Delegates of the U.K. Labour Party have voted to debate Palestine at the party’s annual conference in Liverpool. The motion was backed by 188,000 votes from local party members. The debate, a first in many years, will also include a motion for a U.K. arms embargo against Israel.
Palestine solidarity campaign director Ben Jamal said, commenting on the overwhelming response from members, “Ordinary members of the party want Labour to stand up for Palestinian rights. And today for the first time in many years a Palestine motion is on the agenda of the conference."
The issue is in the top four of all issues to be discussed on Tuesday in Liverpool. The vote to debate Palestine was fourth after housing, school systems, and justice for the Windrush generation. It gained more votes than the issues of Brexit, and the National Health System (NHS).
During the debate on Palestine, the party will also deliberate on U.K. arms sales to Israel, suggesting they end until an independent investigation into the killing of more than 180 protesters in Gaza since Mar. 30 can be carried out.
Though conference votes are not binding on leaders, Jeremy Corbyn, a supporter of the Palestinian cause, has promised to recognize Palestine as a state if his party comes to power. A new Labour and Palestine parliamentary group will be launched at the conference.
Amidst the cries of anti-Semitism that has engulfed the party in recent months, this decision is welcomed by party members. Labour’s General Secretary Jennie Formby said, “We must not allow the voices of Palestinians to be silenced and members must be able to speak out about the terrible injustices they face.” But she added that nobody would be allowed to be anti-Semitic while speaking about Palestine.
The anti-Semitism charges against Corbyn were rejected by him, his supporters, and Palestinians, citing Israel's attempt to shut down any criticism of its policies and abuse against Palestinians and its occupation of their land.
“If you pass racist laws, if you operate in a racist way, there is nothing racist in calling you a racist state. If Israel wants to stop that accusation, it needs to end the occupation and stop operating in a racist way,” said Jamal.
But not all Palestinians are overjoyed with the polls. Some are critical of the U.K.’s stand on the Oslo agreement which supports the creation of two states. For U.K.-based Palestinian author and academic, Ghada Karmi said during a Palestine Solidarity meeting that Labour cannot go on supporting a “defunct idea”. She also asked the party to stop being apologetic about Israel’s atrocities and to confront Israel and call out its actions against Palestinians.
According to Hazem Jamjoum, a Palestinian-American academic, the British empire helped create the state of Israel. Hence, it has a greater responsibility to support Palestine. He also warned that Israel’s impunity regarding apartheid, racist laws and ethnonationalism is creating precedences all over the globe which is witnessing an increasing identity-based nationalism in each country.