Why is no one talking about how senior Labour Party figures whitewash apartheid?
by Ian Sinclair
25 February 2022
Amnesty International’s recent report condemning Israel for “committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians” is a damning indictment of the current Israeli government (and its predecessors), and its supporters around the world.
After carrying out research for four years, Amnesty concludes “Israel enforces a system of oppression and domination against the Palestinian people wherever it has control over their rights”, including Palestinians living in Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and displaced refugees in other countries.
Defining apartheid as “an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination by one racial group over another,” Amnesty explains Israel’s “massive seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, forcible transfer, drastic movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship to Palestinians are all components of a system which amounts to apartheid under international law.” This constitutes a “crime against humanity”, the human rights organisation notes.
Amnesty also has a message to those backing Israel: “governments who continue to supply Israel with arms, and shield it from accountability at the UN are supporting a system of apartheid, undermining the international legal order, and exacerbating the suffering of the Palestinian people.”
The UK does exactly this. In 2018 the Campaign Against Arms Trade exposed how British defence contractors were selling record amounts of arms to Israel, with the UK issuing £221m worth of arms licences to defence companies exporting to Israel. This made Israel the UK’s eighth largest market for UK arms companies, the Guardian reported.
The same year, Mark Curtis, the Editor of Declassified UK, highlighted “consistent British support for Israel internationally, helping to shield it from ostracism”. In 2017 the Foreign Office refused to sign a joint declaration issued at a Paris peace conference on Palestine attended by 70 nations, accusing it of “taking place against the wishes of the Israelis”. And in 2019 the then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed the UK would oppose motions criticising rights abuses carried out by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza that are brought to the UN’s Human Rights Council.
While the world’s leading human rights organisation criticising Israel for perpetrating the crime of apartheid is hugely significant, it is important to remember Amnesty is just the latest group to come to this conclusion.
In April 2021 Human Rights Watch declared Israel was committing the crime of apartheid, enforcing the policy to “maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians.” Drawing on years of documentation, analysis of Israeli laws, government planning documents and public statements by officials, the rights organisation concluded Israeli authorities “systematically discriminate against Palestinians” and have adopted policies to counter what it describes as a demographic “threat” from Palestinians.
Similarly, in January 2021 B’Tselem, the leading domestic rights group in Israel, described Israel as an “apartheid regime”.
“One organising principle lies at the base of a wide array of Israeli policies: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.” Hagai El-Ad, the group’s director, noted “Israel is not a democracy that has a temporary occupation attached to it. It is one regime between the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: apartheid.”
Likewise, Yossi Sarid, a former Israeli cabinet minister and longstanding member of Israel’s parliament, said in 2008: “What acts like apartheid, is run like apartheid and harasses like apartheid, is not a duck – it is apartheid.” Famously, former US President Jimmy Carter published his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid in 2006, and in 2002 Desmond Tutu, who knew a thing or two about apartheid, told a conference in Boston about a recent visit to the Holy Land and how “it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.”
Though the UK media have studiously avoided making the link, the reports from Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem, and the quotes above, have huge ramifications for key figures in the UK Labour Party.
Giving the keynote speech at the November 2021 Labour Friends of Israel’s annual lunch, Keir Starmer noted Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948 “committed the new state to freedom, justice and peace; complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
“Israel herself is the first to acknowledge that at times she falls short of these goals”, he continued, “But we will continue to support Israel’s rumbustious democracy, its independent judiciary, and its commitment to the rule of law”.
The Labour leader said Labour Party saw their counterparts in the Israeli Labor party “as comrades in the international struggle for equality, peace and freedom”, before quoting Prime Minister Harold Wilson: “social democrats who made the desert flower.”
The assertion it was Israeli pioneers who made the desert bloom repeats one of the founding – and racist – myths of Israel. Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani tweeted why at the time of Starmer’s speech: “The reason why is because it implies it was ‘terra nullius’, nobody’s land, & therefore fine to be appropriated. The story of colonialism.”
Starmer also explained the UK Labour Party does not support the Boycott, Disinvestment and Solidarity campaign against Israel. Why? “Its principles are wrong – targeting alone the world’s sole Jewish state”.
“We believe that international law should be adhered to”, he stated, and therefore Labour “opposes and condemns” illegal settlements, and annexation and the eviction of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Starmer said nothing, of course, about Israel being an apartheid state.
Speaking at a 2017 Jewish News/Bicom Balfour 100 event, Emily Thornberry MP, then Shadow Foreign Secretary, echoed Starmer’s sentiments: Israel “still stands out as a beacon of freedom, equality and democracy, particular in respect of women and LGBT communities, in a region where oppression, discrimination and inequality is too often the norm.”
And speaking at the 2017 Labour Friends of Israel annual dinner, Thornberry praised former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres as “a hero of the left, of the state of Israel and of the cause of peace.”
In contrast, in 2005 US dissident Noam Chomsky called Peres “an iconic mass murderer,” presumably for his role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that led to the creation of Israel and for being Prime Minister when Israel shelled a United Nations compound in Lebanon in 1996, killing over 100 civilians. After conducting an investigation, Amnesty International concluded the attack was intentional.
Labour MP Lisa Nandy excels at smearing critics of Israel. Interviewed on the BBC in early 2020 when she was running to be Labour leader, presenter Andrew Neil asked her about online Labour activist Rachael Cousins, “who’s tweeted calling the Board of Deputies of British Jews Conservative [Party] backers, and demanding that they disassociate themselves from that party, and that they condemn all Israeli military atrocities in the West Bank – her words. Is that anti-Semitic?” Nandy is quick to respond: “Yes.”
And when there were nonviolent protests at the London School of Economics in November 2021 against Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely, Nandy, then Shadow Foreign Secretary, tweeted: “The appalling treatment of Israeli Ambassador @TzipiHotovely is completely unacceptable. There is no excuse for this kind of behaviour. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right and any attempt to silence or intimidate those we disagree with should never be tolerated.”
Reading these quotes in light of all the reports and testimony above is nothing short of shocking. As the American historian Howard Zinn once noted, “The truth is so often the reverse of what has been told us by our culture that we cannot turn our heads far enough around to see it.”
The Labour Party’s code of conduct notes it “will not tolerate racism in any form inside or outside the party” and that “any behaviour or use of language which… undermines Labour’s ability to campaign against any form of racism, is unacceptable conduct within the Labour Party.” Surely, then, the whitewashing of, and apologism for, the racist Israeli apartheid state carried out by Starmer and co. should lead to them being expelled from the Labour Party?
Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.