In Sheffield, its council passed a motion on Wednesday 1 November calling for a ceasefire in Israel’s ongoing attacks on Gaza and the Occupied Territories. However, it wasn’t just thanks to politicians that the motion passed. Despite media reports to the contrary, it was actually the local community that made it happen.
Sheffield Labour Party: all not quite what it seems
Novara Media reported on Sheffield City Council’s motion. It noted that:
All 31 Labour councillors in Sheffield have defied Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership in its support for Israel by voting for a motion calling for a ceasefire.
The motion, which was proposed by the Greens at a full council meeting on Wednesday and which passed with cross-party backing, also called on the government to stop all arms sales and military aid to Israel, condemned its abstention at the UN on a humanitarian truce, and resolved for the council to join the Sheffield Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid.
This is believed to be the first time Labour councillors have voted for a motion calling for a ceasefire in a public meeting since the Hamas attacks on 7 October.
The vote came after councillors suggested to the leadership of the Labour council group that many could resign their positions – as others have done elsewhere – if Labour did not vote to back the motion.
However, as people pointed out on X, Novara didn’t tell the whole story:
Think it’s important to recognise that a lot of work has been put in by the community inc. SHEFF blm, to uni of SHEFF Palestine society, Sheffield youth 4 Palestine. All Labour councillors for weeks have been advised and pressured to support Palestine. Give credit where it’s due
— Abdullah alwassim (@steelcityactvst) November 2, 2023
Hmm I think truth is this was down to pressure from Palestinian supporters, was tabled by the Greens and Labour tried to get it amended so that it didn’t criticise Apartheid Israel! Now there’s the whole truth.
— Doris (@claire_wraith) November 4, 2023
The community lobbying its elected reps
The groups Sheffield Justice Movement (SJM), Sheffield Youth for Palestine, the University of Sheffield Palestine Society, and Sheffield Black Lives Matter had been campaigning for weeks for the Green Party’s motion, and for Labour councillors to vote to adopt it. Below is a statement the groups released to the Canary:
On Wednesday 1 November, one day before the 106th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, Sheffield Justice Movement rallied outside Sheffield Town Hall alongside several other Palestine solidarity groups to pressure the City Council into passing the Sheffield Green Party motion officially recognising Israel’s war crimes since 1948. The motion was put forward by Green councillors Alexi Dimond and Maleiki Haybe.
Over a thousand members of the community stood outside Town Hall for the entire duration of the council meeting demanding that Sheffield councillors either speak up in truth or resign from their positions. As a direct result of the action, the motion was successfully passed during the council meeting marking a significant point of success for Sheffield, as a city that officially stands against Israel’s occupation of Palestine and blockade of Gaza, just as it stood against South African apartheid decades ago.
Most significantly, this motion:
- Resolves to cease all arms sales to Israel
- Calls on the British government to put an end to military aid to Israel calls for an immediate ceasefire.
Furthermore, this motion affirms that Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian land and is an apartheid state. It states that both the United Nations and Amnesty International have documented numerous unlawful attacks by Israel that resulted in mass civilian casualties in Gaza, declaring these to be investigable war crimes.
Finally, the motion calls on Keir Starmer to apologise for, and retract, his statement of support for Israel’s policy of collective punishment against Palestinians, which includes withholding food, water and electricity from Gaza as well as carpet bombing civilian areas.
Labour: still selling out Palestinians
What the groups also noted in their statement was that Labour councillors didn’t actually back the motion in its original form:
Despite the fact that the motion was successfully passed, both Sheffield Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors diluted the motion with several amendments. SJM condemns the councillors’ cowardice in refusing to apologise for erecting the Israeli flag atop Town Hall, going so far as to delete the article of the motion which proposed this.
We also condemn the reluctance of Sheffield’s elected representatives to stand in firm principled opposition against the genocide of Palestinians, instead choosing to continue enabling decades of ongoing brutal and systemic colonial violence.
Whilst the success of this motion is a victory for Palestinian freedom movement, it serves as a reminder of how much is yet to be achieved.
Overall, the groups said:
This victory is evidence that grassroots communities can build independent power and strength in a meaningful, practical and impactful way to protect their communities in a way that can contribute to practical change when all else fails.
SJM calls upon all citizens across all communities in the UK to organise and call on their councils to pass similar motions. Our city councillors must oppose Israeli apartheid, or resign their seats.
So, while Labour councillors in Sheffield did defy Starmer – they did so with one hand behind their backs. Moreover, they certainly didn’t do it of their own accord. It was the community of Sheffield that made it happen.
Featured image via the Socialist Equality Party – screengrab
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