The Labour Party conference is already shaming itself – and it hasn’t even started yet

5 October 2023 /

The Labour Party conference is happening in Liverpool from 8 to 11 October. You’d be forgiven for thinking that after the Tories’ disastrous annual gathering, Keir Starmer’s party couldn’t make conference season any worse. But ‘hold my pint’, the Labour Party has decided to say – it’s already caused outrage before the conference has even begun.

Labour conference: don’t mention apartheid

Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has kicked off about Labour putting restrictions on a fringe meeting it’s organised at the conference. On Tuesday 10 October the group is holding a meeting called ‘Justice for Palestine: End Apartheid’. However, the Labour Party is not happy about it.

PSC said in a press release that party honchos have taken the decision:

not to allow PSC to use the word apartheid to describe their annual conference stall or fringe meeting in Labour printed or online brochures. When asked for a justification of its decision, the leader Kier Starmer’s office said Labour would not publish content that “…we believe to be detrimental to the party”.

Now, the Israeli state committing apartheid against the Palestinian people is not something that PSC alone is claiming. The groups Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watch, and B’Tselem have all stated that what is happening is apartheid. As PSC noted in its press release, at its fringe event on 10 October:

The keynote speaker will be Saleh Hijazi, Apartheid Free policy coordinator at the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National committee. Saleh Hijazi was also co-author of the seminal Amnesty International report, one of several in recent years by leading human rights agencies, confirming the reality Palestinians have attested to for years – that Israel is practising apartheid.

This is defined under the Rome Statute 1998 as “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime” – and is a crime against humanity.

Clearly though, this dose of reality is too much for increasingly right-wing Labour Party – not that that should come as a surprise.

‘Airbrushing’ reality

In February, Starmer forced Labour MP Kim Johnson to apologise to parliament because she quoted from the Amnesty report labelling Israel as an apartheid state. She also called Israel’s current far-right government “fascist”. Many people would probably agree with her – with even the BBC report on the incident noting that:

Israel’s new government, formed after elections in November [2022], includes senior ministers from the ultranationalist far right.

Moreover, as PSC noted:

Israel has this year elected the most extreme far-right Government in its history, with a minister who is a self-proclaimed proud fascist. It has made overt its commitment to hugely expand illegal settlements in the West Bank, with policies which legal analysts are describing as a clear plan to annex the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.

If this isn’t apartheid, then it’s not clear what is.

People on X were quick to point out the awfulness of Labour’s decision to censure PSC:

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Peace and Justice Project also weighed in to the debate:

Other voices have also made clear their concerns.

ASLEF’s general secretary Mick Whelan is also a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee. He’ll be speaking at the PSC fringe meeting. Whelan said in a press release:

You cannot tackle an injustice unless you are prepared to name it. Solidarity with Palestinians means addressing the reality of the system of apartheid under which they are forced to live.

UK director of Human Rights Watch Yasmine Ahmed said:

Human Rights Watch’s findings were clear: Israel is committing the crime of apartheid. Unless and until governments and political parties acknowledge the systematic and severe discrimination that Palestinians face, then claims of promoting peace will ring hollow. There can never be peace without human rights.

As cynical as it gets

Just as this article was being written, Israeli forces killed another two Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank. As of August, over 200 Palestinian civilians and 30 Israelis had been killed. This includes Israeli forces killing at least 34 Palestinian children.

The disproportionate nature of the situation in the Occupied Territories and Gaza cannot be dismissed. It is clearly apartheid – and for Labour to try and deny this is as sickeningly cynical as it gets.

Featured image via Channel 4 News – YouTube