Don’t abandon Palestinian cause
The National Policy Forum wants to end Labour’s opposition to the occupation, writes Tony Greenstein
Jeremy Corbyn: is he still a militant fighter for Palestinian rights?
As news leaks out of Israel’s shameful supply of weapons to the Burmese army, which is engaged in a genocidal war against the Rohingya people,1 the right in the Labour Party, led by Labour Friends of Israel sponsor and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, continues to paint Israel in rosy colours. Israel is seen as the equivalent of Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill”. In this display of imperialist arrogance, Israel is portrayed as a democratic beacon in the Middle East rather than a bulwark of repressive regimes the world over.
For over 30 years there was no more ardent supporter of the Palestinians than Jeremy Corbyn. When I was chairperson of the Labour Committee on Palestine and its successor, the Labour Movement Campaign on Palestine, Corbyn was the most steadfast and reliable of the MPs who supported us. Subsequently he became a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and attended virtually all its AGMs.
When the prospect of Corbyn becoming leader dawned on the right in August 2015, the tabloids and the Jewish Chronicle launched the false ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign starting with Corbyn himself. He was accused of consorting with an open holocaust denier, Paul Eisen.2 This campaign was soon taken over by Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement, in conjunction with figures on the Labour right like John Mann MP and the Jewish Chronicle under the editorship of Stephen Pollard - a cold war warrior, member of the Henry Jackson Society and former editor of the Daily Express.
The smear campaign was coordinated by the Israeli embassy, as the undercover Al Jazeera series, ‘The lobby’, demonstrated. Its purpose was to defame supporters of Palestine with accusations of anti-Semitism.3 The campaign had nothing to do with Jew hatred - which was why I, as a life-long Jewish anti-fascist and anti-racist campaigner, was among the first to be suspended from the Labour Party on vague charges of ‘anti-Semitism’. Eighteen months later I am still suspended.
But that is not all. Now Labour’s manifesto commitments on Palestine for the general election, which were already pathetically weak, have been ditched in favour of full-throated support for the state of Israel and Zionism. The proposals of the National Policy Forum’s international commission mean a complete abandonment of any support for the Palestinians.
If Jeremy Corbyn allows these proposals to pass, then the policy of the Labour Party on Palestine will have taken a step backwards from the positions it held under Ed Miliband. It will be ironic, given his own previous support for the Palestinians, if Labour under Jeremy Corbyn adopts the most pro-Israel stance Labour has had since the time of Harold Wilson.
The only reference to Palestine in the NPC proposals is support for a two-state solution. Support for two states is also the position of Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement. There is, of course, a reason why the pro-Israel lobby in the Labour Party supports a two-state solution and that is because it can never happen. Those like the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty who advocate it today are in reality calling for a single apartheid state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river.
Labour’s manifesto included opposition to the settlements, which today contain 600,000 Israelis, as well as opposition to the starvation blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is causing a major human rights crisis, and an end to the occupation.
To delete any reference to ending the occupation, dismantling the settlements or ending the siege of Gaza means that references to two states are nothing more than a hypocritical repetition of a stale mantra. Even supposing that a two-state solution were possible, how could it possibly be achieved if Israel maintained its occupation and its settlements?
The position of Labour if the NPC formula is adopted will be no different from that of the Trump administration - except that Trump and his ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, are at least more honest, since they have now resiled from support for two states.
There is no Zionist political force in Israel, bar the extremely weak Meretz party, which today supports a two-state solution. The Israeli Labor Party, of which the Jewish Labour Movement is a ‘sister’ party (actually its British representative), does not support it. It supports segregation: in other words, a pitiful echo of South Africa’s Bantustan policy. It is the position of Jim Crow in the American deep south
It was just a week ago that prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed not to remove a single, solitary settlement from the West Bank. “We will deepen our roots, build, strengthen and settle,” Netanyahu told settlers at an event marking 50 years of Israeli occupation.4 And his deputy foreign secretary, religious nut Tzipi Hotovely, was even more blunt: “We need to return to the basic truth of our rights to this country,”she said. “This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologise for that.”5
At the last Israeli elections in May 2015 Netanyahu made it clear that he was opposed to a Palestinian state.6 One wonders what part of this the Labour right and Emily Thornberry do not understand?
Talk of two states serves one purpose only - to act as a smokescreen for the military occupation of the West Bank and for Israel’s apartheid rule. Within the borders of what was mandate Palestine, which is the area covered by the present Greater Israel bar the Golan, there are approximately six million Jews and the same number of Palestinians. It has always been a cardinal rule that a Jewish state had to have at least 70% Jewish population. That is why the West Bank has not been officially annexed. If Israel were to declare that the West Bank was officially part of Israel then it would either have to grant the right to vote to the Palestinians, which would mean an end to the Jewish state, or officially declare apartheid.
Israel’s answer to this is to keep the Palestinians under military rule, whilst at the same time the Jewish settlers in the West Bank are subject to ordinary Israeli civilian rule. The maintenance of two sets of laws and legal systems within the same territory is the very essence of an apartheid system. That is why fantasy talk of two states is a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. As long as two-state solutions are talked about, even though they will never happen, Israel has a bona fide pretext to continue its present military occupation and apartheid rule.
South African veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle are not so easily fooled, which is why South Africa is the state which is most supportive of the Palestinians. They know that the Israeli checkpoints and ID card system on the West Bank are like the pass laws and controls they suffered under - except that they are much worse in Israel.
At the hundreds of military checkpoints dotted around the West Bank, whose sole purpose is to disrupt Palestinian life and economic activity, there are two doors - one for Palestinians, who can wait for hours in the hot sun, and one for Jewish settlers, who pass through without let or hindrance. Combine this with the ‘Jewish only’ roads and you have a fully-fledged apartheid system. What Labour needs to do is to come out now against this apartheid system, not talk about the mirage of two states.
That is why people like archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, was reported as saying:
I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans, who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.7
In a message to the Presbyterian Church of the United States Tutu depicted Israel as an apartheid state.8 Ronnie Kasrils, a former Jewish minister in the ANC government, has described Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank as worse than that of South Africa under apartheid:
When I visited the territories I also passed through Israel and I saw the forests that cover the remnants of the Palestinian villages. As a former forestry minister, this was especially striking to me. I also went into a few settlements. It was insane. Young Americans spat on the flag that was on my car. The occupation reminds me of the darkest days of apartheid, but we never saw tanks and planes firing at a civilian population. It’s a monstrousness I’d never seen before. The wall you built, the checkpoints and the roads for Jews only - it turns the stomach, even for someone who grew up under apartheid. It’s a hundred times worse.9
In 1961, Dr Hendrick Verwoerd, the South African prime minister, recognised his fellow twin at the top of Africa, when he said that “Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.”10 Yet Corbyn’s Labour wishes to pretend that Israel is some form of democratic nirvana.
Nowhere in either the Labour manifesto or the National Policy Forum documents is there any recognition that the Israeli state is the oppressor and that the Palestinians are the oppressed. Instead it adopts the formula of a “secure Israel alongside a secure and viable state of Palestine”. This is nothing other than a reversion to Labour’s previous support for British imperialism. How is it that the Labour Party, under Corbyn of all people, can revert back to an age when it supported white minority rule in Southern Africa and the colonisation of India and Malaya?
It is not Israeli security which is under threat, but the continued daily existence of the Palestinians.Instead of being seen as a thoroughly racist, warlike state, sponsored and funded by the west - all ideas that Corbyn was fully signed up to before he became leader - Israel is portrayed as the outcome of the holocaust and the answer to anti-Semitism. That is the argument that has been put forward over the past two years by the false anti-Semitism campaign.
Everyone knows, as Chris Williamson MP said recently, that allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party are “bullshit” and “repellent”. Of course, the various Zionist groups, including the Board of Deputies immediately called for his dismissal. Telling the truth is anti-Semitic!11 No doubt a few people harbour prejudices or stereotypes about Jews in the Labour Party, as do approximately 7% of the population, but I personally have never come across an anti-Semite in the Labour Party. Indeed, if anyone harbours prejudices, it is the Labour right. It was very instructive in the 2016 Labour leadership campaign debate that, when Owen Smith MP was asked what he most admired about Jews, he said they were “a very entrepreneurial set of people”.12
The Zionist lobby and the Labour right’s support for Israel is an integral part of support for the alliance with the United States, Donald Trump included. Israel is America’s strategic guard and its closest partner in the Middle East. It is the most stable base of the US in the region. A politically reliable settler colonial state. To support Israel is to support American imperialism, Nato and Trident.
It is one of the major political weaknesses of Corbyn that he views the question of Israel as one of pacifism and peace rather than anti-imperialism. That is why he has been so susceptible to the anti-Semitism attack. He cannot see that ‘anti-Semitism’ is simply another way of treating the settlers as victims rather than as oppressors. Corbyn does not perceive that support for Israel is an integral part of the anti-communist, cold war, Atlanticist approach to foreign policy.
The other major omission from both the manifesto and the National Policy Forum is the question of the Israeli state itself and the Jewish supremacist nature of that state. Israel is not simply another bourgeois-democratic western state. It is an ethno-religious settler state. Whereas bourgeois states in the west have anti-racist legislation and policies aimed at combating racial discrimination, in Israel the main engine of racial discrimination is the state itself. Racism is built into Israel’s DNA.
Apartheid may differ in form between Israel pre-1967 and today’s Greater Israel, but apartheid is not limited to the West Bank and Gaza. It was not in the West Bank that Israel demolished the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in January of this year in order that a Jewish town, Hiran, could be built in its place, but in the Negev in Israel ‘proper’.13
Half of the Arab villages in Israel are ‘unrecognised’: ie, they have no mains water, electricity, sewerage, schools, etc. They are liable to demolition at any time, despite having been there for longer than the Jewish towns and villages surrounding them. No Jewish communities are unrecognised.
There is a state education system which is completely segregated, as used to be the case in the era of segregation in the USA. The Arab sector gets about one-third of the funds allocated to the Jewish sector. Jewish students receive grants in higher education, unlike Arab students.
The Jewish National Fund and Israeli Lands Authority control 93% of Israeli land. It is national land and is not available to Palestinians, who are confined to about 3.5% of Israeli territory - the same amount that the Arabs were left with in 1948, when their numbers were less than a 10th of what they are now. No extra land has been allocated to Israeli Palestinians and ‘illegal’ buildings in Arab villages are regularly demolished because building permits are rarely granted to Arabs.
In 2000 an Arab couple, the Kadans, won a supreme court victory that said that the Jewish Agency and the JNF could not refuse to sell or lease land to someone because they are not Jewish.14 In 2006 this was enforced when the attorney general Menachem Mazuz ruled that the JNF could not discriminate against non-Jews in the sale of land, and they should be ‘compensated’ with state land.15 In Israel today, according to the authoritative Pew Research Center survey, a plurality (48%) of Israeli citizens favour the physical expulsion of Israel’s Arab citizens.16 No less than 79% of Israeli Jews were recorded as saying that in a Jewish state Jews should receive preferential treatment.
Barely a day goes by without reports of social discrimination, such as the barring of Arabs from country clubs, the university practice of giving Jewish students the option of not having to live with Arab students (Technion, Bar Ilan) or the opposition to Arabs buying properties in ‘Jewish’ cities and communities. Indeed the Knesset, in order to get around the ruling in the Kadan case, passed the Reception Committees Act, which gave communities of 500 residents or less the ability to exclude those who ‘don’t fit in’: ie, Israeli Palestinians and no doubt Ethiopian and black Jews.
The reality of Israel is that it is the most racist state in the world. A state where the right holds marches to the chant of ‘Death to the Arabs’. A society where, according to the same Pew Research Center report, just 8% of Israelis describe themselves as being on the left.
This is the state that the Labour Party in Britain is signed up to. If Jeremy Corbyn accepts the National Policy Forum proposals on Israel/Palestine, then he will have abandoned 30-plus years of support for the Palestinians without a whimper. He will also be signalling that, whenever a controversy arises or pressure is applied, he will buckle under the pressure of the right. Supporting Israel is supporting American imperialism in the Middle East. That is why we have to resist the proposed changes and unite against the false anti-Semitism allegations of the Labour right and the Zionists.
Current position and new proposal
Labour is committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on a two-state solution - a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable state of Palestine. There can be no military solution to this conflict and all sides must avoid taking action that would make peace harder to achieve. That means both an end to the blockade, occupation and settlements, and an end to rocket and terror attacks. Labour will continue to press for an immediate return to meaningful negotiations leading to a diplomatic resolution. A Labour government will immediately recognise the state of Palestine.
National Policy Forum
In Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Labour is committed to a comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution: a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable state of Palestine.
1. ‘As violence intensifies, Israel continues to arm Myanmar’s military junta Ha’aretz September 4 2017.
2. See, for example, ‘Exclusive: Jeremy Corbyn’s “long-standing links” with notorious holocaust denier and his “anti-Semitic” organisation revealed’: www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3187428/Jeremy-Corbyn-s-links-notorious-Holocaust-denier-revealed.html.
4. ‘Netanyahu vows to never remove Israeli settlements from West Bank: “We’re here to stay, forever”’ Ha’aretz August 29 2017.
5. ‘Israel’s new deputy foreign minister: “This land is ours. All of it is ours”’ The Guardian May 22 2015.
6. ‘Netanyahu’s last-minute reversal on the two-state solution’ The Atlantic March 16 2015.
7. Jerusalem Post March 10 2014.
8. ‘Desmond Tutu: US Christians must recognise Israel as apartheid state’: www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.599422.
10. Ha’aretz May 24 2007; Middle East Monitor January 28 2014: www.middleeastmonitor.com/20140128-opposing-apartheid-palestine-and-the-experience-of-south-africa-with-ilan-pappe-and-ronnie-kasrils.
11. ‘Corbyn should consider sacking MP who described anti-Semitism attacks as “bullshit”, says Jewish group’ Huffington Post August 30 2017: www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/williamson-antisemitism-corbyn-jews_uk_59a68a1fe4b084581a146edd.
12. ‘Israel has right to exist, but so do boycotts against it - Labour leader Corbyn’: www.rt.com/uk/359900-corbyn-bds-settlements-israel.
13. www.timesofisrael.com/fear-and-loathing-in-umm-al-hiran/, Fear and loathing in Umm al-Hiran, Times of Israel (January 19 2017).
14. ‘Israeli court rules Arab couple can live in Jewish area’ New York Times March 9 2000.
16. ‘Israel’s religiously divided society’: www.pewforum.org/2016/03/08/israels-religiously-divided-society.