil states have been lured to Dundee in the hope of attracting investment and providing jobs for British workers. The fact is that today’s Labour Party is true to its history. It is thoroughly pro-Zionist and pro-imperialist. Some 120 Labour MPs are members of the Labour Friends of Israel. Among the Zionists are many of the so-called ‘left’, including Tony Benn and Eric Heffer. Another Labour MP is Greville Janner, who returned from a visit to Zionist occupied Lebanon, remarking that ‘the soldiers’ restraint has been remarkable’.
Opportunists like this form the core of the Labour Party and determine its political standpoint. The wretchedly pro-imperialist Labour Party did not call a single demonstration during last summer’s Zionist butchery in Lebanon. Surely that says it all?
 A good history of the Palestinian resistance to Zionism and Imperialism is David Hirst’s The Gun and the Olive Branch (Futura Publications, London, 1978). See also Rosemary Sayigh, Palestinians: from Peasants to Revolutionaries (Zed Press, London, 1981), Nathan Weinstock, Zionism: False Messiah, (Inklinks, London, 1979)
 This section of the ‘War Aims Memorandum’ appears in Jewish Agency for Palestine, Documents relating to the Palestine Problem (London, 1945, p77). The book, compiled by Zionists, is a compilation of speeches by leading Labour Party and Trade Union figures and of Labour and TUC resolutions supporting Zionism.
 Hirst gives a good account of the 1936-1939 Revolt – see his Chapter 3. However, the best account is undoubtedly by Ghassan Kanafani, Palestine: The 1936-39 Revolt (Tricontinental Society, London, n.d). Kanafani, a leading member of the PFLP, was assassinated by Zionist agents in Beirut on Saturday, July 8 1972. Figures for the size of the BSP are from Weinstock, p130.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 29 May 1983