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Labour Palestinian members say party is ‘ignoring them’

Exclusive: Growing feeling that Labour Party is drifting away from its anti-racist and anti-colonial principles, collective argues

Nadine White
Tuesday 11 May 2021 11:47 BST
“We can already see that it is much harder to motivate this community to support Labour in the upcoming elections”
“We can already see that it is much harder to motivate this community to support Labour in the upcoming elections” (PA )

A group of prominent British Palestinians say that Keir Starmer is ignoring their calls for the Labour Party to dismantle the “hostile environment” which they say has engulfed the party.

In a strongly worded letter to opposition leader Keir Starmer, sent last month, the collective expresses frustration at their treatment within the party.

Backed by dozens of signatories across culture, academia and philanthropy, the group points to alleged censorship imposed by the central party on any discussions of the issue of Palestine on the Constituency Labour Party level, arguing that it is “disturbing and inimical to party democracy”.

The collective has written a total of five letters asking for intervention to Mr Starmer between January to date but has yet to receive a response.

Atallah Said, former chairman of the British Arab Association and founder of Arab Labour, told The Independent: “Ignoring multiple letters from leading members of the British Palestinian community means that this community is unwelcome in the party.

“The leader is practically treating the whole community as outcasts and is refusing to meet or even respond. We cannot separate this from the alarming shift in Labour’s approach to issues of race, or the shift in Labour’s position on Palestine.

“The message is loud and clear: I don’t care about you or your issues.”

Labour has been grappling with an antisemitism crisis, with critics arguing that the leadership isn’t doing enough to tackle the issue.

In October 2020, a damning report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found Labour broke equality law in its handling of anti-semitism complaints with former leader Jeremy Corbyn bearing ultimate responsibility for the failings.

The letter to Mr Starmer also alleges that members, especially CLP office holders, who allow or facilitate debates on Palestine have been “targeted.”

It also expresses “grave” concern about Mr Starmer’s alleged reaction to MP Stephen Kinnock’s plea in the House of Commons to uphold international law with regards to Israeli settlements, after he reportedly gave the frontbencher a “dressing down”.

Signatories have linked the alleged issues with wider concerns amongst ethnic minority communities in Britain, and says that Labour is taking their support for granted, or even “actively participating in marginalising [them]”.

Labour leader Keir Starmer (Getty Images)

As people of colour, the authors write, “the Party is taking us for granted at best, and at worst, actively participating in marginalising us.”

This comes after it emerged last year that some Black Labour members are leaving the party over racism concerns.

In February, Black Labour MPs criticised Labour’s leadership and accused the party of “failing to take racism seriously” after the publication of the Forde Report was indefinitely delayed.

The Forde Report was launched in response to a report into Labour’s handling of anti-semitism complaints, leaked under Mr Corbyn’s leadership, which also revealed party officials used a number of insults in private conversations to describe senior Black MPs and officials, including Diane Abbott and Clive Lewis.

The decision to delay was made by the Forde Inquiry itself and it is not a decision that has been made by anyone in the Labour Party, The Independent understands.

“This is another manifestation of the racism issues that the Party has been facing in the past year, with many people of colour feeling marginalised,” Omar Mofeed, Secretary of the Arab Labour Group, told The Independent.

“Labour’s attitude to the Palestinian community is where the leader’s foreign policy (support for Israel’s repressive policies) and domestic policy (taking BAME communities for granted) converge, and the result is the alienation of an entire community.

“We can already see that it is much harder to motivate this community and the associated Arab communities to support Labour.”

Labour received a beating in some parts of the country during the recent local election, losing control of a host of councils and suffering a humiliating defeat in the Hartlepool by-election – the first time the North East constituency has gone blue.

The Labour Party says it supports a two-state solution and recognises the state of Palestine.

A spokesperson told The Independent: "Labour is a proud anti-racist party and a Labour government will be committed to tackling systemic racism and introduce a Race Equality Act to end structural inequalities.

"We will continue to engage with representatives of Palestine and Israel and continue to speak out against any abuse of human rights and violations of international law."

Over 300 Palestinians have been injured in ongoing unrest in Jerusalem, amid mounting tensions in Jerusalem.

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