More empty gestures on Palestine at Labour Party conference

Labour Party Conference 2018

The debate on Palestine at the Labour Party conference was a set piece to defuse criticism of the National Executive Committee’s (NEC) adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. For all the heartening display of Palestinian flags in the conference hall during the debate, there was only one new policy on offer: a proposal to freeze arms sales to Israel which the conference approved. A call for an ‘independent international investigation into Israel's use of force against Palestinian demonstrators’ meant little: it will end up with a report committing no one to any action, the fate of many others over the years.

Continued Labour Party support for the so-called ‘two state solution’ deliberately conceals reality: the only ‘state’ that the Zionists will concede the Palestinian people will be a handful of separate walled-in ghettoes on the West Bank, and the open prison of Gaza, all under the military and economic control of the Zionist state. Such a statelet will be a bantustan like those that the South African apartheid state attempted to force onto its black population. Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to give full recognition to a Palestinian state will have no practical benefit for the Palestinian people: such recognition comes at a time when the Israeli state is preparing to annex parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

While the NEC’s adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism at the beginning of September had generated widespread opposition within the Labour Party, it was not up for discussion at the conference. To make this clear, the chair of the Palestine session was Momentum leader and NEC representative Rhea Woolfson, who had voted for the definition. Replying to the debate, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry gave a fiery speech which sounded very radical, but whose content actually went no further than the positions of the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) of which she is a member. Opposing Netanyahu’s racist policies as she did breaks no new ground: even the LFI finds his overtly racist government and its adoption of the Nation-State Law to be too much to stomach.

The motion does not mean that there is now ‘a labour movement that is determined to campaign for justice for Palestine’ as Kiri Tunks, NUT President claimed later in Newcastle. The conference was never going to consider the sort of political and economic sanctions against the Zionist state which might make any difference: defending the interests of British imperialism will always require Labour to be a pro-Zionist party. Jeremy Corbyn’s recognition of Israel shows that on this score he will be a safe pair of hands. His criticism of this or that racist Israeli policy, this or that Israeli war crime, is quite insufficient in a context where the Zionists are determined to accelerate the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

Robert Clough

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 266 October/November 2018