An open letter has been signed by over 20 prominent British Palestinians, including academics, journalists, businessmen, philanthropists, musicians, and lawyers expressing concern over the shrinking space in the Labour Party to discuss the Palestinian struggle.
They voiced concern about the Labour leadership’s affirmation of support for the usage of the IHRA definition of antisemitism without reference to the concerns regarding the threat it poses to the right of Palestinians and of party members to advocate for justice for the Palestinian people.
They note the stated intention of the Shadow Communities Secretary to urge all Labour-run councils who have not adopted the IHRA to do so, ignoring the evidence of how councils have previously used the IHRA to limit the rights of Palestinians, and of others advocating on their behalf. In 2019, the Labour-run Tower Hamlets council refused permission for a bike ride raising funds for children because officials believed that references on the organiser’s website to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 and comparisons between Israel and apartheid South Africa might contravene the IHRA definition.
The IHRA definition has been heavily criticised by Palestinian civil society as well as over 80 BAME organisations, including Black Lives Matter UK, prominent members of the Jewish community, leading lawyers and academic experts on antisemitism and the Institute for Race Relations. Despite these concerns, Labour’s new General Secretary David Evans recently wrote to all CLPs proscribing any debate or discussion about the definition.
The letter calls for “the right of Palestinians to accurately describe our experiences of dispossession and oppression, to criticise the nature and structure of the state that continues to oppress us, and to openly criticise the ideology of Zionism which informs the actions, policies and laws of that state, to be upheld both as a right of a people under oppression and as a right of freedom of expression respected and supported by the Labour Party leadership.”
Signatory to the letter, co-founder of the British Palestinian Policy Council Atallah Said OBE states: “Internationalism and the principle of solidarity with the oppressed is at the heart of the Labour movement.
These principles should commit Labour to oppose all forms of racism including the racist laws and policies of the state of Israel that have created a system of apartheid which denies rights to the Palestinian people.
The Labour leadership must make clear that it will not adopt any procedures or policies that support the silencing of Palestinian voices and derail principled support for their campaign for justice.”