Labour’s treatment of the PSC sums up the shift under Keir Starmer

A PSC demo and Labour leader Keir Starmer and the PSC logo
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The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has confirmed it will be attending the Labour Party conference. The announcement came after some confusion. It’s a situation that shows the hostility towards the group in some parts of the party, as well as the effects of showing solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Young Labour: shut out?

On 31 August, it emerged that Labour had tried to ban the PSC from speaking at an event with Young Labour. The rumours came from Young Labour chair Jessica Barnard. She posted on Twitter that the group had experienced problems with the party over its own event at the Labour conference. She also noted that Young Labour had had no communication from Keir Starmer or his team. Barnard also said that:

The most concrete information I have been given is that anyone from Palestine Solidarity Campaign will be refused as a speaker, as will Jeremy Corbyn. I’ve requested this in writing with reasoning. Appalled that PSC who have had a space at conference for years would be silenced.

Barnard’s tweet set off a chain reaction of events.

Confusion

On Wednesday 1 September, The World Transformed (TWT) festival – which is running at the same time as the Labour Party Conference – made moves. It quickly put out that it was hosting Young Labour and the PSC together for an event called Youth rising for Palestine.

Then, the PSC itself confirmed Barnard’s claim. It tweeted that while it would still be at the conference:

it is also correct that an official within the Party has told Young Labour not to have a PSC speaker at a proposed event.

Read on...

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So it seemed that Labour was trying to block the PSC. But then, clearly something happened behind the scenes in Labour.

Back on

On Thursday 2 September, PSC put out a statement. It confirmed that someone in the party had told Young Labour that it couldn’t sit on a panel with PSC. But, as its statement noted, this “message” was a “mistake” and “was quickly reversed after interventions”. Other parts of the PSC statement were revealing about what potentially had gone on.

It said that the alleged issue from a “high ranking official” in the Labour machinery was because its:

support for the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) might violate the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

And the PSC went further.

Delegitimising Palestinian solidarity?

While PSC noted that it didn’t want to “exaggerate” the situation, it questioned why someone wanted it banned in the first place. The PSC’s conclusion was that:

The answer of course lies in the significant efforts made over a long period of time by the Israeli state and its allies to delegitimise the global campaign for Palestinian rights, most particularly by conflating that campaign with antisemitism. This programme of delegitimisation has sought to prevent the description of the oppression experienced by Palestinians as a form of apartheid, to avoid discussion of the history of ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their lands, and to block support for the Palestinian call for a programme of BDS which would continue until Israel ceases its violations of Palestinian rights.

It also said that at the heart of this was the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.

The IHRA definition of antisemitism

As professor Mark Muhannad Ayyash wrote for Al Jazeera, one of the issues with the IHRA definition is that it conflates antisemitism:

with critiques of Israel. Even though the IHRA insists that it does not wish to censor criticism of Israel, the effect of adopting this definition and its examples is certainly to police and censor the Palestinian critique of Israel.

The PSC said it warned Labour about this in 2018. Specifically, it noted that:

The effect [of the IHRA definition] is to create a cloud of suspicion around raising the cause of Palestine, which leads to a chilling effect. It leads directly to a climate within which a senior official in the Labour Party can conclude that it is ‘safer’ not to invite PSC lest the charge of antisemitism arise.

But Labour didn’t listen, and adopted the IHRA definition anyway – albeit with some caveats at the time.

Labour: not budging

The PSC noted that it was not the only group warning of the problems with the IHRA definition. As it noted, over 200 Jewish academics produced an alternative description of antisemitism. The Jerusalem Declaration:

includes a preamble, definition, and a set of 15 guidelines that provide detailed guidance for those seeking to recognize antisemitism in order to craft responses. It was developed by a group of scholars in the fields of Holocaust history, Jewish studies, and Middle East studies to meet what has become a growing challenge: providing clear guidance to identify and fight antisemitism while protecting free expression.

Yet so far, little in the Labour Party has changed. The PSC noted that it and other groups have:

made numerous attempts to meet with Keir Starmer and with David Evans to discuss these concerns. We are now pushing again for this meeting to take place in the aftermath of this latest incident. The key item we wish to discuss is the action the leadership will be taking to ensure that the space to discuss the oppression faced by Palestinians and the necessary action to address it is fully protected in the Labour Party.

The struggle continues

So will the party listen to the PSC’s concerns? That remains to be seen. But what we already know is that hostility exists towards support for the Palestinian people.

The PSC is asking Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) to debate a new motion and then take it to conference. It’s in support of the Palestinian people. You can read the full text here. But in a climate where the party is purging left-wing members and groups – and where Israel, Palestine and Gaza are still contentious issues – Labour as a whole will likely continue to regress further from progressive policy positions.

Featured image via The Canary, Sky News – YouTube and the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign – screengrab

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